How to Win Over New Shooters

I’m a firm believer in getting non-shooters to the range. Every single new shooter I’ve taken to the range has had a safe, enjoyable time, and about 80% have been shooting with me at least once after the first time (most of those who don’t are simply acquaintances or friends-of-friends, and we don’t often spend much time together).
Most people are perfectly willing to give it a shot (pun very much intended), but there are always some tough sells: whether the person is anti-gun, gun-neutral, or nervous, it can require a bit of effort to convince them to come. I’ve come up with a few tips for interacting with these people:
Getting Non-Shooters to Come to the Range

  1. Don’t be crazy. Nothing turns non-shooters off more (and makes the rest of us look bad) than crazy people with guns. Somehow, I doubt the UN has listening devices in your walls or stealth helicopters following you around. Knock it off. Really.
  2. Don’t bring up politics. This can be a major turn-off.
  3. See rule number 2.
  4. If politics cannot possibly be avoided (such as someone asking about the 1994-2004 Federal AWB, or a particular candidate’s stance on a certain issue), be objective, be calm, and be brief. Never be the first one to bring up politics, and try to steer the conversation to a non-politicial topic as soon as practical.
  5. Know your stuff. The “AR” in “AR-15” stands for “Armalite model 15“, not “Assault Rifle”. If someone asks about “assault weapons” and you have an AR-15, be prepared to demonstrate the various features (flash hider, bayonet lug, etc.) that the now-expired ban covered. It might be good to mention that guns not mentioned by name and lacking the specific features were perfectly legal to buy during the ban, and that the banned guns were functionally identical to non-banned guns (AR vs. Mini-14, for example). Make a point of not using the term “assault weapon” when describing such firearms.
  6. Understand your audience. Last night, I spoke with two female university students about gunny stuff. Both are very intelligent (one is triple-majoring in Physics, Astronomy, and Math and has a 4.0 cumulative GPA). Both were intrigued by the various steps involved in reloading, and I explained it to them and demonstrated the process using scientific terms. If they were not scientifically-minded, I’d adjust the explanations accordingly. When we were talking about different styles of guns, I mentioned that many military-based firearms tend to be designed for people of larger body sizes (i.e. men), and guns with these dimensions can be uncomfortable for some women and smaller men; the collapsible stock allows one to adjust the rifle such that it’s comfortable for people of a wide range of body types to shoot. They both seemed to appreciate this feature.
  7. Relate to your audience. One of my female friends is a proficient shooter and scientist, and works wonders at getting women involved as she can relate to them in a variety of ways. If politics comes up (see Rules 2-4), I’ve found that my pro-rights-in-general leanings tend to go over well with most college-aged students, as well as people in most groups. Don’t do all the talking; get to know who you’re talking to, try to see things from their view, and relate to them. A friend if mine is very much interested in gay and womens rights; a mention of the Pink Pistols and Babes with Bullets proved a vital link between her interests and my own, as well as establishing that we were both concerned with rights.
  8. Avoid talking about self-defense until you understand the person better. Not everyone is comfortable with violence, even in self-defense. If the topic does come up, be objective and intelligent about it…don’t start talking about what rounds are the best for “ventiliating” bad guys.
  9. Don’t be patronizing. Shooting tends to be a male-dominated activity, and can be intimidating for many new shooters, particularly women. Many people have misconceptions about gun owners (that we’re all uneducated, unsafe, uncouth, redneck men); by being polite, knowledgeable, safe, and attentive, you can gently change their minds. Don’t be a pig.
  10. Realize that you were a new shooter once. Think of how they feel.
  11. Be sure to emphasize that shooting is a safe, fun, and enjoyable activity enjoyed by millions of people from diverse backgrounds.

At this point, the non-shooter should be interested in going to the range. If so, schedule a time that works for both of you. If possible and desired, try to arrange for a few other people (new shooters, until-recently-new-shooters, and experienced shooters) to come with. Group activities tend to be more fun.
If the non-shooter remains uninterested, not a problem. Don’t insist on anything. It’d probably be a good idea to change topics and not bring up guns at this time. Perhaps you’ll have better luck in the future.
At The Range

  1. Before your journey to the range, make sure that everyone understands the rules of gun safety and some examples where one might inadvertently violate them (e.g. if a pistol malfunctions, many people turn it sideways to examine it, sweeping the firing line — doing so violates Rule #2). If the range has specific rules, be sure to go over them with the new shooter(s).
  2. Be sure to bring food and drink, as appropriate. Also ensure that people are appropriately dressed, both in regards to clothing (open-toed shoes and low-cut shirts tend to be magnets for hot brass) and safety equipment (eye and ear protection).
  3. Start every new shooter off on a .22LR, preferably a .22 rifle. I recommend outdoor ranges, as the noise is not as intense as indoors.
  4. DO NOT START NEW SHOOTERS WITH HIGH-RECOIL FIREARMS. .357 Magnum is not an appropriate beginner’s firearm, nor is .30-06. Even a 9mm Glock 17 may not be suitable for some people. In keeping with Rule #3, I always have a .22LR rifle and pistol when I go to the range, and they make ideal guns for new shooters to start on. Recoil causes new shooters to develop bad habits like flinching, and may turn them off from the shooting sports entirely. If possible, avoid shooting lanes next to people with high-recoil/high-noise firearms…a blast from a .50 BMG’s muzzle brake will ruin your day.
  5. At first, demonstrate everything before you ask the new shooter to do it. They’re probably not familiar with the gun’s controls, how to load magazines, how to properly shoulder the gun, etc.
  6. Be sure to emphasize safety, relaxation, and shooter comfort. If they’re able to hit the target by holding the gun in a particular way, that’s fine (so long as it’s safe), even if it’s not how you hold it. Be sure that the new shooters understand that sights can be adjusted, and that being consistent is more important than where the bullets strike the target.
  7. Having reactive targets (metal gongs, plates that fall over, etc.) can be much more rewarding than simply putting holes in paper.
  8. Don’t be overbearing. Obviously, you should step in when there’s a potential safety violation, but avoid micromanaging their shooting. If you have suggestions or comments on their technique, wait until an appropriate time (say, after they’re done with the magazine).
  9. Stay away from crazy people. See Rule #1 from above. If the guy at the next lane is jabbering about black helicopters and the New World Order, ask to move to a different lane or politely ask the other person to stop. Same thing with patronizing people. You’d be surprised at how obnoxious some people can be when they see a woman shooting a gun for the first time.
  10. If you possess a variety of different guns, bring them to the range. Once the new shooter is comfortable with .22LR, introduce them to other calibers starting with the least recoil (say, .223) and eventually moving up to higher-recoil arms. I’ve often found new shooters enjoy shooting .30-06 from my M1 Garand, even on the first day…but they have to work up to it. If the new shooter is not comfortable with the ergonomics of a particular gun or the recoil of a specific caliber, do not force them to shoot it. Move on to something else.
  11. Same thing with different optics, if you have them. I’ve found a red-dot sight to be ideal for new shooters to start with (“Put the red dot on the target you wish to shoot, then squeeze the trigger.”), but have guns with iron sights and telescopic sights handy for when they wish to try something else.
  12. Above all, be safe and have fun.

I’ve followed these simple tips for years, and have introduced over a dozen people to the shooting sports. Everyone, without exception, has enjoyed themselves and left the range with a big smile. Several have ended up buying guns of their own and nearly (with the exception of friends-of-friends who I don’t see on a regular basis) have gone back to the range with me again.
A few dollars spent in ammunition and range fees (I always pay for a new shooter’s ammo, and nearly always pay for their range fee) can go a very long way at getting new shooters exposed to the sport, correcting common misconceptions about guns, shooters, and the shooting sports, and generally improving the RKBA.
It’s also really fun!

8 thoughts on “How to Win Over New Shooters”

  1. while you and i obviously starkly differ in our political ideals on the subject, i will say that the day you took me to the range was one of my favourite parts about my visit to see you back a few years ago. as you remember, it took a lot to convince me to go there, but i did have a great time – even just learning about how everything worked was worth the fun we had. plus, i guess i’m a great shot and hadn’t known it! so while we can debate until our faces turn blue over the rights and wrongs of gun laws, i can without a doubt say that i would go with you again and i certainly did have a blast (maybe pun intended?) that day. so thank you.

  2. Excellent advice, sir. If I may add one…
    7b. If paper targets are used, choose conventional “bullseye” targets rather than human silhouettes. For new shooters, this will make it more about shooting someTHING than shooting someONE.

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