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Today’s episode is simple: I wanted to talk about a recent experience taking two new shooters to the range for the first time. I think this is one of those pivotal moments in peoples’ lives, and we should strive to get it right for their first time.

I know I’ve made mistakes in the past, and I’m sure you have as well. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying your best to make sure that others have as an incredible experience as you can deliver for their first time. In this episode, I share the story of Shane and William, two friends of mine who had never been to the range.

William, interestingly, was visiting from France. He realized that an opportunity to shoot AR-15’s at a rifle range was something hey may never get another chance to do, so he lept on the opportunity.

Summary

This episode doesn’t have a lot of technical details or things to really focus on. It’s really just the story of taking these guys to the range for the first time.

The big takeaways are about my personal process for introducing new shooters to guns. It basically follows the same sequence every time:

  1. Motivation
  2. Safety
  3. Familiarization
  4. “The First Shot”
  5. Range Time
  6. Debrief/Remotivation

To be honest, this is very similar to the pattern I use for teaching classes in the professional world. It just works.

Motivation & Safety

Before jumping into the safety rules, I actually like to discuss what new shooters expect to get out of the experience. I also ask them what they are afraid of.

You’d be surprised how often it seems like just putting these emotions into words helps organize their thoughts and reduce stress. Once you tack on the safety briefing, people who were afraid before begin understanding that they are in control of what happens next.

Familiarization

During this phase, I start with an old airsoft M16A2 that I’ve got from my high school days. It makes a great training aid because it has the same look, dimensions, and similar functionality as an actual rifle.

Using the dummy rifle, I teach them about the components of the rifle like the muzzle, barrel, grip, safety, trigger, magazine, and charging handle.

I show them how to safely operate all of these components and then have them practice.

Once satisfied with their safe handling of the dummy rifle, I break out a real rifle. For this phase, I tend to use the Minuteman Rifle because it’s relatively simple and non-threatening.

Once they repeat the same behaviors with the actual rifle, we pack up and head to the range.

The First Shot

Eventually, it all leads to this: their first shot.

Something I’ve learned over time is to only load a single round into the gun for the first trigger pull. I once had a bad experience with a first-timer with this. I handed them the Beretta with a full magazine, and they proceeded to fire one shot down range and then another into the sky.

The first shot surprised them, so they flinched. And then they reflexively squeezed their hand again with their finger still on the trigger.

William, trying his hand at the supported kneeling

Thankfully, nobody was hurt that day. But ever since then, I only load a single shot until they know what to expect.

You know you’ve succeeded when you see that smile spread across their face.

Range Time

This is the bulk of the session. Once familiar with the weapon and what happens when they pull the trigger, I switch to teaching the basics. On this particular day, we focused on basic rifle marksmanship. I demonstrated some stances and positions and had them copy.

William turned out to be a natural at it.

I brought along a variety of targets, including Appleseed Red Coats, plain zeroing targets, and even the Minuteman Marksman Challenge target to see what they could do with it.

I took a run at it myself, and missed it by a single shot.

Boo.

Debriefing

After the range trip, I always sit down with the new shooter and talk over what’s going on in their minds. The key here is to make sure they had and continue to think about the positive experience. 

In the training world, we call this the law of affect. 

When people feel good about something, they are more likely to remember it and do it again in the future.

I also made sure to highlight the diversity of people who were at the range. There were couples on a date, tactical bros, and other regular folks just like us having a good time.

I think it goes a long way to break up stereotypes and help people feel included.

Wrapping Up

That’s it for this episode. Let me know what you like to do for someone’s first range trip. Even better, tell me about your very first range trip and how it went for you.

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Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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John_Simpson
Member

Excellent narrative. A textbook case of introducing non-shooters to shooting.
How much of the fundamentals did you cover with them?

Akm295
Member

This, this, this! Reaching out to people and taking folks to the range is the best way to grow the community and help people make informed decisions about firearms. Online echo chambers and throwing articles and data points at each other on social media doesn’t change hearts and minds. Getting someone out to the range and helping them understand firearms in a safe and educational way can.

Just this summer I took a group of buddies shooting on a retreat. None of them were gun owners and most had never shot or hadn’t shot in years. I did a walkthrough very similar to what you described to lay a safe foundation before we headed out. We plinked with 22s, shot some rifles, and broke some clays doing some informal trap shooting. Everyone had a great time and good discussions were had afterwards. One of them is currently pursuing buying their first shotgun and taking up the clay shooting sports in California of all places.

Bradford Ayers
Guest
Bradford Ayers

Matt, I’ve got both a red dot and flip up iron sites on my AR-15. Having a new shooter shoot the rifle, do you have a recommendation on which site to use. I feel like start with iron sites and maybe do red dot on a later date. What’s you feeling on this?

Cutright
Member
Cutright

I’m late to the party on this one but, as always, a great listen. I too like to touch on the emotional side of shooting and firearms as its powerful one for a lot of new shooters, especially if they are well into adulthood. I never considered an airsoft rifle as a training aid per se but that’s a solid idea too.

Glad everyone had a blast. Pun intended…

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