If you are introducing a newcomer to guns, you will be the teacher. As such, there are certain things you need to discuss as well as do.
The checklist (below) is to help you remember what to do and take. (If I’ve forgotten something, please leave a note in the comments.)
Here are the essential items to take, show, demonstrate and review with first-time shooters.
- “Safety Rules Quiz”, printed on paper, one copy for each first-time shooter. (You may download a Microsoft Word document or a PDF version or use the JPEG image in this post (right-click, “Save As” or similar).
- Firearms, ideally starting with small caliber and simple operation such as a 22 revolver or single-shot rifle with iron sights, and then moving up in complexity and caliber.
- Magazines, clips, etc. as appropriate for each of the above firearms.
- Reliably performing ammunition for each of the above.
- Hearing protection for all shooters and any additional visitors. “Foamies” are cheap when purchased in bulk (about $0.25/pair from Dillon Precision when bought in a package of 50 sets) but can be difficult to insert — you’ll need to demonstrate how to put these in so they are effective. And that means, before you go, figure it out for yourself.
- Eye protection for as many as you will have shooting at the same time (and yourself). Depending on the personalities and maturity of your guests, you may be able to monitor only one person at a time on the firing line. Or with more mature and responsible newbies, after one has fired a few shots with you monitoring every movement, you may be able to “cut them loose” while you start someone else — but continue watching all newbies at all times. (Other than to demonstrate something, you probably won’t shoot.)
- Paper bullseye-style targets, something on which to mount them, and something to secure them thereon. I start newcomers on paper targets so they can see where their shots are going. Bullseye-style targets let them think about the shot itself rather than what was shot. They will be more inclinced think about aim, trigger control and how those affected where the shot went rather than imagining blood spurting out of the man-silhouette target.
- If the range permits it, some sort of reactive targets such as small water bottles that have been refilled, and maybe with a couple of drops of water color added. We shoot these after the paper targets. Reactive targets are a lot more fun but newbies may not know where their shots are going, hence the earlier paper targets on which to learn the basics of aim, eye focus and trigger control.
You can add lots of other interesting things but try to keep in mind that safety has to be #1. You also want the experience to be educational (so they do well) and fun (so they want to do it again) but safety must be your full-time concern.
Newbies will do a lot of things wrong.
- They will sweep the muzzle across other people, including yourself, when they want to ask a question. Yell, “FREEZE!” (This is grounds for taking the gun away and not allowing them to shoot anymore.)
- They will put their thumb where a firearm’s action will smack, and possibly break, it. Get their attention immediately and show them why that’s bad, and where to place their thumbs.
- They will shoot the table or dirt immediately in front of themselves unexpectedly and possibly drop the loaded weapon. Yell, “FREEZE!” (This is grounds for taking the gun away and not not allowing them to shoot anymore.)
- When the gun jams or otherwise doesn’t function as expected, they will turn to look for you — watch the muzzle and yell, “FREEZE!“
The “Safety Rules Quiz” is possibly the single most important thing to “do”. And by “do” I mean that you give a copy to each shooter and ask them to verbally tell you the answers.
I introduce this to adults by saying, “Here’s a quiz you need to complete before you can shoot. My safety as well as yours will depend on your actions today. I don’t want you to shoot anyone. Not yourself, not me, not anyone. So, read the instructions in this quiz now and tell me what you think.”
And I tell the kids … the exact same thing. (If the kids are too young to understand and follow the rules, they’re not ready for this sport. “Soon, but not today,” can be your answer.)
The quiz can be done verbally in the car on the way to the range, at the range before anyone starts shooting, as a group, one by one, whatever you think. The important thing is that everyone reads, thinks and talks about each of the safety rules.
Remember, you are the teacher. Listen to their answers and if they don’t quite get it, lead them through the reason for each rule. (If you don’t know the reason for each rule, well, you have some homework to do before going to the range again by yourself, much less with anyone else.)
We learn by repetition and by having them compare the two sets of rules, they will have to read each rule several times. They will, in that process, learn what the rules say and begin to understand why they are so important.
At the range, of course, you will still have to enforce the rules. In some cases, you may need to intercede very quickly.
I tell the newcomers, “If anything goes wrong, freeze. If I see you do something wrong or dangerous, I will tell you to freeze and, because you will be wearing hearing protection, I will say it VERY LOUD. I want you to freeze when that happens. I can then help you and keep everyone here safe.”
Keep it safe. Keep it easy. Keep it simple.
If they feel safe, understand what they did and had some success hitting what they intended or simply shot a gun for the first time in their life and didn’t shoot themselves in the process, then perhaps they will want to do it again.
When you shepherd newcomers, that’s what you want: Return business.