When I first started shooting several years ago, I was a little nervous about going to an indoor shooting range. I wasn’t sure what the proper procedure was and it seemed like a pretty intimidating place. I had been outdoors with some friends and had a blast, but trying to break into shooting on my own after that was intimidating. Even if I wanted to go outdoors I was unsure exactly where I was allowed to shoot when there wasn’t a formal range–so other than the one single place I knew a lot of other people went shooting, I wasn’t confident in going on my own anywhere else. I’ve learned a lot over the years and one of the things that I have determined is that for me I am a more effective shooter if I go to more than one type of shooting range. For recreational or target shooting a single range is great, but for training to use a handgun for self-defense I found that I needed to shoot in different types of environments. Obviously every range is different so if you can get all the benefits from a single range then that’s even better–for me, without spending a ton of money I’ve found that going to indoor ranges, outdoor ranges, and just shooting outdoors all combine to make me a better shooter and more prepared for using my gun should the need arise to defend myself or my family.
Indoor Shooting Ranges
Indoor ranges are great for honing in your target skills and building muscle memory for the mechanics of shooting. You get good feedback on where your shots are going and can make adjustments as you go. Fire a few rounds at a paper target, then bring the target back and see how you did. You can slow down to work on your shooting mechanics and then speed up as you improve, keeping a good balance between accuracy and speed. You also get a lot of relatively loud gunshots from other shooters coming from both directions so it helps you focus on your shots even amidst other distractions. Many ranges also allow you to rent handguns so you can get experience with different guns. On the downside, the rules (and setup) of indoor ranges usually prohibit any moving and drawing a handgun from a holster, thus reducing some of the “real-life” training element. You can be the best shot in the world, but if you can’t draw your firearm from a holster quickly you’ll never get off a shot at an attacker. Some ranges do have interactive targets where you can get this added element of reality in your training, but it usually costs significantly more and the standard indoor range with regular booths do not have them. Another downside is the overall cost of indoor ranges is usually significantly higher than outdoor ranges.
Outdoor Shooting Ranges
When you go outdoors, there’s two types of ranges that I’m referring to, the first being an actual range. Usually these outdoor ranges have benches under a pavilion with standing targets that you can post your targets to. Sometimes they have a range officer there and sometimes they do not. Some have full retail shops on the property and some others just have a deposit box where you can submit payment for using the range. Often you follow similar rules as an indoor range, but some can be less strict, sometimes allowing you to move and draw from a holster. Many of these outdoor ranges are run by the local city or state.
The other type of outdoor “range” is simply public land where you are allowed to shoot (or private land you have permission to use for shooting). There are no benches, pavilions, or even target stands. It’s just me and the mountains (and probably 50 other random shooting buddies I don’t know if I go to a popular area on public land). This environment allows you to perform more movement and drawing from a holster while shooting, and allows more realistic training. When you go outdoors there are no established rules and no range officer to monitor the shooters. Only standard etiquette and safety procedures, which is different for each group of shooters. When going outdoors, shooters should be extremely vigilant in monitoring the environment to be sure it is safe. Not that you aren’t responsible for safety at formal ranges, but without defined lines and rules some other people out there may not make the best decisions.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Ranges
When choosing which ranges to go to there are several things to consider. First, the practices and safety of the staff and shooters at the range. The last thing I would want to do is go to a range where un-safe practices are common. I like to work on my shooting fundamentals and mechanics at an indoor range where I can get direct feedback on how well I’m shooting. Hitting a piece of paper allows me to see where my groupings are and make adjustments to hone in my shooting skills. Then I like to take those skills outdoors so I can work on drawing from a holster and moving while shooting. This adds some reality to my training. Shooting outdoors is also usually a hit/miss response. Either you hit the target or you didn’t. You don’t get a lot of feedback for where you missed, but hits are more noticeable and the response is more immediate if you are using cans/bottles/fruit/etc. as targets. You get to see a can fly off the stand or see the explosion of a bottle when you hit it. Combining both the indoor and outdoor range you can be more complete and well rounded as a shooter, better preparing you for a self-defense shooting.