Shooting Range Etiquette - Everything You Need to Know

There are some important things that you need to know before you visit a shooting range for the first time. Even if you are a frequent shooting range visitor, this article could be useful for you to refresh your memory and test you knowledge about the right shooting range etiquette. There are also a few important terms that you need to know that will help you understand things better and shoot safer.

Important Terms in Shooting

• Firing Line - This is one of the most important terms to know. The firing line is where shooters stand to fire. At most shooting ranges, firearms must remain cased and unloaded until you reach the firing line.

Downrange - Downrange means - toward the targets. When you are on the firing line, the barrel of your firearm should be pointed downrange at all times.

• Cease Fire - If you hear “cease-fire” called, it means that everyone on the firing line needs to stop firing immediately. There are many reasons a cease fire could be called, including personnel downrange, a malfunctioning firearm, or a malfunctioning target.

• Hot and cold - These terms apply to the range itself. A “hot” range means that shooters are allowed to begin firing. A “cold” range is under a cease fire and nobody should be shooting. On some ranges, when a cease fire is called, all shooters must put down their firearms and not touch them again until the range is hot again. These terms are widespread in the United States shooting ranges but also can be heard in shooting ranges in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and the rest of the world.

• Backstop - A backstop is what the bullet will strike after it goes through your target. Indoor ranges have backstops built into the range. They are angled at a 45-degree angle downward to direct the bullets safely into the ground. At outdoor ranges, large mounds of dirt are often used as backstops. When firing, especially transitioning between different targets, it’s important to never fire at a target without a backstop present.

• Lanes - At indoor ranges, the firing line is divided into lanes. Each lane is separated from the other lanes by a partition, usually bulletproof glass, so each shooter has its own stall. Also, outdoor shooting ranges technically have lanes but those usually won’t be divided by any partitioning. Each lane also has one target or a set of targets depending on the discipline. Lanes are usually numbered.

• Bench - Each lane has a bench (which is more like a table) where you can set your firearms and ammunition down. At outdoor ranges, the bench may include an actual seat that you can use to fire rifles from the seated position. This will depend on the shooting discipline and firing position.

The more you shoot, the quicker you will pick up the lingo. Just remember, a magazine and a clip are NOT the same things.

Proper Etiquette in Shooting Sports

First things first. Each range will have printed rules posted somewhere near the firing line. It’s important to read all of the rules before you begin shooting. Most ranges will have generally similar rules, but it’s still important to read them anyway. Most of the rules will have to do with safety. Now’s a good time to discuss safety. There are four primary rules when it comes to range safety that you will find at any range. They are:

Range Safety Officer

Most ranges will have a Range Safety Officer, or RSO, whose responsibility is to keep the range safe at all times for all shooters. You need to follow the instructions of the RSO at all times. Some of the duties of the RSO include calling cease fire, calling the range hot and cold, and addressing any problems that may occur. Keep in mind, anybody on the range can call a cease fire if they see an unsafe act.

Target Shooting

Once you begin shooting, there are several things that you should know to be welcomed back to the range the next time. First, make sure you’re shooting at your target and only your target. When firing lanes are close together, it can sometimes get confusing as to which target is yours. Oftentimes, the lanes, targets, and benches are all numbered, which makes it easier to identify your target. Not always, however. Speaking of targets, try not to intentionally shoot the target stands. Some outdoor ranges have target stands made of wood, while others are made of metal. Regardless of the material, they will need replacing sooner if you shoot at them intentionally. That costs a range of money and it’s just not cool. Don’t intentionally destroy property. One last thing about targets; make sure that you only shoot range-approved targets. Most ranges allow paper or cardboard targets, and some allow bowling pin and steel targets. If in doubt, speak to the RSO or front desk personnel. There are targets available that explode when they are shot, Do not bring those to the range.

Leaving The Shooting Range

Before you leave, many ranges ask you to pick up your expended brass before you go. Many shooters reload ammunition, so if you don’t intend to keep it, there is often a bucket to throw it in nearby. Also be sure to clean up any trash, like ammunition boxes and other garbage. Also, don’t forget to take down your used targets from the target stands. In general, it’s a good practice to leave the range in better condition than when you arrived.


These few simple rules will help make the range a safer, friendlier, and all-around better place to spend our recreation or training time. Whether it’s your first time at a range or you’ve been a member for years, each of us do our part to make the experience memorable for our fellow shooters.