FRANKFORT – The cooler temperatures and lower humidity that spread across Kentucky this week made it feel more like early fall than the dog days of summer.
Fall hunting season seems closer with a crispness in the air in mid-July. And in reality, it isn’t far off. Early fall squirrel season in Kentucky opens in less than a month.
Spending time at the shooting range now not only is fun but it’s also a surefire way to ensure you’ll be ready when it counts this fall.
“Ranges are established places where people go to shoot rifles, pistols, shotguns, even archery,” said Bill Balda, Hunter Education Supervisor with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Rarely are all of these done at the same time and at the same range.”
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has public shooting ranges (tube, trap and skeet, and archery) on select wildlife management areas in Kentucky. A complete list is available online at fw.ky.gov.
These public shooting ranges are self-serve – trap and skeet ranges are open to organized clubs or groups and must be reserved 30 days in advance – and users must comply with the posted rules. Some of the guidelines are based on courtesy; the majority focus on safety.
“When you get to a range, there should be a sign that clearly marks what the range is for,” Balda said. “Be aware of what you can and cannot use on each range because these ranges are placed and have safety zones according to the firearms they’re designed to handle.”
The basic rules of firearms safety still apply at the range:
Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded. Keep the action open and the firearm unloaded until you’re ready to fire.
Make sure you point the firearm in a safe direction. At a range, that’s designated as toward the target. Never point it at yourself or others.
Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
Know your target and what’s in front of or behind it.
“Probably the most common thing I see on rifle ranges is people still handling a firearm on the firing line while people are down range,” Balda said. “For safety and courtesy that’s something you shouldn’t do when people have gone down range to work on targets.”
The same applies for shotgunners.
“From time to time people need to go down to the trap houses and reload the thrower,” Balda said. “Again, you should not be handling your firearms when someone does that. Most shotgun ranges are pretty good about having a rack to put your shotgun in when you’re not shooting.”
Aside from proper handling of firearms, there are two other safety measures to keep in mind.
Eye and ear protection are required at all times.
Depending on the weather, an anti-fog lens cleaner may need to be applied to safety glasses.
“Another thing that helps keep your glasses from fogging up is to take off your hat,” Balda said.
Hearing damage is irreversible, and the sound of your firearm going off should not be the signal to protect your ears.
Balda advises wearing ear plugs and ear muffs when shooting anything other than a .22 caliber firearm.
“With a .22, I recommend one or the other,” Balda said.
As more people visit the shooting range with the fall hunting season drawing closer, be even more aware of what’s going on around you. Don’t be bashful about calling for a cease fire if you observe a potentially dangerous situation.
“Everyone should stop shooting and figure out what’s going on and fix it,” Balda said. “It’s not a big deal. Just get it done. If someone gets hurt then it’s a big deal.”
Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is an avid angler with a passion for muskellunge and stream fishing. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.