Calling The Line

Yours Truly in “The Tower”

“Attention! Attention on the line! Your three minute preparation time begins … NOW!”

And so begins another relay.

At the recent Desert Mid-Winter competition in Phoenix, I took turns with Tony Silva calling the line. The Conventional Pistol portion spanned three and a half days starting with a Service Pistol 900 and just under 80 shooters. We ran two relays with an individual 900 and then team, EIC (Leg Match) or DR (Distinguished Revolver) matches almost every day.

For competitors who shoot all events and compete in teams as well, that’s about 150 rounds, more or less, each day.

When not shooting, there’s plenty of time to talk shop, get some lunch and clean guns.

But for those running the match, it’s a different story.

As I discovered, when you “call the line”, you become the person everyone goes to for answers.

“When are the scores going to be posted?”

“The Men’s room is out of toilet paper.”

“Where can I get some good Thai food?”

“What time is 45 Team today?”

It behooves you, therefore, to not only have a copy of the match bulletin immediately at hand, but also to have a couple of runners who can be directed to take care of the unexpected requests.

The Desert Mid-Winter competition is known to be well-run and we try to make it, as least for the line-calling portion, as much like Camp Perry as we reasonably can. In a sense, we view the competition as a training ground for those who will be making their first trip to Perry five months later in July.

So, to make sure I was “calling it straight”, I reviewed the official rules and prepared a script. Hopefully it sounded very much like the one that will be used in the Nationals shortly after Independence Day.

But there are exceptions such as range alerts that need to be announced. Late last year, for example, a Mohave Rattlesnake was discovered underneath the firing line bench where Jason, a local shooter, was sitting. The snake was apparently a juvenile and, if you look it up, you’ll find out this is one of the most dangerous rattlesnakes there is.

So this year we included a “rattlesnake alert” in range announcements. (None were seen nor heard during Desert Mid-Winter, thank goodness.)

But Desert Mid-Winter isn’t Camp Perry. It’s smaller, more friendly, and because we don’t have the crush of competitors that Ohio will see, we can take a less hectic approach.

“Attention shooters. When we ask, ‘Is the line ready?’, raise your hand and holler if you are not. We will stop and give you the time needed. There’s no hurry.”

During one of the matches this year, for example, we had a gun that refused to function. We stopped to allow the shooter to change guns. Not having a spare, he was in a dilemma until his neighbor offered a spare. And while he was being briefed on how the sights were set, the Air Reserve gunsmith standing nearby took the disabled one to see if it could be repaired. Two targets later the original gun was back, repaired and ready to go back into competition. (Thank you, Dan!)

Calling the line also means keeping track of re-fires, when they are or are not allowed for a specific shooter within a match and how many total shots are to be scored (whether or not that many were actually fired). Of course, the individual shooters could also keep track of this but, in the interest of following the rules as closely as possible to be consistent with the Perry competition, the line caller takes on this responsibility.

“Shooters, if you have a malfunction and want an alibi, do not clear the malfunction. Instead, continue to hold your firearm with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and raise your hand. Someone will come and inspect your firearm and tell you what to do.

Range officers then assist by inspecting alibi claims before they are cleared, determining if the alibi is allowed or not. (For example, if the shooter forgets to click off the safety, no alibi is allowed.)

But above all, safety is the first and last concern.

Someone always checks the range to verify that it is clear.

“The range is clear. You may handle your firearms.”

When someone shouts, “Not ready!”, the line caller repeats it, tells everyone to keep their firearms pointed in a safe direction but to otherwise “Stand easy.” And then tells the shooter with a problem, “Take your time and solve the problem safely. Take as much time as you need.”

And before going downrange, there’s the well-known, “Let’s make the line safe. Magazines out. Cylinders open and empty. Slides back. Empty Chamber Indicators in place. Guns on the table.”

This year we added, “When your firearms are safe, step back from the table.” And then we watch and wait until everyone has moved back. (Sometimes it takes a reminder or two.)

Nonetheless, mishaps still happen.

Someone shot a hole in the firing line table but — good for them — they were following the safety rules and had the gun pointed in a safe direction, downrange. (Gary plugged and painted it and then did his normal job of refacing all targets before competition resumed the next morning. Thank you, Gary!)

And an early shot was fired, long before the Rapid Fire targets turned to face. Again, the gun was pointed in a safe direction so no damage was done.

Perhaps most alarming was a shot during a three minute preparation period.

“I thought I was dry-firing!”

Yes dear reader, you are absolutely right: That gun should not have been loaded!

But that’s the very case the safety rules are designed to handle. That’s why the rules are what they are. That is the kind of accident — some will say “negligent discharge” — that is most likely to happen. And because the shooter was otherwise following the rules and had his firearm pointed in a safe direction, no one was hurt.

Here are the NRA’s rules:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot; and
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Here’s rule #1 again — there’s a reason it is #1.

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.


The line caller’s primary job, and that of every shooter on the line, is safety.

“Attention shooters. Anyone, I mean anyone, may call ‘Cease Fire’ at any time if there is an immediate danger.”

I’ve been shooting Bullseye for several years in Phoenix and in various clubs around the US during my business and vacation travel. I’ve spoken with shooters who’ve been engaged in this sport for decades, and some who’ve been doing so for more than half a century and I’ve yet to hear of a single injury from a bullet*.

I hesitate to point it out lest I bring down a curse, but the fact remains that Bullseye, in spite of what the public might otherwise expect given the nature of what we do, is a remarkably safe sport.

“Shooters to the line. This will be the Timed Fire portion of the National Match Course, two strings of five rounds, twenty seconds per string.

“For your first string of Timed Fire, with five rounds … Load!”


* Note:
I have witnessed injuries, however, from a red dot that broke away from a 1911 in recoil and smacked the shooter’s forehead, and I have heard of hand injuries from explosions presumed to be due to reloading problems — a double-charge or a normal round fired after a squib has plugged the barrel.
Accidents do happen.
And, someday, you will be the one at fault.
Practice those rules; your life really does depend on it.


Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

NRA’s Three Rules

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

I occasionally take non-shooters to the range for their first experience with firearms. Over time, I’ve tended toward a similar sequence of presenting things but knowing the Bullseye community’s safety record, I decided to ask for their input as well. The following procedure benefits from the excellent suggestions of Fred, JC, Chuck, Sheral, Kent and George in the Bullseye-L email community, and from the shooters I meet on the line from whom I’ve learned many valuable and sometimes life-saving lessons.

Don’t let the number of steps in this procedure intimidate you. If you are shooting Bullseye, you probably know and do most of them already. The purpose of writing it down is to help you become conscious of these things so you can help new shooters learn them as well.

Remember, they are expecting you to keep them safe, teach them, and to help them have a fun experience. Note the order of those. It is significant.

And before getting into the steps, let me say that both the Instructor (that’s you) and the Range Safety Officer (again, that’s you) must continuously monitor the new shooter(s) until having a high degree of confidence that they are following all of the safety rules as well as the recommended handling procedures. That means you cannot do anything else — your full attention must be on the new shooters at all times. When a problem develops, as you and I know from experience that it will, the new shooters will start looking for you and, as they do, they will turn their body with that loaded gun in their hand. (See Jeff’s rule #2 and the NRA’s rule #1 — they’re about to violate it!)

With attentive individuals, I find I can usually handle two or three new shooters at one time but no more than that, and then only when they demonstrate they can understand and follow directions.

Finally and most importantly, you must be prepared to tell (command!) them to stop, and to then reach in, take the (loaded!) gun from the newbie, make it safe and then say, “This doesn’t seem to be your sport. Please sit down.” You must be prepared to do this no matter who the new shooter is. Family, title and physical size are irrelevant if someone can’t or won’t follow the safety rules.

So, here is the procedure I use. Note that, depending on the available time, we may only get to shoot one or two guns, not the complete set, but it will be in the sequence I’ve listed here. For young shooters, especially, keep the time to not much more than an hour and a (much) smaller number of different guns.

  • Before leaving for the range, clothing check. No open shoes (hot brass!). For the ladies, no exposed decoletage (exposed cleavage) — again, hot brass is the issue.
  • Safety lecture: Jeff Cooper’s four rules and the NRA’s three. I have them read all of Jeff’s four rules aloud. Then I have them read the NRA’s three rules aloud. And then I ask them to compare the two and tell me where they are different, and where they are the same. I then talk about the reasons for each rule, the common violations and what can happen, and then I have them read all the rules out loud again. For the newbie who thinks this is excessive, I add, “I’ve seen the best shooters in the world violate one or two of these through negligence, but because they were still following the rest, nobody was killed. We follow the rules or we don’t shoot.” (If a newbie doesn’t get serious and understand that this is deadly serious, he doesn’t shoot.)
  • At the range, the general rules thereof. Basically this is more safety-focused information. What is “the firing line” and what does it mean to be “hot” or “safe”. (Guns are visibly unloaded and must not be touched for any reason while the line is “safe”.)
  • And more safety: Eye and ear protection.
  • Gun handling and where to put your trigger finger 99% of the time (Jeff’s rule #3). I have a collection of pictures from magazines that show people holding guns with their trigger fingers outside of the trigger guard. This is a new idea to most non-shooters — keeping their finger off the trigger — and most newcomers need a lot of reinforcement to get used to this idea.
  • Where is the direction called “down range” that the muzzle is supposed to be pointed to at all times — that’s NRA safety rule #1 that’s not explicitly in Jeff’s list of four — and that’s why I teach both sets. (A “safe direction” is not into the concrete nor up through the roof. It is “down range” and into the berm.
  • What to do if something goes wrong: Freeze! Continue holding the gun and keep it pointed downrange. Wait for the Instructor to look and tell you what to do.
  • Instructor verifies the line is safe and is accompanied by newbie to post a target, preferably no further than 15 feet. Use a round target, not a man-shape — you want them thinking about and focused on the gun and what they are doing with their bodies and hands rather than what they are shooting at. (Leave the watermelons at home and save them for lunch or a “plinking” expedition.)
  • (Line goes hot.)
  • How to aim iron sights (explaining center, six o’clock and sub-six if appropriate to the gun they will shoot next). Also, what is “Kentucky windage”.
  • Note that, in the following, the newbie is permitted to “dry fire” each gun before trying a live round. (Where appropriate, take dry-firing plugs to facilitate this.)
  • A 22 caliber revolver is probably the best gun to begin with. It avoids the hot brass issues of automatics. Demonstrate how to load, grip — and where to put the thumbs, and then aim and fire, and finally unload. Demonstrate double action and then single action shooting. (I don’t have a 22 revolver [Oh dear, I need to buy another gun!] so I skip this and start shooters on my Ruger Mk III.)
  • Ruger Mk III (22 cal.) with iron sights operation (and how *this* gun’s sights are set up) and demonstration by Instructor. Note again where the thumbs go and why. (My 22s will make my thumb sore if I put it up behind the slide when firing. Don’t ask how I know. But I don’t know what the 1911s slide feels like, nor do I plan on finding out!)
  • Newbie loads one round, readies the weapon, aims (Instructor verifies all steps including that the newbie’s trigger finger moves onto the trigger now, not before, and that the thumbs are not directly behind the slide) and fires — newbie continues holding gun up, moves trigger finger out of the trigger guard and then puts the gun down. Newbie then loads many rounds and so forth. Finally, newbie makes the gun safe (including Empty Chamber Indicator — ECI).
  • Anything beyond this point is subject to your judgment and discretion. (Of course, so have all the steps up to this point as well. Remember, they are expecting you to keep them safe, to teach them, and to have fun — in that order.)
  • At some point and after the newcomer has shot several rounds, you may want to show them how to clear a jam or otherwise deal with some issue. This is the most likely time they will violate Jeff’s Rule #2 (and NRA #1) so BEWARE! Tell them that, before trying to clear a jam or make any adjustment, they must move their feet and body. The gun must stay pointing downrange at all times. (I imagine the muzzle to glued in that direction and I move my body around while I work on a gun to keep it that way.) Demonstrate standing at the line in firing position but then turn before attempting to manually cycle the slide. Keep the muzzle always pointed down range.
  • Newbie verifies the line is safe then puts up a new target.
  • Move up to a moderate center fire caliber such as 38 — but not a snubbie. Save that for after a 45 ACP 1911.
  • A 1911 “wad” gun (45 ACP) with red dot can be the next experience, similar to above.
  • Then, let them try a 1911 ball gun (45 ACP) with iron sights. If they fired the wad gun, you can skip most of the demonstration where it is the same but add, “You’ll need to hang onto this even more. Grip it hard.”
  • After 1911 ball and if the newbie is interested, then I’ll let them shoot a snubbie (38 or 357). Note that because of the tiny grip, I watch their preparation and firing of this gun as attentively as I did the very first one.
  • Free pistol (single shot 22, extremely light trigger) demonstration followed by newbie starts by dry-firing (typically by accident and sometimes into the bench, and sometimes more than once!) before proceeding to live ammunition.
  • At this point — and if they want to shoot more, then I let them shoot whatever they wish. But note that I’m still doing nothing but watching each of them. As the Instructor, you must remain alert for jams and unusual conditions because that is when they are most likely to violate one or more of the safety rules. The operative phrase, yelled very loudly, is “Everybody freeze”. Then I can tell them what to do and safely get to the one that needs help.
  • Time and inclination permitting, you can work in some air pistol shooting at the indoor range but, by this time, you’ll have spent half the day at the range. Some will say this is “too much” for a first time experience. You’ll need to be sensitive to your guests and not let your zeal overwhelm their stamina or interest.
  • On the drive home, I go over Jeff’s and the NRA’s rules one last time but do not point out any violations — if they happened, they know if and what they were even if you don’t. Rather, I want to leave the experience on a positive note.
  • So I ask which guns they liked best, which ones were the loudest, how did it feel and so on?
  • Then, let them talk. Just smile and nod your head. Ask the occasional question if the “conversation” falters but let them talk. This time at the range was for them. Let it be that way.
  • If they are interested, you can describe some of the different shooting sports. I typically mention the action pistol sports such as IPSC and IDPA, the Olympic-style competitions and, of course, my favorite, Bullseye which is, officially, the NRA Conventional Pistol form. You can add that there are many rifle-only sports (small bore, high power and La Palma to name but a few) as well as several sports that shoot multiple types of firearms. In that latter category, I always mention Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) because it combines not only three guns (hand guns, rifles and shotguns) but also some play-acting — a word to the wise: they wear “outfits”, not “costumes” — and social events. Understandably, CAS is very popular in the southwest but it shows up around the country and in many non-US locations as well.
  • Finally, and again if they’re so inclined, I’ll then invite them to our regular Tuesday evening Nighthawks event. We shoot a Bulleye 900 on the first and third Tuesdays, an International standard pistol 600 on the second and fourth, and an “any gun” L Match (900) on those twice-a-year fifth Tuesdays. I let them know they’re free to shoot my guns as much as they wish and, even if I’m not there, they are likely to find someone else who is just as willing to share.

Again, my thanks to Fred, JC, Chuck, Sheral, Kent and George for adding several excellent ideas.

If the newbies have a safe experience, learn about hand guns and have a good time, they’ll come back.

You’ll have made a convert.

“Keep the line safe!”

Negligent (Accidental) Discharge

No, it wasn’t me, thank the Lord, the NRA, most of the Bulleye shooters I know, and pure dumb luck when at a public range with ignorant novices and testosterone-pumped young studs all around.

  • The linked web blog (below) is graphic.
  • There’s blood, pictures of the wound, descriptions of the pain, etc..
  • And the guy is not out of the woods yet: Just because he survived the gun shot doesn’t mean he’s going to survive the wound.

The link:

Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules:

  1. All guns are *always* loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target.

Accidental Discharge

(Posted to Bullseye-L.)

It’s worth mentioning an “oops” (Accidental Discharge) I had while doing the Ball and Dummy drill in the hope that someone else may avoid doing likewise.

I loaded five live and two dummy 45 caliber rounds in random order into a magazine, readied the magazine and proceeded to fire.

After one of the dummy rounds, I pulled open the slide with my hand over the ejection port to catch the dummy round and then (somewhat clumsily) released the slide to chamber the next mystery round. This usually works but, for whatever reason, the next round didn’t fully chamber and, looking at the back of the gun, I could see the slide had not gone completely forward.

Having done something similar with my S&W 41, I knew better than to push forward on the slide. (The extractor [I erroneously wrote “ejector” in my original posting] crushes the edge of the 22 caliber rimfire cartridge and, BANG!)

Instead, I removed the magazine and carefully pulled the slide open to inspect the chamber. Sure enough, a 45 round was sitting in the chamber and, somehow, the extractor had not engaged it.

At this point I *SHOULD HAVE* locked the slide open, and then tilted the gun and shaken it to remove the live round. (Or is there a better way?)

But I didn’t. Instead, I did the wrong thing and released the slide and, BANG!

Before you ask, Yes, I was following safety rule #1 and had the muzzle pointed down range. Thank you everyone else for presenting such good examples. That’s a sincere “thank you”.

My ignorant (tired?) mind was presuming the extractor would “snap over” the rim and I’d then be able to fire that round. But instead, when I released the slide, the extractor crushed the side of the round’s base which, in turn, crushed the primer and set it off.

When the round fired, the slide was apparently not completely closed because, when I inspected the brass afterward, the case was puffed backward around the deformed base and primer. I was lucky it hadn’t split and let loose in my direction.

Moral of the story: Open the slide fully to eject the dummy round and lock the slide open. Then, close the slide in the same manner you would as if you’d just inserted the magazine.

Here’s the sequence I had demonstrated to do that: Right thumb on hammer under the locked open slide, left thumb on grip safety, left forefinger depresses the trigger, move left thumb releases slide and round is loaded into the chamber, move left thumb in front of hammer, right thumb releases hammer and you find out if the hammer has been released or not, remove left forefinger from trigger and if necessary, recock the hammer and release the hammer and, finally, assuming the hammer is not pressing on it, remove the left thumb from in front of the trigger. The gun is ready to fire. Sounds complicated but with a little practice, the “dance steps” become automatic.


It was the opinion of several respondents, some of whom are accomplished gunsmiths, that the gun did not fire as a result of the extractor crushing the case as I had theorized. Speculations included a stuck firing pin and other ideas but, after the fact, there was no way to tell for sure.

I had the gun checked (before cleaning) but the gunsmith found nothing amiss. The actual cause of the gun firing will, therefore, remain a mystery.

But it is clear that dropping the slide on a chambered round is a very bad idea. I won’t do that again!

Why NRA Safety Rule #1 is #1

Posted to Bullseye-L

With all of the conversations on this list about sight picture, where to focus, how to hold, what loads are used at the short versus the long line, when to think and when to just shoot, safety is seldom mentioned but, nonetheless, is in every movement we make at the line.

I recently observed an AD [Accidental Discharge] at the range. The individual did *almost* everything right, and because this shooter kept the NRA’s Safety Rule #1 as their personal #1 that day, when *almost* happened, no one was hurt.

It was the first string of Rapid Fire. The targets faced the shooters and the shooting began. The shooter I was observing (from whom I hoped to learn some good lessons) methodically settled in and released four shots, and then the targets turned away.

The shooter lowered the 1911’s muzzle, ejected the empty magazine and readied the next one. Then, the muzzle was lowered all the way to the tabletop, still angled downrange, but the shooter’s body blocked my view. I couldn’t see what happened next but it was clear the shooter had noticed the slide hadn’t needed to be released on the new magazine. I presume the shooter was checking the gun when …


The fifth round from the first string went off. It had been chambered after the fourth shot in the first string but too late for the then turned away target. That was why the slide was forward when the magazine was replaced.

The AD punched a hole through the tabletop at an angle and went into the dirt a few feet downrange from the shooter’s table.

There was a stunned moment of silence on the line.

Everyone looked around to see what had happened.

The range master asked, “Is anyone hurt?”

Fortunately, everyone was all right.

A few nervous chuckles up and down the line relieved the tension and, after a double-check of the gun, the shooter signalled readiness for the final string.

And, as befits this individual’s skill and experience, that final string of five landed in the target like any other string of five … or four.

NRA Safety Rule #1: ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe

Good lesson. Thank you.

Accidental Discharge!

Email posted to Bullseye-L

I’ll add a STRONG WARNING on this [thread]. No doubt my “beginner” status contributed heavily to the “learning experience” (below) and all I can say is I’m glad the “keep the gun pointed downrange” rule had been thoroughly ingrained into my habits.

Here’s what happened.

Once while shooting my S&W model 41 I noticed that, after firing a round, the next round was apparently not fully seated — I could see that the breech was about 1/10″ shy of being fully closed. Without thinking (but luckily with the barrel pointed downrange), I used my left thumb to press the action fully closed.


The round went off leaving a small mark in the range’s concrete floor (and roof?).

I immediately stopped, unloaded the gun, and went and found the on-site gunsmith (I was shooting at the Scottsdale Gun Club) to ask his advice. He’s not always at the club but, this day, he was “between jobs” and able to look things over [at no charge, thank you]. Everything appeared to be in normal, working and safe condition.

He commented, “This seems a bit dirtier and more oily than I’d prefer.” And then he later concluded that my (at that time) practice of oiling the top round in the magazine led to dirt accumulating in the chamber (which might occur without the oil, of course), that a round failed to seat completely because of that, and my thumb push and a sudden slippage were sufficient to set off the round. (I did not save the spent cartridge so I can’t say whether or not the firing pin got into the act.)

Regardless, the lessons I learned included keeping things clean (and on the dry side — no more oil on the top round in my magazines, thank you) and, perhaps more important to my well-being, don’t push on the back of the slide if a round doesn’t seat correctly. Instead, manually cycle the action and throw that round away.

My thumb was only marginally sore.