Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Training - Words, Just Words . . . Range Rules and Commands


Rule: a prescribed guide for conduct or action; an accepted procedure, custom, or habit

Command: to direct authoritatively, to exercise a dominating influence over

I conducted a NRA Basic Pistol course recently and was reviewing some range tape. I look for a number of things – am I being attentive, what am I missing, is my manner helpful, are my commands clear and consistent – there’s a lot to watch for. In this last class, the majority of them were new shooters – a couple had never touched a weapon of any kind. One of their greatest fears is the range time where they are expected to properly and safely pick up a handgun, load it and accurately fire it. They get nervous, a little fearful. During the classroom portion, leading up to range time, we simulate the entire process in the classroom and give each student a chance to dry fire the weapon they will be using. And I cover the Range Rules and Commands . . . . and I warn them 21 years in the military has left a bit of an “edge” in my range voice and demeanor. Actually, it’s mellowed significantly – yet it’s presence is still enough to insure that the students do listen and follow my commands.

Just what are these “Range Rules and Commands”? New shooters that have no range time imagine all sorts of things – from the screaming D.I. to the trigger happy red neck. Let’s take a walk through them.

Each range is different in many respects. If you would like to watch our facilities actual “Range Brief” you can do so here. However, there is a core that is used at the vast majority of shooting ranges throughout the country, that’s where I would like to spend my time.

Safety Rules: These are the basics. While there are variants – the NRA basic safety rules are hard to beat.

ALWAYS keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction.

ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

ALWAYS keep your firearm unloaded until you are ready to use it.

A fourth is typically added;

ALWAYS make sure what is in front of – and behind of – your target.

Additional rules concerning the condition of your firearms, fields of fire, hours of operation – to mention just a few – will be contained in your range’s range brief. Pay attention, it could save your life.

Range Commands: On a shooting range, on a firing line – commands are just that – commands! They are not suggestions, general thoughts, good ideas – they are words that demand a specific course of action. With a single exception, they are issued by the RSO or the Training Officer (TO) in charge of the range. Let’s talk about the exception first, and then the individual range commands.

CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE! The Cease Fire command may be given by anyone on the range – ANYONE! Its purpose is to immediately stop all shooting on the range. There may be a person or child wandering around in front of the firing line (this just happened near our community – the 8-year old child received a .22 cal round to the head – jury is still out if he will live), there may have been a shooting accident, or a profoundly unsafe act by a shooter on the line, or a medical emergency just behind the line (think heart attack or fainting spell). Something of significance has happened and all shooting needs to stop. The command CEASE FIRE! Is said three times, in a loud voice. If you as a shooter hear that command, stop firing IMMEDIATELY, put your weapon of safe, and stand at the low ready (weapon pointed down at a 45 degree angle, safety on, finger off the trigger) until someone tells you what to do.

Step to the Firing Line Going to the firing line is at the invitation of the RSO or the Training Officer (TO). (Yes, I know, many ranges do not have either on duty 24/7 – these commands will apply primarily during course work or competition. Yet, following many of these procedures while you are there – on your own – will make for a safer experience.) When you hear this, you will step to the firing line with an unloaded weapon.

Load and Make Ready Insert your loaded magazine, or close your loaded cylinder, or close the loading gate on your SA Revolver, or operate the bolt on your rifle to put a round in the chamber, or operate the slide on your pump to put a round in the chamber. When you complete this command, your weapon is loaded, your safety is on and it is ready to fire.

Ready on the right? Ready on the left? Ready on the firing line? Or Are the shooters ready? The RSO or the TO are asking you if you are ready to go. If you are NOT (something didn’t load right, something feels off) TELL THEM NO, explain to them the issue and have them assist you in clearing it. Do not begin shooting just because everyone else does – make sure you are truly ready to begin the drill.

Your Course of Fire Is . . . I will usually, at this point, remind students what the course of fire is. New shooters can have a million things going through their mind and it helps to focus and settle them. Listen . . .


Stand-By This command is typically limited to shooting competitions. It is given just prior to the Timer pressing the start button on the shooting timer. You will then hear a delayed “beep!” (typically within 2-4 seconds) that gives you permission to Commence Fire.

Unload and Show Clear This command can actually be given any time. If the RSO or TO want to “safe” the range, one of the first things they will ask you to do is to unload your weapon. Release the magazine or open the cylinder and eject the cartridges or open the loading gate on your SA revolver and eject the cartridges. For Semi-Automatic pistols, lock the slide back, hold the weapon in your dominant hand, hold your magazine in your support hand and hold them next to each other so the RSO or TO can clearly see an empty chamber and an empty (or partially loaded) magazine. For a DA revolver, have the cylinder open and all cartridges removed. Hold it so the RSO or TO can clearly see the empty cylinder. For a SA revolver, have the loading gate open, the hammer cocked 2-clicks so the cylinder rotates freely and spin it slowly so the RSO or TO can see all chambers are empty.

Thank You!  I may be the only one to use this command. I say it after the “Unload and Show Clear” when I have physically observed that the shooters weapon is, indeed, unloaded and clear. It is my acknowledgement to the shooter that the process is complete.

MUZZLE!! This command is usually said in a loud and curt voice. It means you have swept the muzzle of you weapon across a part of another shooter’s body. I will give a single warning. The next occurrence earns an immediate ejection from the range and the activity of the day.

The Range (course) is COLD A cold range or course means that a weapon may only be loaded at the firing line and at the command of the RSO or TO. You may load magazines or load your cylinder leaving the cylinder or loading gate open but you may not “Load and Make Ready” until you are invited to the firing line and given the command. This may be the policy of the entire range (as it is at our range) or simply for the duration of the course you are taking.

The Range (course) is HOT A hot range or course means that you keep your weapon “topped off”. Load empty magazines when you have the opportunity. This is typical in more advanced “run and gun” course which are typically limited to more advanced shooters. Actually, this is “real life”, when you are carrying your weapon on a daily basis, your are “Range HOT”. Keep your head in the game during these courses, your life and those of your fellow students are dependent on you doing everything perfectly.

These are not “just words” . . . . they are words to be safe by . . . . they are words to live by.

Pay attention . . . .

Keep your head in the game . . . .

Lives depend on it . . . .


  1. Standard set, and I use the same, even if I get looked at funny sometimes...

  2. Oops, didn't read cold range correctly, we use cold range as NO weapons handling, chamber open or flagged.

    1. Ah. Yep, that's why the range briefs are important.

  3. Bill, you did perfectly fine out there-- absolutely a pro.

    The thing I kept doing wrong is getting my trigger finger in the wrong place. Apparently I learned that wrong 20+ years ago when I previously target shot as I am used to putting it under the trigger guard instead at the ejection port-- and that looks like I was using it as part of the grip. So that habit kept biting me because my finger just didn't want to be there. (And it'll take 100 or more rounds to get over that bad habit.) You were very polite to me about it and you were, of course, right. But I think everyone did a good job at following your lead regardless. You didn't scare or upset anyone. You were faster in correcting me than I was consciously thinking myself and that was great.


    1. Thanks Fred - very kind words. It was a pretty easy group to work with . . . . :). Looking forward to having you in a few more classes next spring.