There are almost as many range commands as there are ranges. Range commands can be specific to a particular shooting discipline or to a particular club. The Range Conducting Officer (RCO) should explain any new commands to the shooters before the commencement of fire. If you are shooting on a different range or with a different club then it is worth asking for a rundown of the commands.
The only important things about which words are used for each command is that they should be distinct from other commands (eg “start firing” and “stop firing” could easily be confused) and all those shooting know what each command is and what they are expected to do upon hearing them.
Below are some examples of the types of commands you will hear. Many of them are variations around a basic theme. If you are shooting at local or club level check that the command means exactly the same as you understand. It may be for example that one club will allow targets on a pistol range to be changed with firearms unloaded but on the firing point another club may insist that all firearms must be bagged and removed from the firing point before allowing people to go forward.
Shooters to the point. On hearing this command shooters will go to a designated firing point and set up their gear. This may or may not include removing the firearm from its slip.
Load and make ready. The firearm is loaded and the shooter makes all necessary preparations to commence firing on the next command. The next command given should be...
Commence firing. Sometimes these commands are rolled into one and a general command is given to load and shoot.
Alternatively This will be a xx minute detail, the range is clear, in your own time carry on. You may now remove the firearm from its bag, load and shoot it.
Make this your last shot. A minute or so before the end you may hear the command Make this your last shot. Warnings given as to how long is left are mainly of importance to black powder shooters. The best way to unload a black powder firearm is to shoot it. Those people who shoot cartridge firearms can easily unload.
Cease fire, unload and prove clear. On hearing this command you should unload the firearm and wait for the RCO to check that the firearm is clear of any live rounds. If the RCO is satisfied that this is the case you will be asked to bag your firearm and clear the point.
Stop Stop Stop (Used in emergencies only). This is the most important command and should be universally known. Upon hearing this command the shooters should stop whatever they are doing, put the firearm down with the muzzle pointing down range and take their hand off the firearm and await further instructions. Do not try to engage the safety catch or unload.
Commands given after Stop Stop Stop will vary depending on the emergency. Stand back/Stand Clear is often given as the safest firearm is one that nobody can touch. This is the procedure if somebody appears between the shooters and the targets without warning. When the area is clear shooting can resume.
If someone has been injured or killed people will be in shock so the RCO will supervise the clearing of each firearm individually.
Other commands you may hear.
Cease fire. A command that is falling out of favour with the NRA as it contains the word fire but means the opposite and could lead to confusion in an emergency. Often used at club level to end a shooting detail.
Ground arms or bench rifle/pistol/arms. On hearing the command the firearm is placed on the bench/table/ground pointing in a safe direction. No attempt should be made to unload or apply the safety catch if this command is given. Usually given when the firearm is unloaded and proved clear.
Unload. On hearing this command the firearm is unloaded by removing the round from the breach and magazine if one is fitted, working the action to ensure there are no rounds stuck, followed by a visual inspection. If the firearm in question is a black powder firearm and the order has been given to unload then bring to the attention of the RCO that your black powder firearm is loaded. Arrangements will then be made if at all possible for you to discharge it into the backstop.
Prove clear. On hearing the command "prove clear" the shooter will wait for the RCO to approach. With the firearm pointing down range the shooter will then demonstrate to the RCO that the chamber is empty and the magazine, if fitted, is also empty. Black powder rifles are a little different and are shown to be clear by putting the ramrod down the barrel. When the RCO is satisfied then the firearm can be removed from the firing point.
The range is clear. This command is often given at the beginning of and right at the end of a detail. At the commencement of shooting it is given to inform shooters that no one is in the line of fire or in the danger area behind the butts. It can also be used at the end of a detail to indicate that no one has a firearm on the firing point or un-bagged.
Change targets/change butts detail. These commands give the shooter permission to walk forward of the firing line for the purpose of changing their targets on a pistol/gallery rifle range or changing the butts detail on a gallery range.