Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Basic Safety Tips For Your First Competition

Let's have a fun SAFE time out here guys, ok?
So you've decided to jump in the deep end and participate in your first competition huh? I sincerely hope that everyone who participates in the shooting sports has had a safety course or shooter education course. (I was fortunate that growing up shooting competitively in the Georgia 4-H program, I was required to complete the Georgia Hunter's Safety Course. This ingrained safety rules in me early on.)  I know that's wishful thinking, so I'd like to just list some basic firearm safety rules to keep in mind when you hit the range. These are taken from the NRA basic firearm safety rules, with some additions of my own. The actual NRA rules are listed in italics below each rule. Ignoring or violating some of the basic firearm safety rules will get you thrown off a course in the blink of an eye, which is no fun for anyone. Worse than that, being careless or unsafe with firearms could always end in an injury or even worse. Please be safe and use common sense at the range and hopefully you'll be starting a hobby that will continue for a long time.

(And if you are an experienced shooter, then you know it never hurts to get a quick safety refresher.)

1. The golden rule of shooting is to ALWAYS POINT YOUR FIREARM IN A SAFE DIRECTION. The muzzle of your firearm should never be pointed at anything that you don't intend to shoot. This is true if the gun is loaded or not. Pointing a firearm at someone whether accidental or not is an automatic ticket off the range, probably for an extended amount of time. This rule can be expanded by the concept of having good muzzle control. Your handgun should be holstered at all times unless you are staging to start a course of fire or are actively shooting. As soon as you are finished, it should be cleared with an RO and put back into the holster. (Fairly typical for most ranges I have been on). The same goes for rifles and shotguns. They should be empty with the breach open unless you are the current shooter who is about to complete your course of fire. Most ranges will have a safe area over to the side where weapons can be manipulated without penalty. This should be an area in which it is impossible to point the weapon at someone else. Weapons should remain unloaded in the safe area while being manipulated.

a.k.a. Pretty much self-explanatory.

This goes for spectators or scorers as well. Stay aware of where the current shooter is and stay well behind them while they are active in their course of fire.

2. Keep your finger off the trigger when not firing or moving on your feet. If your finger is off the trigger, negligent discharges should not happen. This is a rule that is hard to remember at first but with practice becomes second nature. If you think about it, you hear this comment a lot in competitions from the RO who observes shooters moving with their finger inside the trigger guard. Try to actively make yourself remove your finger from the trigger and place it outside the trigger guard when you are not shooting or are on the move. With many experiences in shooting competition, you may evolve to the level that you place the weapon back on safety when moving around the course. This is not a requirement but is definitely an advanced skill and very safe.

a.k.a. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Don't rely on a gun's safety.

The low-ready position

3. Be wary of where the muzzle is pointed when at rest or on the move. This is an extension of rule 1. Many ranges have berms made from dirt that surround the ranges to prevent shots from escaping the range and potentially hitting the surrounding areas. With rifles however, point the muzzle skyward while reloading or running opens up the potential for a discharge over the berm and into the neighborhood next door. Some ranges will really hammer you about this, so be aware of the muzzle AT ALL TIMES. This rules cannot be stressed enough. A more important extension of muzzle awareness is maintaining the 180 degree rule at all times. The 180 degree rule basically creates an imaginary line left and right of you as you face the range, and no one should go forward of that line while your weapon is "HOT" and you should not take the muzzle behind that line at any time. As I said with many of these rules, they become ingrained over time and when you are starting out, you have to consciously be aware of the muzzle.

a.k.a. "Know your target and what is beyond"

He knows his weapon a little bit...just a little.

4. Know your weapon. i.e. how to manipulate it and if it functions safely. This is self-explanatory as well. If you are going out to compete in 3-Gun, USPSA, IDPA, etc, you should have quality equipment that you are familiar with and know how to operate. Not only that, but keeping your equipment maintained and in safe working order is imperative as well. Gun malfunctions can potentially harm both the shooter and others on the range who are within close proximity if a "Kaboom" happens. It's a good idea to practice manipulations with your firearms safely at home or at a range prior to competitions to be familiar with clearing malfunctions, reloading, and other common manipulations required during competition. In addition, shoot quality ammo, or if you reload, do it with care and caution. Many, many, many rifle Kabooms are due to improperly reloaded ammo. This goes for gun modifications as well. You should be sure your gun is working properly after modifying it in any way before you go out to the range to compete.

a.k.a. Know how to use the gun safely.

He's happy because his ears are happy.
5. Eye and ear protection are required at all times during competition. Shooting glasses or corrective glasses are permitted, and almost any type of hearing protection is fine, from foam plugs to high-end electronic muffs. Low-profile electronic ear-muffs are really nice as they allow you to hear conversations well but tune out the percussion from gunfire. It's a good idea to go ahead and gear up as soon as the first shooter begins and don't take your protection off until the end of shooting. Using a suppressor doesn't exclude you from wearing these either. The rules are the same for everyone.

a.k.a. Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.

6. Guns and alcohol/drugs don't mix. This doesn't really need much elaboration. Just don't do it. Seriously.

7. Follow directions. This is not so much an "NRA safety rule" but more of a common-sense, smart practice for being on a range. Follow the instructions of your RO when it is your turn to shoot. Only grab your weapons when instructed, put them in the appropriate staging areas, only load when instructed, begin fire when instructed, and after you've completed your course of fire, wait for the RO to give you clearance instructions before you turn around, move, or start walking back to the clubhouse holding your weapon. Be sure of re-holstering rules before your begin. Ranges vary, some will not allow re-holstering until showing clear, others are different. Don't be "that guy".

Everyone pitch in.
8.  Help set up and score. Again, not a safety rule but disregarding this point will get you a bad reputation among shooters and you won't get invited back. Setting up and taking down the targets and course takes a lot of time and effort. Scoring also takes up a huge amount of time in between shooters and goes much more smoothly if everyone is pitching in. It might be nice to sit in the shade and sip sweet tea with your buddies, but everyone will like you a whole lot more if you are out there participating. You'll also have a lot more fun getting to know people and developing shooting relationships. (And if you are new, you'll understand scoring a whole lot more if you are out there doing it.) Once again, don't be "that guy".

That's about all I got for now. Get out there early and pay attention during the safety briefing. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you have them, as it's understood that new shooters will be unfamiliar with some things and it's always better to be safe than sorry. Have fun and be safe!

See you next time.

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