Take Your Kids to the Range: 6 Tips for a fun and successful trip

I have spent a lot of time at the range as an instructor with a very wide variety of people. I feel like these experiences have helped me to understand how to make range time (both recreational and formal instruction) more successful for all involved. My background as a middle school math and science teacher provides me with a lot of guidance on how kids operate. I’ve also been a parent for the past 12 years and — as you can imagine — that has been an educational experience.

Continued from Part I: Shooting range for kids.

When I summarize the lessons learned from all those experiences it really comes down to one big idea: I know nothing! Life and kids are constantly throwing me curveballs that force me to change and adapt to the circumstances.

But don’t think for a second that my lack of knowledge will stop me from giving you some tips on having a fun and successful trip shooting with children.

In the first chunk of the Take Your Kids to the Range series, I talked shared my thoughts on how to decide if you and your kids are ready. If you are wondering about the answer to that question you might want to take a look at that post. It might spark some consideration on your part that may be helpful.

This installment is intended to help you consider what might make the trip most successful once you decide that a trip to the range is a good idea.

Of course, my circumstances are completely different from yours, but I do hope that some of my experiences will help you craft your own.

Range time: Responsible gun handling is the top priority.

Take your kids shooting
Responsible gun handling is key. Teach it to your children and help them to practice what you teach and demonstrate.

In just fractions of a second, a fun trip to the range could turn to a tragedy. I don’t say that to discourage you from taking your children shooting, but instead to remind you how important responsible gun handling is. The instruction of responsible gun handling needs to be a strong focus prior to any trip, and should, of course, be your primary focus while at the range.

The benefits of this focus are two-fold: first, everyone comes home from the range without injury. That is a Good Thing. Just as importantly you are ensuring that your children understand and practice responsible gun handling today and in the future. Make sure that when you take your kids to the range this is your top priority.

Make it fun.

Take your kids shooting
Balloons make for great targets. They are easy to get to the range, don’t cost much and respond when they are shot. They bring smiles!

Responsible gun handling is a serious business, but that doesn’t mean that a trip to the range can’t be fun. In fact, it should be fun!

There are a couple of things I keep in mind when planning to take the kids to the range. You might find some of these tips helpful.

1. Select guns that are enjoyable for kids to shoot.

Take your kids shooting
The M&P 22 Compact is a crowd-pleaser. A dozen mags mean there is plenty of ammo to go around.

I have my favorite guns. You have your favorite guns. These guns may have zero appeal to our kids. You need to make sure that the guns you select for kids to shoot at the rage are fun for them to shoot. Skip heavy recoiling guns. If it causes physical pain, you will be spoiling the trip and maybe more. Choose something that is light, small, and has a trigger that is easy for your child to press.

For our family that means the Savage Rascal rifles, the S&W M&P 15-22 or the Ruger 10-22. There are plenty of options out there, but your 3 ½ in. mag 12 gauge isn’t it…

I like to stick primarily with long guns when I take the kids to the range. They are easier for me to physically control if I need to and they enhance accuracy and reduce the felt recoil so shooting is more fun.

2. Ensure success.

Take your kids shooting
Reactive targets create smiles with instant feedback. One of our favorite target choices is ballons.

Unless your kids are schooled in shooting, there is no reason to stretch the distance. Bring the targets in close and make them big and easy to see the hits. More about that when we talk about targets. Getting hits and seeing the results right away can be rewarding for new shooters. 

3. Pick fun targets.

One of our favorite targets is balloons. The reasons are simple. Balloons react well to a hit, they burst. They can also be relatively large and at close range, so they are easy to hit. They are inexpensive and they are super safe to shoot at.

You could also select targets that reveal bright colors when they are hit so that success is immediately visible.

Steel targets provide great auditory confirmation of a hit, but You must make sure to follow all safety precautions to reduce the likelihood of injury.

4. Focus on the kids.

Take your kids shooting
Loading magazines can be a family affair especially if you do it before you go to the range.

This is one I have to remind myself of when I head to the range with the kids. I work in the gun industry and when I head to the range there is always work to be done. When the kids come with, that all has to take a back seat to the time I spend with them! Kids don’t have the greatest attention span and anything I need to do at the range sucks up that energy. So make sure the guns are ready to go before you take the kids. They should be clean, sighted in and ready to rock.

I don’t want to be sighting in guns, or loading mags or doing anything that postpones the fun we are about to have. If I make them wait too long they are gone!

I try to have plenty of mags on hand for each of the guns I own and that included the guns the kids shoot. Typically, I have all the mags loaded up before we leave home to get things going right away. It isn’t uncommon to have all the M&P 15-22 mags, M&P 22 Compact mags, and Ruger 10/22 mags loaded to capacity when we get to the range. It also isn’t uncommon for those mags to be empty pretty quickly!

The kids have iron-sighted Savage Rascals. These single-shot bolt guns are a ton of fun and the kids can operate them relatively independently. I use these rifles as the stopgap for when I need to slow down the pace and reload mags for the fun to continue.

This also means you should cherry-pick your time to be at the range. Pick the best weather, at the best time of day for your kids. Don’t make things more difficult than they need to be.

5. Build stamina.

Take your kids shooting
The Savage Rascal .22 is a bolt action gun that many kids can operate with relative independence. We use the Rascals when the magazines for the semi-auto guns need to be reloaded.

Over time, with proper planning on your part, your kids will build range stamina. What I mean by stamina is that they will be able to endure and actually enjoy longer periods of time at the range that aren’t actually focused on them. Recently I was unavoidably distracted from our range time for a few minutes. When I was able to return, I found my kids kicking around a ball in the parking lot of the outdoor range. They brought the ball with them, got it out and engaged themselves while awaiting my attention. It was a winning moment.

Starting out with shorter-range trips that are centered on your child will help to build a willingness to tolerate the interruptions that come when we spend time on the range.

Start with intentionally small chunks and build bit by bit.

And always, always, always

6. Quit while you’re ahead.

Be the parent that interrupts the fun, ends the trip and heads home before your kids are ready. This serves two important purposes. First, it ensures that your kids aren’t bored. Maybe, more importantly, it leaves your kids wanting more. If you want to come back to the range with your little people, it makes sense for you to leave the range with them feeling the same way.

The lessons we learn…

Going to the range isn’t always fun. Today we had 45 mph winds and it wasn’t the best day to have kids at the range. Be sure to go in good weather, especially when you are starting out, and choose a time when your kids are rested and fed. Because we’ve followed the above guidelines we had a decent day. We had fun shooting. I actually got a bit of work done. The kids were wanting more when we left. Maybe most importantly, we actually got some serious math and science schooling type stuff done.

That is what part 3 will be about — some of the lessons you might be able to help your children learn while you are at the range. With schools closed across the country, heading to the range could be an excellent way to explore science math and social studies concepts that are important for our children to learn.

Paul Carlson, owner of Safety Solutions Academy, is a Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor.  He has spent the past decade and a half studying how humans can perform more efficiently in violent confrontations and honing his skills as an instructor both in the classroom and on the range. Through Safety Solutions Academy, Paul teaches a variety of Critical Defensive Skills courses in more than a dozen states annually.  Courses range from Concealed Carry Classes to Advanced Critical Defensive Handgun Courses and include instruction for the defensive use of handguns, rifles and shotguns.  Safety Solutions Academy regularly hosts other industry leading experts as guest instructors to make sure that SSA's students have the opportunity for quality instruction across a broad range of Critical Defensive disciplines.

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