Making a Lesson Plan for New Shooters

1 Intro

This article is a follow up to my previous article on bringing new shooters to the range. If you are planning to bring new shooters to the range, you should start by teaching an "Introduction to Firearms" lesson at home. This article will help you develop your lesson plan to get new shooters started.

This article will not provide a full review on the basics of shooting. I will assume that you have good familiarity with firearms, but need some advice on teaching beginners. If you are not familiar with some of the topics I mention, please do some research or seek additional training. I do not want to be discouraging, but you need substantial knowledge and experience to effectively mentor new shooters.

2 Setting up to teach "Intro to Firearms"

You should teach the "Intro to Firearms" lesson someplace that is good for students to learn. Anyplace comfortable and without a lot of distractions is good. Most people will want to teach this lesson at home in the living room.

Have NO LIVE AMMUNITION PRESENT in the area where you are teaching. You won't see me put many things in bold capitals, but this deserves it.

Establish a safe direction that you will use while handling firearms in the teaching area. During the lesson, follow safety rules and maintain the safe direction.

When working with new shooters, remember that almost everyone already knows how to shoot. They have learned to shoot from movies and TV. Since most of what they already "know" is dangerously wrong, you will need to un-teach incorrect ideas at the same time you teach safe procedures.

3 NRA's Three Rules of Gun Safety

Use the NRA's three rules of gun safety.

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Note that to correctly state these rules, you must include the word "always" in each rule.

There are other versions of "the rules of gun safety" which differ slightly from the rules above. The other versions provide fine safety practices, but they do not match current NRA teaching. If you are teaching new shooters, they will likely want to take NRA courses in the future, so using the NRA rules provides the best consistency.

4 Goals of the first lesson

The goal of the first lesson is to get your students ready to shoot before you get to the range.

When you get to the range, do a brief review to make sure everyone understood the lesson at home and is ready to start with live fire. Also, by the time you get to the range, people will have had some time to think up questions. Make sure those questions get answered.

Here is a summary of a minimum lesson plan. These are basic areas that everyone should understand before they do live fire. Each subject will be discussed further in the rest of this article.

  • Explain gun safety. Use the NRA's three rules of gun safety.
  • Define firearms related terms.
  • Demonstrate the basic function of the firearms being used.
  • Teach how to load, unload, and make safe. Dummy rounds are required for this. Every student should practice loading dummy rounds and then clearing the guns before getting to the range.
  • Practice dry fire with dummy rounds. Dry fire practice includes all the basics of shooting and position.
  • Describe safety gear and appropriate clothing for use at the range.
  • Explain range commands and procedures. Explain the commands used at your range and any range specific procedures. Cover the commands you will use and any commands the range officers will use.

Below are some optional subjects. If you include these, put them in a sensible order with the rest of your lesson plan. You are also free to add additional items.

  • How cartridges work.
  • Misfires, squibs and hangfires. What these terms mean and what to do if they happen.

Plan your lesson according to the requirements of your situation. If you are only going to have beginners shoot a .22 bolt action rifle from a rest, you might only discuss that rifle and position. If you are going to shoot several different types of pistols, you should spend some time discussing the differences in their actions.

5 Define important terms

You may need to define some common terms before you can explain firearm safety and how to handle firearms. A few terms that might be unfamiliar to non-shooters are: muzzle, chamber, slide, bolt, magazine, cylinder, and cartridge. Make sure the language you are using is clear to your audience.

6 Load and unload firearms

Again, have NO LIVE AMMUNITION PRESENT in the area where you are teaching.

A main goal of the first lesson is to teach how guns work and how to handle them safely. This is a hands on lesson and you must have dummy rounds to teach it successfully. Demonstrate how to load and unload the firearm. Then have each student practice picking up the firearm and loading and unloading it. Emphasize that the trigger must not be touched while handling the firearm. Students should keep their trigger finger extended along the frame of the gun. The muzzle must be controlled and kept in the safe direction.

Some students will have a natural mechanical aptitude for how firearms work. Other people will take longer to get comfortable. Learning these skills is not a race or a contest. Everyone should have the time to get familiar with the firearm.

7 Dry fire practice

After practicing loading, you can teach the basics of shooting. Effective dry fire practice should include all the elements of shooting. The following basic elements should be covered.

  • sight picture and aiming
  • trigger control
  • grip
  • position and stance

Make sure your students really understand sight picture. Often new shooters seem to understand sight picture, but their first shots miss by feet instead of inches. Then, while discussing the problem, it becomes clear that they did not understand how to line up the sights. Try your best to address this issue during dry fire practice.

Consider the hand and eye dominance of each shooter. Sometimes if people are really struggling with sight picture and position, the actual problem is that their hand and eye dominance are on opposite sides. This situation is called cross dominance, and it is a subject that is too large to cover here. For brand new shooters, just do your best to help everyone find a position where they are comfortable and can see the sights.

Students should practice dry fire until they can hold the sights reasonably steady while dry firing.

8 Safety notes on grip

Incorrect grip can cause hand injuries. The most common problem is that someone gets their thumb hit by the slide of a semi-auto. This problem happens when the thumb of the off hand crosses behind the slide. The slide has a lot of force and can make a nasty bruise or cut. With a correct grip, the thumb of the off hand should not cross behind the pistol.

On revolvers, make sure no part of the hand is close to the gap between the front of the cylinder and the barrel. The fingers of the off hand should not extend in front of the trigger guard. For best grip, the fingers of the off hand should be over the fingers of the dominant hand to provide additional grip strength.

On semi-auto rifles, make sure no one has their fingers near the bolt or operating rod. This is not a common problem, but inexperienced people will sometimes put their hands in unexpected places.

9 Range commands and procedures

Review the range procedures and commands that are used on your range. Make sure everyone understands how to make the range cold, and what they are expected to do when the range is cold.

Different ranges have different procedures, but I will discuss some common procedures here.

To make the range cold:

  • remove magazines from all firearms
  • for guns with fixed magazines, check that the magazine is empty
  • check that all firearms are unloaded
  • lock the actions open
  • place the firearms on the bench with the ejection port up

While the range is cold:

  • stand away from the firearms
  • do not touch a firearm for any reason

You should also discuss the "cease fire" range command. This command is unique because it is the only command that can be called by any person at any time. Anyone who recognizes a safety emergency can and must call "cease fire." Even a new shooter on their first day can use this command. If a cease fire is called, each shooter should immediately stop firing, take his finger off the trigger, keep the muzzle downrange, and await further instructions. Of course, the cease fire command is only for emergencies, and it should not be used in cases where contacting a safety officer would be sufficient.

10 How bullets work

With many new shooters, you will need to discuss how cartridges work before you can discuss firearms. You should explain the components of a cartridge: bullet, case, propellant, and primer. Explain the meaning of "caliber" and how cartridges are named.

You may want to explain the terms centerfire and rimfire and describe the differences.

11 Misfire, hangfire and squib

Note that this section applies only to modern cartridge firearms. If you are working with black powder firearms, misfires are common and the procedures are different. If you are working with black powder, be certain that you are qualified to teach the correct safety procedures.

The subject of misfires and other ammunition related malfunctions is a bit complicated for beginners. If you are not fully familiar with misfires, hangfires, and squibs, I suggest reviewing this area. As a quick summary, a misfire has occurred any time you expect a bang and get a click instead. A hangfire is a delay between when the primer is struck and when the round ignites. A squib is a round that has much less power than usual. The safety guideline is that a firearm should be held pointed downrange for at least thirty seconds after any misfire to be certain that the misfire is not a hangfire. Obviously, a hangfire could be very dangerous. A squib load can also be dangerous. With a squib, the bullet can be left jammed in the barrel. Firing another round after the squib could result in destruction of the firearm and potential injury.

Every shooter should really be familiar with these types of malfunctions and the procedures to follow if they occur. However, you may feel this is too complicated for the first lesson. If shooters have not been taught about misfires, they must be very closely supervised at all times while shooting. You must supervise closely enough to control the situation if any type of misfire occurs.

Some people will point out that squibs are quite rare and hangfires are extremely rare. Those statements are true, but that is not a reason to ignore potential areas of risk.

Also, you should be aware that misfires are quite common with new shooters. Inexperienced shooters often make mistakes where they believe the gun is ready to fire, but the chamber is really empty. Usually, they fail to fully seat the magazine or fail to pull the slide back fully. In either case, a round may not be chambered and the gun may go click instead of bang. If the shooter believed the chamber was loaded, then this situation is a misfire. It is a misfire, because when the click happens, no one knows that the chamber is empty.

12 Conclusion

The first day at the range should be fun for new shooters. But that first day is also the time to learn safe practices that will last a lifetime. As a mentor for new shooters, you have an important role in their safety, enjoyment and long term success with firearms. I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to create a good first experience for new shooters.

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