Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Shooting Range Safety

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By Hayley Lynch
When the weather is warm and most hunting seasons are still a month or more away, it’s a good time to visit the shooting range to sharpen your skills for the fall season. Besides honing your shooting skills, it’s also a good time to practice safe and responsible gun handling. This is even more important because you’ll be around other shooters instead of being in the woods by yourself.
When you visit a range, always remember these safety rules:

    • Always point your gun in a safe direction.
    • Keep the action open and the gun unloaded until you are ready to shoot.
    • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
    • Know your target and what is beyond it.
    • Do not hunt or shoot after drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Some prescription medications may cause drowsiness or other side effects; they should not be used prior to handling a gun.

        Major David Casey, assistant director of law enforcement for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and an avid shooter for nearly 40 years, stresses safety. “Probably the safest thing that I can think of is to keep the action open on the weapon at all times until you’re in the shooting box,” he advised. “No matter what kind of action it is – whether it’s a bolt action, lever action, pump, hinge or automatic – if the action is open, the gun is safe.”
Over the years, Casey developed a habit that he says twice kept him from a dangerous situation. “If someone hands me a gun, or if I pick up a gun that’s been put up for a while, I always open the action and check the barrel to make sure it’s clear,” he explained.
Once, the barrel contained a plastic piece that had come off a choke tube wrench. Another time, there was mud in the barrel. In both instances, Casey could have been injured if the obstructions had been in the barrel when he shot.
Casey also advises shooters to make sure that they load their gun with the correct ammunition, especially if they are shooting several different calibers or gauges of guns at the range. A mistake can be dangerous.
These basic gun safety rules apply to all types of shooting ranges. But shooters should also learn and heed the rules of their particular range type.
“If you’re shooting sporting clays, stay on the path,” Casey said. “The range is designed so that the shot-fall area is in a safe place. If you’re some place you’re not supposed to be, you could get hit by pellets.
“At static-type rifle ranges, never go forward toward the target until everyone has their weapons safely secured,” Casey added.
It’s a good idea to designate one person as the range officer. This person is responsible for calling to the other shooters when it’s time to cease firing. Also, the range officer checks each shooter and points out any safety violations.
“A range is not a place for horseplay or alcohol,” Casey said. “Don’t be afraid to point out unsafe things to other people at the range. You might save their life – or yours.”
Public shooting ranges are available at six Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Kentucky: Curtis Gates Lloyd WMA in Grant County, Higginson-Henry WMA in Union County, John A. Kleber WMA in Owen County, Miller Welch-Central Kentucky WMA in Madison County, Peabody WMA in Ohio County and Taylorsville Lake WMA in Spencer County.
These are tube-style ranges, in which shooters fire through a large metal pipe at the target. These tubes help direct gunfire to the safest location. These ranges are suitable rifles or slug shotguns. Exact locations of the shooting ranges can be found on WMA maps atfw.ky.gov. Click on “Maps & Online Services,” then “Public Hunting Area Maps.”