Now that you have your new gun and have some way to sling or holster it, it’s time to have some fun with it. As always, safety is paramount when it comes to handling a firearm. Following these four simple rules will keep you from hurting anyone or having a negligent discharge:
- Always treat every gun (even if it is a training gun not capable of chambering a live round) as if it were loaded and ready to fire at all times.
- Be aware of your muzzle, and keep it pointed in a safe direction at all times. Never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger outside the trigger guard and off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’ve made a conscious decision to fire.
- Be aware of your target, what is in front of your target, and what is behind your target.
To train with your new gun, there are two methods, both of which I highly recommend. Dry-fire training can be done safely at home without any live ammunition and can be aided with a laser ammo cartridge. Live-fire training is done at the range using, as the term suggests, live ammunition. Dry-fire training can be done anywhere (provided you are pointing the muzzle in a safe direction—remember, all guns are loaded, even if you know it’s not) and is a great deal cheaper than live-fire training. There are several quality laser ammo cartridges available specifically for dry-fire training in the most common calibers, and it is highly recommended that you get one. Not only does it give you visual feedback as far as where your “bullets” hit, but it doubles as a safety feature during dry-fire practice. While the laser cartridge is inserted in the chamber of your firearm, a live round cannot be chambered, and there is no way for the gun to automatically eject the training cartridge; it must be manually removed from the chamber. As effective and economic as dry-fire practice can be, there is one aspect of shooting that it cannot replicate. Recoil. In order to improve recoil control and follow-up speed, live fire is the only way. Training ammunition is (relatively) inexpensive compared to defensive ammunition, and yes there is a difference.
‘Training ammunition, also called “ball” ammo, full metal jacket ammo, or FMJ ammo, is comprised of a lead core fully encased in a copper “jacket” with a round nose, hence the term full metal jacket. This type of ammunition is designed to be inexpensive to mass produce because a range session of one to two hours can easily burn 200 rounds or more of ammo. Using FMJ rounds for self-defense is highly discouraged because the bullet will not expand on impact and will penetrate completely through a soft target like flesh.
Defensive rounds, commonly called “hollow points,” are similar to FMJ, in that the core is lead sheathed in a copper jacket, but the tip of the bullet is hollowed out like a volcano, often exposing the lead core. This allows the bullet to expand when it impacts even relatively soft targets, dissipating and expending its velocity before it can penetrate all the way through the target. In a defensive situation, overpenetration is a bad thing. If your bullet passes through the attacker, it can retain enough velocity and energy to injure or kill whoever may be behind the bad guy.
Whatever ammo you choose, you need to fire at least a full magazine of the ammo through each magazine that you own to make sure it feeds properly in your gun. Most ammo will work in most guns, but sometimes the shape of the bullet makes it hard for certain guns to feed correctly and can cause malfunctions. Whenever you are shooting, or are around someone who is shooting, you will want safety glasses and ear protection. You only have one set of eyes and one set of ears. Protect them. Even relatively “quiet” calibers like .22LR can cause irreversible hearing loss if proper hearing protection isn’t used. These can be foam ear plugs, custom-molded ear plugs, earmuffs, or electronic earmuffs. For people with sensitive ears or those who want more protection, you can double up by putting in ear plugs and a pair of earmuffs over them. Electronic earmuffs allow the wearer to hear ambient sounds and talk normally without having to shout, yet dampen noises over a certain threshold to a safe level. Safety glasses are important because a lot of flying debris is generated while shooting. When the shot is fired, the unburnt powder is blasted out of the chamber and muzzle, dirt and grit are kicked up from the muzzle blast, and the bullet striking the target or backstop can ricochet.
To carry all this gear to the range with you, you’ll need a range bag large enough to carry your gun, ammo, ear and eye protection, tools, cleaning supplies, and any other extras you may want to have with you (markers to mark your targets, tape, staple gun, gloves, etc.). Any sporting goods store will have several choices available, and your selection really comes down to personal preference on your range bag.
Owning a firearm is a responsibility, and to carry and care for your gun safely, you need the proper equipment and training. At Toe2Toe, we have everything you need to get started. We can help you pick out your accessories. We have the Smokeless Range digital firearms training simulator to help you get comfortable with firearms if you’re a new shooter, or brush up on your skills if you’re more seasoned, without the expense of live ammo.
*Spencer Roos is a contributing writer, former competitive shooter, and currently works as an armorer and trainer at Toe2Toe Firearms and Training, 807 Bill Dean Drive Conway, Arkansas 72032