Beginning a new sport can seem daunting, even frustrating. Where on earth does a new shooter begin?
Look no further. Shoot 101 — a collaborative effort from the publishers of Guns & Ammo — was created to educate new enthusiasts on the shooting lifestyle, from the basics of gun handling to tips gleaned from decades of professional competition.
To ease you into the shooting world, we've compiled a list of must-do activities and ordered them by the season — winter, spring, summer and fall. First up is winter, a perfect time to explore indoor shooting.
Shoot at an Indoor Range
Indoor ranges, especially when daylight hours are short and temperatures are low, are the ideal place to practice the basics. In addition to building fundamentals and having fun, these ranges often have leagues, which are a great way to meet fellow shooters.
A former U.S. Army Marksman Unit shooter, hunter, professional shooter and mother, Julie Golob says local facilities should be the first stop for prospective shooters. "I recommend that new shooters go to their local gun shop and ranges," Golob said. "Find out what your local gun clubs have to offer, grab some eye and ear protection, and then go to an event to watch. You'll learn so much. Ask questions, see if the club offers a new shooter program or class, and then jump in. Shooters are the nicest people, so even if you don't have everything you need, chances are you'll make new friends who will welcome you."
Events often include introductory firearm training, women's only classes, tin can shoots, home-defense courses, concealed-carry classes or even a zombie event!
Watch YouTube Shooting Videos
With a wall full of trophies and a YouTube channel with more than 20 million views, National and World Champion shooter Todd Jarrett is a legend in the action sports community. While Jarrett may have honed his skills the hard way, he says that advancements in technology have made it easier to learn essential shooting skills.
"When I came along in the '80s, there was no YouTube, no videos and very few books about action shooting," Jarrett said. "I had to go and watch the people I admired in the game. An individual can now go on YouTube and figure out all the correct techniques, what the top shooters are using and how they practice. This greatly reduces the learning curve. I felt like it took me 10 years to learn how to 'play the game.' You can accomplish that in a year now. All of the top shooters in the world have YouTube channels, and everyone has tips or tricks to share."
Time to Head Outside
Indoor ranges are great for poor weather, but most are only set up for pistol calibers and are limited in length. They also have limited lanes and time allotments, so it’s time to head outside to take advantage of more space and longer ranges.
Outdoor ranges will have space for shooting at distance, and most will have areas for skeet or trap shooting. Some ranges are dedicated solely to one discipline of shooting, so it’s possible you may have to try several before you settle on a home range.
There are outdoor ranges where one can pay to shoot, but you should consider joining a local club or organization. It’s a great way to make new friends who have shooting experience and can help you when getting started.
Gear Up for Sport
Spring is also a great time to try out the competitive shooting sports. The key is to pick one that suits you. To learn more, we quizzed Todd Jarrett. Not only has he been there and done it, Jarrett's been there and won it, which gives him a wealth of knowledge in this arena.
"I have shot 14 or 15 shooting disciplines, everything from Bullseye to PPC (Police Practical Combat) to action shooting sports, Steel Challenge, sporting clays, trap and skeet, and I recently transitioned into 3-Gun," Jarrett said. "All of them are my favorite while I'm doing them, but I always return to my roots, which were the action shooting sports or USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association)."
Jarrett recommends picking a sport that suits your style. “So many parents ask me, 'I want to get my son or daughter into shooting. What do you recommend?' My answer, of course, depends on where they live, the resources they have, and if they have a range nearby," he explained.
Location is everything. Utilize the local gun shops in your area to learn what is available. If trap or skeet ranges are nearby, try them out. You'll find that hitting aerial targets with a shotgun is an addictive pastime — one that doesn't cost much. Also, you'll find that some shooting sports can be expensive. Instead of jumping into 3-Gun, a gear-heavy sport that requires three firearms (handgun, shotgun and rifle), try Bullseye, PPC or silhouette shooting.
Sun's out, guns out! For an unforgettable summer shoot, check out the Steel Challenge, a fast-paced event that involves shooting steel plates as fast as possible. In Julie Golob's experience, this is the ultimate event to hook new shooters because it's fast, fun and affordable.
"One of my favorite sports to introduce new shooters is Steel Challenge," said Golob. "Each course has five plates, one of which is a stop plate. There are plenty of divisions from stock handguns to custom race guns to rimfire handgun and rifle divisions. You can bring what you have and you don't need a ton of specialized gear. It's so rewarding to make the steel ding!"
Before ringing steel (or punching paper, for that matter) double-check for "eyes and ears" — two essential pieces of safe shooting. Take it from Todd Jarrett; his friend lost an eye from a .22 ricochet.
"I can tell you so many horror stories of doing dumb things on the range and not having eye protection on," said Jarrett. "If you shoot enough, things will fly back and hit you in the face. Nowadays, I don't even shoot a BB gun without eye protection. Once damaged, you can't get your vision back."
There are many different options that offer exceptional comfort, stylish looks and cost less than a box of shells. While you're at it, invest in quality ear protection. Even a small caliber rifle, like a .22LR, produces enough noise to damage sensitive ears. Earmuffs can be had in two flavors: passive and electronic. For less than $50 ($20 for passive models), earmuffs are among the wisest investments a shooter can make.
The Steel Challenge is just one of many competitions. Log onto usashooting.org to see more. There are enough events throughout the year to fill this magazine many times over.
Once you're proficient at shooting, it's time for the next challenge: hunting. Fall is the season for hunting, and while many think of big game, deer or elk isn't the best place to start. Small game, such as rabbits and squirrels, provide a lot of action while also developing shooting fundamentals.
Taking a 5-year-old to a deer stand in the freezing cold is a little tough, and it can dissuade them in the future. That's not the case with small game like squirrels or rabbits. With small game hunting, there's movement and lots of shooting, so it's not boring, and most hunters will want to go again.
Only a Primer
This list merely scratches the surface of what the shooting world has to offer. Go online to research shoots that interest you. Hit the local gun shop and meet fellow shooters. Listen. Learn. Try new things.
Most importantly, have fun and be safe.
From all of us at Shoot 101, welcome to the wonderful world of shooting.