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Training safety, security and the low profile
It is probably obvious that one of the biggest challenges to getting any effective training done will surround the safety and security of the training location itself. Obviously, safety is going to be a major concern anywhere, but insurance regulations and such at public ranges often mean that you will have restrictive rules that prevent "high speed" training and will limit you to basic marksmanship. Thus, if you do not have access to a range where "high speed" training is allowed, you will need to find a place in a fairly remote rural area. This, in itself is going to involve some challenges.
First, you are probably not going to be in close proximity to a medical facility, or even access to a medical facility. Keep in mind that someone in your party ought to be trained in first aid and have access to a good medical kit. In the unfortunate event there is an accident, you will likely be best off if you have the capabilities to render both basic and advanced first aid. It might also be prudent to have some arrangements with a doctor to provide confidential follow-up treatment. The reason being that if you call 911 for even a non-gunshot related training accident, it will likely also bring the police and lots of embarrassing questions. An emergency room visit to a public hospital will also likely draw police attention, while a confidential visit to a private clinic with a cooperative medical staff may not.
You will have to implement training rules that match the skills and qualifications of the people you have with you. Generally, the more people around, the more restrictive the safety rules need to be. The tricky balancing act is going to be between security and safety. You may find it necessary to have some weapons loaded at all times in case there is a hostile encounter while training. Hopefully this is not normally going to be a concern, but if you are alone out in the woods with thousands of dollars worth of weapons and equipment, it will be prudent not to lower your security profile for the sake of an extra degree of safety. Again, that is a balancing act and a judgment call to be determined in consideration with the place you are at and the people you are with.
General safety rules to be followed at all times by all people under all circumstances:
Any weapon in the hand must be pointed in a safe direction away from where a discharge could injure someone.
Keep the finger off the trigger until ready to fire. You will generally keep the finger out of the trigger guard when moving with the weapon at the ready.
Keep a round out of the chamber unless the gun is actually in use. Note, that a holstered pistol that you are wearing for security purposes is considered "in use".
Safety rules to be adopted while in mixed company of advanced and novice shooters:
Weapons laid down should be completely unloaded and facing a safe direction. Magazines removed and no round in the chamber. If at all possible, use a flag safety to show the chamber is empty.
Weapons handling should be done away from the firing line in a designated safe area, also known as the "dry range" or "cold range". Usually, you will designate a staging area for people to prep weapons and gear before going on the firing line or into a course of fire.
Safety rules to be adopted when in the company of mostly novice shooters:
No weapons should be handled by people "behind the line", loaded pistols should be holstered and not handled while not on the line or in the course of fire. You must designate a separate and safe weapons handling area.
Ammunition must be physically separated from the weapons, and activities such as loading magazines should be done in a designated area. Where the weapons are not being handled.
Long guns must be placed unloaded in a designated area when not on the line or in the course of fire, not slung over the shoulder.
A shooter should not enter the weapons prep area without a range supervisor or designated coach being present.
It is best to keep weapons cased when entering or leaving the designated range area.
No not leave empty magazines in weapons.
Bolts and slides should be locked to the rear when weapons are laid down. The chamber should be facing up so that a person can see the weapon is visibly empty without needing to pick up the weapon to check it.
Common sense procedures
Always check out the impact area for potential safety hazards, including a wide arc to the sides and beyond the impact area where a round may go. In a best case scenario, you will have a backstop or 100% safe area in a 45 degree arc up, and a 90 degree arc side to side. The potential line of fire should not include any roads, roads, trails or traveled waterways that you are not 100% in control of. If these criteria cannot be met, you are best off finding another training area.
Anyone on the range can call a cease fire if they see an unsafe act.
Once a shooter is finished with a course of fire, both the shooter and another person (if present) should verify the weapon has been made safe.
Engage in random safety checks to assure weapons are safe. Holstered pistols should be decocked and or have the safety engaged. Long guns should be checked periodically to make sure they are not loaded or left in an unsafe condition.
Have clear and concise agreed upon range commands to designate when someone is to shoot, stop shooting, and when there is not someone shooting. There should be some universally understood audible warning given before someone starts shooting that gives people enough time to put their earplugs in and not be surprised when the shots are fired.
Signals can include: shouted or spoken commands or code words, beeper, whistles, drum or similar banging on something, loudspeakers, lights or flares. You should have range commands for the following:
Warning, or preparation to start shooting: Someone, (usually the shooter at an informal range) shouts "EARS!" this is a signal that indicates he is about to start shooting and people should get their hearing protection in.
A command or signal to start - in our training, this is the beep given by the shot timer.
A command or notice that shooting is stopped or should stop. The shooter or a designated person will call a cease fire. If there is a rangemaster or range coach, that persons call to cease fire is considered the final call. IE, the shooter may call "CEASE FIRE" when he is done with the string, but to make it final, the rangemaster or coach will repeat the call, which then designates the range as a no-shoot zone. This becomes important when you have more than one person shooting at the same time, and the final cease fire is called when not all of the people may have finished the course of fire.
Always clearly communicate when it is or is not safe for people to move downrange, as in when picking up brass or dealing with targets.
Recent changes in several state laws in the US and law enforcement policies toward militia activity are bringing training security to the forefront of concern for many survivalists.
Contrary to popular mythology in the American Patriot movement and alternative press, the majority of arrests and gun confiscations take place outside the home. It is far more common for citizens to have guns confiscated by rural sheriffs deputies and park rangers than for jack booted thugs to kick in the front door with a warrant.
I have spent a lot of time talking to survivors, militia people, law enforcement personnel and gun owners about actual encounters they have had where the legality of firearms was a pivotal issue. What I have learned is that most encounters take place in semi-public places within a hundred yards of a paved road in a place where both the law enforcement people and shooters got there by motor vehicle. Most often this encounter is the result of a third party calling in a "complaint" about shooting in the area or "sighting of armed persons".
Typical encounters with law enforcement while training and or target shooting:
A typical encounter takes place "out in a woods" where someone has reported shooting to 911 and officers are dispatched to a "possible shooting" or "shots fired" response time tends to be around 20 minutes to a half hour and at least two cars are sent out to investigate. From the standpoint of the shooters, they may feel like they are entirely responsible and legitimate, minding their own business. From the standpoint of the officers, they do not know what is going on, but they do know that someone is armed and capable of killing them. They will be expected to report back to dispatch by radio upon entering the area of the call. Many departments have a policy of sending the responding unit to the caller first, getting an on site report and then deciding to investigate further, the reason being that it may be a prank call or someone mistaking a car backfire or similar event to a gunshot. The officers will also usually want as much information as possible before any potential confrontation. Note that officers in rural areas are usually aware of the rights of rural property owners to shoot on private property, and that they may be lawfully asked to leave if the call did not originate on their property. This is the reason they will usually go to the caller's location first, if the caller's location is not in close enough proximity to the sound of the shooting, there may not be sufficient probable cause to investigate further.
Also, if you have someone someone is located at the entrance point of the property where you are shooting, you may find it prudent to have them initiate any contact with law enforcement at a safe distance from the rest of your party. On such occurrences, this person may assert property rights regarding shooting on private property in rural areas, but the officers may want to investigate further anyway, or "talk to the person in charge". While they have the right to ask for just about anything, you are not always obligated to comply. If you have nobody standing watch and no locked gate, the officers will most likely enter as they have the same rights to enter as the pizza delivery guy or the power company meter reader.
The officers then move in to make contact. The shooters are usually situated in a fixed location with targets downrange and often are unaware of the approach of the officers. This is often due to two things, the shooters are wearing hearing protection that prevents them from hearing the officers and their attention is focused either downrange or on their guns. The officers are usually smart enough to approach from an angle away from the line of fire. The officers will then initiate contact with the shooters, usually with some commands from one officer while the other covers the scene with a weapon.
Here, shooters may be ordered to raise their hands, lie on their stomachs or assume a similar compromising position, depending on how threatened the officers feel. The officers will at least demand identification and to examine any weapons present. This treatment is usually only going to be on public land and not known private property where the law enforcement people reasonably should believe that the shooters have the authority to be there.
At the point of contact with shooters, the officers will most likely take these actions:
Demand license, registration and insurance information on any vehicles present. You are not obligated to unlock a parked car for them to search. If you are away from the vehicle and can deny a connection with the vehicle, you may be able to keep it out of the picture. The involvement of your vehicle in any encounter will only complicate things. If the officers do not demand this information, they will most likely write down and or call in a few license plate numbers to see who they are dealing with.
Demand the home addresses and phone numbers of all persons present. - You are not obligated to give this information but they will press you for it. You can either come up with a convincing lie or give them out of date information. Expect to be asked to provide some identification and explain any discrepancies between the address you give them and any addresses on your identification.
Demand an explanation as to why any of the people present are wearing paramilitary uniforms or equipment. - All law enforcement agencies have been briefed on the possible activities of militias in their jurisdictions, with plenty of embellishments to the briefings added by the ADL and related organizations.
Take possession of any and all weapons and ammunition. - Be very firm and clear that you are not granting permission to the officer to take custody of your property, but they may have the right to physically handle the items for identification purposes. If you physically resist, they will interpret it as hostile intent and probably use force.
Demand to know who was actually shooting. If there are only two of you present, it would be had to deny, but if there is a group, do not speak up on everyone else's behalf unless you have a plan. The police may be looking for someone to charge with a crime but if they cannot pin the shooting on any one person, they will be unlikely to make an arrest.
Officers have told me that they have several different personal criteria on how they deal with these types of situations. In general, they are looking first to see if the situation might actually be a gunfight, as such things happen between people over issues not directly related to the police.
Most of the law enforcement people you will encounter are looking for the following:
Willful destruction of property, like someone shooting up an apparently abandoned building, road signs or construction and or logging equipment left in the area.
Unsafe ranges: Most places have laws against firing or impact points being within 100 yards of a paved road, or any shooting across roads, trails or waterways.
Trespassing: Obtain permission of the owners when on private property. You can usually check in with forest service offices and BLM offices to assure you have authorization to be on "their" land. It is best to maintain that your activities are for sport and recreational use. Example, drop into the local BLM office and ask to talk to a supervisor or person who is authorized to give permission for access, and mention that you will be doing a some target shooting with a few guns. Find out if there are any specific prohibitions on any particular types of guns used on the property. IE, BLM in California often restricts the use of otherwise legal registered assault weapons. Again, there are times when it helps to be vague, and this is one of them. If you can obtain permission to be on the property in writing, or copies of any rules that permit shooting on the property, have these documents in your possession in case you want to show them to law enforcement or security personnel you might encounter. People will usually hesitate to write a letter of permission, but are more likely to sign a standard permission statement that relieves them of certain responsibilities. IE, such permission is best worded as a "hold harmless" land use agreement.
Littering: Many people take junk out to informal shooting ranges, blast it up and abandon it. Officers look at formal target stands as a sign of responsible shooters. Garbage and litter are signs of problem shooters. If you want to get on the good side of the people in charge of the land, pick up more garbage than you take out there.
Obviously illegal weapons: While they often will not thoroughly check serial numbers on all weapons present, officers will keep an eye open for glaring law violations like sawed off shotguns or fully automatic weapons. They will almost never attempt to enforce more obscure laws that require expert opinion.
Citizenship: Officers will be concerned with the legality of persons in possession of weapons. While it may be impractical to conduct background investigations on everyone present, it is fairly easy to see what country they are a citizen of. Canadian law enforcement people take issue with the large number of Americans who hunt and fish in Canada. A similar issue exists on the US/Mexico border. It helps greatly to have a citizen of the country you are shooting in play host.
Narcotics, or other illegal activity: It is common for pot growers and moon shiners to stake out their territory by target shooting with the most powerful weapons they have available. The noise of the shooting lets others know that they have designated the area as theirs and their ability to defend it.
Certain assholes will be looking for these things:
Any fancy guns worth stealing: Guns confiscated "in the field" often represent a windfall to the crooked cops, some of whom have accumulated impressive collections of knives, guns and other gadgets taken from criminals and gullible citizens.
Anything that might indicate the activities of a militia: All law enforcement agencies have been briefed on the possible activities of militias, insurgents and related groups. They often assume that any illegal gun owners are members of these groups. Peaceful survivalist or subsistence poachers represent an easy mark. In extreme situations, they represent a chance for the cop to "make his bones" and win a one sided gunfight. That way he or she can be the department hero for a while from winning a gunfight against an armed adversary. I have heard this can be just as common with female officers as with male officers.
An opportunity to play tough against a "subject with a gun": Police agencies spend millions of dollars on weapons and training that often gives the people a "combat mindset". This results in an eagerness to view any potential "tactical" situation as an opportunity to use the weapons and training. This can mean that you the shooter are dealing with a well armed, well trained, legally protected, adrenaline pumped hardass who came out to "kick butt and take names".
An opportunity to make an arrest quota: Just as the statement says. Departments will deny that they have arrest quotas, but they do. Hope that it is not a time when the chief is asking for "action on the gun proliferation issue".
An opportunity to make an example out of someone: Sometimes, law agencies will be unusually tough against a certain person in order to make an example meant to deter others from repeating the activity or behavior.
An opportunity to get a bribe: This may actually not be as bad of a thing, assuming the officer is not overly greedy. I have heard of a few situations where a gift to the law enforcement officer solved far more problems in a few minutes than hours of arguing or thousands of dollars spent on a lawyer. It may be distasteful, but cost mitigation is an issue. Bribing officials is something that needs to be handled with savvy. The good news is that if you can handle it, the officer may come in useful in the future. Like we said in the legal considerations section, the law makes a better friend than enemy. It is fairly common in the case of automatic weapons and large amounts of illegal money for the persons to simply "abandon" the material to the officer. Nobody goes to jail, nobody sues, everybody walks away.
So how does a survival group or militia get any serious training in reasonable privacy without being hassled by the police? We have put together some of our famous "wiseguy" advice on this matter. Not all of it is legal in all circumstances, but it is more effective than not. This means you will likely need to use some clandestine training methods even when you are not violating the laws.
Shoot no less than 100 yards away from a paved or frequently used dirt road. This may be inconvenient, but if will buy you time from the moment a call goes out to the time anyone might arrive.
Try to have your firing points in places that will distort and capture the sound. Under or near trees, narrow canyons, draws and heavy brush will help muffle sound. Bowl shaped open valleys will amplify and channel sound. Avoid them when the open side of the canyon or valley faces a populated area nearby. Use terrain as much as possible to distort and muffle the sound of the shooting.
You may be able to construct firing positions that muffle sound and provide some camouflage from unwanted observation. Muffled firing positions will be covered on another section of this site. These are very helpful when circumstances dictate training must be done at fixed locations within hearing distance of populated areas and you still want to maintain a low profile.
Keep yourselves and your vehicles out of view of any main roads, occupied buildings or easy observation from the air. Park off of the road under trees and or under the shadows of large rocks. Do not linger in the large open spaces where you might be observed and photographed, or worse, shot.
Stop shooting and listen every five to ten minutes. Listen for approaching vehicles and low flying aircraft. If you hear any, do not commence shooting until they have been identified.
Post a lookout to provide early warning of anyone approaching. The most convenient lookout would be a rotating position of whoever is finished shooting for a while or servicing their gear. This person should be in communication with whoever is at the shooting point.
The best times to shoot are early morning at dawn and early evening, right at sunset. Nearly all law enforcement agencies change shifts at 7:00 AM and this is the time they are least likely to be on patrol. This will increase any response time from the point someone calls in a complaint to the time they arrive at your location. The best day to shoot is probably a Sunday, as fewer officers are on duty Sundays than other days of the week. Considering these times to shoot, you want to be aware of your east/west facing orientation to know whether the sun will be in your eyes or at your back when you are shooting. If the sun is in your eyes, you will likely not be getting much quality shooting time in. Likewise, if there is a daily strong crosswind, like what you see around sunset in a lot of deserts, you may also not get much quality shooting time in. Just take these factors into account when deciding when and were to set up a range.
Everything you take with you to the range should be set up for a fast exit. It may be necessary to have some ditching points designated for politically incorrect weapons, or a have a person designated to take them out of the area quickly and quietly if someone is approaching. Have some understanding about what would be taken with you and what would be abandoned in place. It can help to pre-position low value items well before firing day so that you do not have to haul as much stuff to the shooting points on range day. It also means designated persons can do site prep without yet needing to designate the location to everyone who will be there. That way, you can have many of the people staged and prepped to go to the shooting area, show up and shoot, and then leave without needing to be around for everything. This is much less of an issue if you are on your own private property, but more often than not, it will be on some sort of public land where the permission to go target shooting will be revoked from you if the authorities discover you are doing anything that resembles paramilitary training.
On that note, I tend to shy away from paramilitary attire when going out shooting with non-military personnel. Most of the shooting schools have something of their own fashion, and that has expanded to the common clothing worn by the private military contractors overseas and at some sensitive US locations. It is tolerable to wear an item or two of camo, but under no circumstances should one wear military designations or rank unless one is actually in the military and on duty. OD green and some camo colors are unavoidable when it comes to any tactical vests or similar gear you have, as Black is not much of an improvement in discretion since it can as often or not be as "loud" in a woodland environment as orange or yellow. Black gear is also pretty bad for hot sunny environments since it retains solar heat. In either event, clothing should be loose fitting and of the kind that you don't mind getting a little scruffy. Extra pockets help a lot if you are not wearing any sort of gear vest. Boonie hats seem to be de rigueur among the tactically fashion conscious folks. This is not at all impractical since a boonie hat will shade the area around your eyes from getting sun glare - especially if you wear glasses or contact lenses. The brim of the boonie hat is often just enough shade to cover the space between your eye and a telescopic sight or binoculars.
The more preparation you can do in a secure area before range day, the better. Load magazines, check gear, prep targets, and make sure everything is in order before the first shots are fired. This reduces the amount of time actually needed for shooting. It will also help make the most efficient use of rented range time when you need to rent range facilities on a time sensitive basis. If you need to be clandestine about your training, you want to spend as little time at the actual firing points as possible. That means prep and maintenance are done elsewhere when possible.
Most parts of the US do have range facilities that are open to shooting, but in the great majority of cases, the kind of shooting you can do at those ranges is very limited. Most of the time, the ranges are set up with shooting benches and target stands of some sort at the 100 yard mark. There are usually going to be restrictions on rapid fire and possibly even rules against loading more than ten rounds in the magazine. Probably the most you can expect to accomplish at such ranges is sighting in your various weapons, debugging, break-in and testing. Some general guidelines for using public ranges:
It is a judgment call as to where you will park. If possible, park close to your firing point so that you do not have to walk far from your vehicle to the shooting bench. Either way, you want to establish a single location where you will do the majority of your activities. There are usually going to be some restrictions conserving handling weapons at the firing line while people are downrange so it can help to have your vehicle in the parking lot with the various sight adjustment tools, cleaning kits and solvents that you can use while away from the shooting bench. While theft at these ranges is extremely rare, it is not entirely unheard of and you do not want to spend much time away from your goodies left on the table. Have a shooting buddy with you if at all possible.
It is normal for people at public ranges to be curious and socialize a bit, to include some impromptu requests and offers to "try out" someone else's toys. The normal etiquette is to exchange a few rounds per weapon to be fired downrange at the shooter's own target. You generally would do this only with someone who has brought guns of their own to the range and otherwise looks legitimate. NEVER allow a stranger to handle your weapons if they came alone and apparently unarmed to a shooting range. Also, do not leave your weapons alone with a single stranger "in charge" of them if you can help it. Better to make it clear to several people that you are leaving your items on the bench and politely ask more than one person to watch. Usually, there will be a designated rangemaster who can keep an eye on things, but you cannot always guarantee this. It is rude, even for this person to handle your weapons without express permission, but sometimes it happens. My personal reaction is generally to be harsh in such incidents in order to get the point across, but that is a general idea and not always the case. You generally don't see thievery at shooting ranges, but if you are not pretty familiar with most of the people at that particular range, you don't want to take chances.
Remember that public ranges will usually have people who are inexperienced with firearms in general and may also be shooting guns that are unfamiliar to them, and often not regularly maintained. Always keep an eye open for someone else who might be doing an unsafe act. There are some times when you simply cannot confront bad behavior at a range and must be prepared to make an exit if the risks appear to outweigh any benefits of shooting that day. It can be a touchy situation when it is not your role to correct bad or ignorant behavior on the part of other shooters, vs the cost and hassle of packing up and leaving for the day, especially when that day off work and other obligations may come only once every few months.
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