what you need to know before practicing target shooting

Target practice is one of the most popular sports for gun owners to participate in while honing their craft. Whether you're an avid hunter or looking to perfect your form, target shooting has numerous benefits, from increased core strength to improved mental processing. Often, stressed individuals take out their frustrations at the range, allowing them to clear their minds in a productive, skill-building way. Plus, training at a range improves your self-defense skills for emergencies and long-range shooting for hunting.

There are many reasons why people might prefer to shoot targets vs going hunting and for some - shooting targets is the skill and hobby they want to focus on entirely. For instance, I had the opportunity to visit an Olympic shooting range once and the experience there in a professional target shooting environment used by athletes was vastly different than what you might find at your local gun club.

Before you head out to your local range, you'll need various equipment to keep things sailing smoothly and avoid injury. After all, you're handling a dangerous weapon. If you're a first-timer, read on tips and range day essentials you'll need for target practice. While reading and researching topics like this on the internet is a wonderful way to learn, we also encourage you to seek out classes and educational opportunities offered by gun ranges or shooting clubs in your area.

Gear You Need For Target Shooting

For the most part, the gear that you will need for shooting targets at a range or even on an improvised target shooting area on a farm, open land, or on private property is pretty straight forward - a firearm, plenty of ammo and targets. However, it is important to consider other items to bring with you as well. Let's take a look.

Spotting Scope

For those with long-range rifles, you'll want to invest in a high-quality spotting scope. Although many get away with a sturdy pair of binoculars, detached field lenses are hard on the eyes and difficult to track. Instead, invest in a spotting scope that attaches directly to your firearm. Walking back and forth from your intended site to check the accuracy of sights and your surroundings is tedious. Luckily, long-range lenses allow you to see faraway distances so that you can differentiate between a shadow and an obstacle.

Additionally, some models feature digital image storing operations, allowing you to snapshot your surroundings and print photos later. Ultimately, a spotting scope offers a clear vision of your intended target and are versatile, sturdy, and clear, catering to numerous firearm models and user needs.

Eye and Ear Protection

Whether you're heading off to an indoor or outdoor range, ear and eye protection are essential for your safety. Although you can purchase basic models at the site, they're typically low-quality and inefficient for noisy ranges. Before engaging in target practice, be sure to invest in high-quality glasses to protect your eyes from flying debris and reusable ear protection to keep your eardrums healthy.

Gun Cleaning Supplies

Dirty guns can lead to jamming and misfiring, which is a safety hazard and a general annoyance. Be sure to apply lube to your slides and guns' internal components before you start shooting. Then, once you have finished for the day, wipe down your firearms and give them a thorough cleaning with supplies like a vise for your bore, a rod for the barrel, and a brush for hard-to-reach crevices.

Spare Magazines and Extra Ammo

Each moment you spend loading magazines is time wasted while at the range. Be sure to bring extra magazines as well as ammo and pack them before you arrive to maximize your time. Additionally, having spare magazines will ensure you can practice until you see fit, instead of leaving when your magazine is on its last leg. 

Different Kinds Of Shooting Target Options

There are plenty of different targets that you might see at a shooting range and each is used for different styles of practice. As you begin to develop your own personal shooting style, you may also lean more towards one style or another. For instance - even within the realm of paper targets - some people prefer to use targets that feature a silhouette of a human person or animal, while others would prefer a paper target that looks more like a dart board with a bullseye in the middle.

Common targets used in shooting practice:

  1. Bullseye Targets: These are the classic, circular targets with rings and a center point and are typically cheap and disposable. These are typically the cheapest form of paper targets and are what most new shooters start with.
    • Advantages: They're great for improving precision and accuracy. They provide clear feedback on shot placement.
    • Disadvantages: They might not be the best for tactical or self-defense training as they don't represent real-world scenarios.
  2. Silhouette Targets: These targets are shaped like humans or animals and are often used in law enforcement or hunting practice.
    • Advantages: They offer a more realistic shooting scenario, helping shooters to aim for vital areas.
    • Disadvantages: They may not be as precise as bullseye targets in showing exact shot placement.
  3. Steel Targets: These targets are made from hardened steel and create a 'ping' sound when hit. They can be shaped in various forms from circles to human or animal cuttouts.
    • Advantages: They provide instant auditory feedback, are reusable, and can withstand thousands of rounds.
    • Disadvantages: They're more expensive than paper targets and require safety precautions due to the risk of bullet ricochet.
  4. Pop-up Targets: These targets pop up randomly, requiring the shooter to quickly identify and engage the target. Like the steel targets, they are found in a wide variety of shapes and sizes as well.
    • Advantages: They're excellent for improving reaction time and decision-making skills.
    • Disadvantages: They can be expensive and require a special range setup.
  5. Swinging Targets: These targets swing or spin when hit, providing both visual and auditory feedback.
    • Advantages: They're fun, interactive, and great for improving follow-up shots.
    • Disadvantages: Like steel targets, they can be more expensive and also have a risk of bullet ricochet.
  6. 3D Animal Targets: These are life-size models of game animals, used primarily for bow hunting practice but you may also see them for long-range rifle practice since it is a great way to hone your aiming ability to hit specific parts of a deer or other prey.
    • Advantages: They provide a realistic scenario for hunters, helping them practice aiming for vital areas.
    • Disadvantages: They're much more expensive than other targets and aren't as versatile for different types of shooting practice.
  7. Exploding Targets: These are targets that contain a binary explosive which detonates upon impact with a high-velocity bullet, creating a loud noise and visible cloud of smoke.
    • Advantages: They provide immediate and exciting feedback, making them particularly enjoyable for long-range shooting. The loud explosion and cloud of smoke also make it clear when the target has been hit, even from a distance.
    • Disadvantages: Safety is a primary concern with these targets. They should only be used in controlled environments and at a safe distance. Additionally, they can't be reused once they've exploded and are not suitable for indoor ranges due to the noise and explosion.
  8. Frangible Targets: These are targets made from materials that break or shatter upon impact, such as clay pigeons used in shotgun sports.
    • Advantages: They provide visual feedback when hit and add an extra challenge as they're typically used in motion (like in trap or skeet shooting).
    • Disadvantages: They can't be reused and there's often cleanup required afterward due to the broken pieces.
  9. Paper Targets with Reactive Zones: These targets have certain zones that change color or "bleed" when hit, providing immediate visual feedback.
  • Advantages: They're great for precision shooting and can be used to simulate vital zones on game or threat targets.
  • Disadvantages: They're single-use and can be more expensive than simple paper targets.
  1. Bottle Targets: Simple plastic bottles filled with colored water.
    • Advantages: Cheap, easy to set up, provides visual feedback when hit.
    • Disadvantages: Not reusable, can be messy, not ideal for precision shooting.

Remember, the best target for you will depend on your specific goals, whether that's improving precision, practicing for hunting, or training for self-defense. Try out different types and see which ones work best for your needs.

Shooting On Private Property? Let The Police Department Know!

It is very easy to have some miscommunication with law enforcement if a neighbor reports hearing gunshots and so there's two things you should do if you plan to do target shooting anywhere near other people. The first is to check local regulations and make sure that you can legally shoot on the property and that there aren't any ordinances prohibiting that. The second is to simply let the police department or local sheriff know what's going on.

You don't have to provide tons of detail - but this is a simple way to prevent unexpected visitors from ruining a fine day of practice as you hone your shooting skills in preparation for deer season!

Wrapping up

Although your first time at a shooting range may be intimidating, with the right tools, you'll be coming back for more. Equip yourself with proper protection, gun maintenance tools, and firearm equipment to dodge risky situations and frustration at the range.