You're hot and you're cold

An interesting discussion cropped up on my Facebook page this weekend about the merits of hot vs. cold ranges; I personally am of two minds on this issue as I can see the merits of both arguments.  The key arguments behind advocates of hot and cold ranges are summed up thus:

  • Hot: A holstered gun is a safe gun, who cares if it has ammo in it just don’t touch it when you’re not on the line.
  • Cold: Manually unloading each shooter guarantees there are no loaded guns behind the line in someone’s hands.

Both have merit, and both in my opinion have their place.  For example, in a Gunsite class, it would simply take too much time to have each shooter unload and show clear every time they came off the line.  It makes much more sense for them to top off their gun and holster up with a hot gun.  The “hot range” theory operates off two key principles – 1) it assumes that all shooters in attendance are actually going to leave their guns in the holster, and 2) that everyone has a sufficient level of competence with admin gun handling to keep their guns topped off in between strings of fire.

On the flip side, you have the cold range school of thought.  Having been around a lot of matches and seen a lot of novice shooters, I am in favor of cold ranges for matches.  As a certified IDPA Safety Officer and competitor, I like the peace of mind knowing that no one is handling a loaded gun behind my back while I’m on the line.  The reason I like cold ranges for matches is because matches, unlike classes such as Aim Fast, Hit Fast or Gunsite often attract a wide variety of skill levels and competencies which means that not every shooter in attendance is going to be as well versed in gunhandling as the advanced shooters.  So in that environment of unverified competency, it makes sense for the safety officers to manually inspect everyone’s guns.

Personally, I’d love to live in a world where I never had to worry about whether a range was hot or cold – but I’ve also been muzzled quite a few times at indoor ranges and outdoor ranges with “empty” and loaded guns to know that there is a time and place for both hot ranges and cold ranges.


  1. Speaking as a range safety officer at a public range I am inclined to vote in favor of a cold range. I have seen far too many people do far too many stupid things to feel comfortable with people running around with loaded guns. While my range allows concealed carry into the facility, and my libertarian mindset is happy to support this, the side of me that has seen what people consider acceptable gun safety cringes a little any time someone asks “I have my gun loaded in my holster right now, is that okay?”. When it comes to my matches, and especially because the range’s programs do tend to attract a lot of novice league shooters, I will always support a cold range. I have seen enough new shooters uncase their unloaded firearms behind the firing line and start racking (or is it “packing”, Master Jeff?) to not be comfortable with these same people carrying around LOADED firearms behind me. As much as I am one for making money and climbing ladders, my ultimate goal in my job is to not get shot by some idiot.

    All that being said, I like to believe there is a time and a place for hot ranges. A magical gun-filled world in which everyone is intelligent enough to not try to shoot each other accidentally. I have had times – when I’m out shooting with coworkers for example, where no one really thought much of it because, seriously, who is going to unholster their gun inappropriately? I would imagine when you get to a place like Gunsite the same concept applies. For the most part, though, the idea of running a hot range with people I don’t know and trust is a little terrifying.

  2. I also RO for a local pistol club. We’re currently cold, but the last business meeting had us considering going hot. I am watching this post and eagerly await opinions on this issue.

    Thanks for bringing this up Caleb!

  3. At a public range, there are no minimum standards of safe gun handling for the shooters, and that’s a good thing, because the only way to learn gun safety is to be around guns. Gun safety is a learned skill, and accommodations must be made for those who need to learn, and a cold public range with trained, attentive RO’s is a great way for novices to get the Two / Four Rules drilled into your brain. Getting scolded by an RO for unsafe gun handling in front of your peers will help you learn them, and fast.

  4. The range I go to (knob creek) is a ‘cold’ range..and if they catch you with a loaded weapon on your table too many times during a ceasefire they’ll throw you out.

    Each time I go there the rules get more and more strict..they used to just have you lock/prop the actions open. But lately they started forcing you to have these little orange flags shoved down the chamber of every weapon on the table. They also charge you for these’s not much..but kinda annoying.

    Even more annoying when you have to shove one into the tiny action of a .22 and some plastic shaves off and melts(and sticks) onto the hot chamber…like when it happened to my Henry .22. That I also eventually dropped off of the table onto the concrete floor since they shrunk their tables down to about half the size they used to be to fit more people in.

    And oh yeah..before they started that they painted a big yellow line behind the entire firing line that they force everyone to stand behind during cease fires now. It makes me feel like a kid in elementary school sometimes, to be honest.

      1. Which really is the greatest motivator behind cold ranges. Liability. Take it from the former insurance agent!

      2. Oh I know it’s all about liability, insurance, etc…it’s just a royal pain in the ass. 😛

    1. Nick – Second Saturday of each month. Go around back with a pistol, holster, mags, about 100 rounds, and $10. Have some fun with us at the KPDL match. 😀

      1. You mean get my butt kicked because I am completely bloody horrible with a pistol? lol
        Which is funny..since pistols make up half of my firearm collection. 😐

        1. There’s no shame in losing. There’s only shame in not trying.

          I only train and practice and compete because I don’t want to get patted on the head and be told I shoot pretty good… for a girl.

  5. BTW, I don’t necessarily MIND the whole “cold range” thing..unless it’s when I’m firing a .22 with a tubular magazine and I just finished loading 15+ rounds into it one at a time.

    Then it gets annoying. 😉

  6. +1

    I’m a fan of the cold range as a default. I even have the “Load and Make Ready” procedure worked into my routine that if it’s missing, it’ll throw me off my game, case in point, the IDAHO IDPA State Match.

    If shooters are experienced and time is of the essence, then I’m fine with a hot range.

  7. In my opinion there is a time and place for both, as Caleb outlined. If you’re in a private bay with several friends who are all competent shooters, or attending a training class where the rules have been laid out explicitly, a hot range is fine.

    I would NOT want a hot range at a competition, or general use range. Too many idiots. My body doesn’t need any extra holes.

  8. So in what way are the arguments against a hot range any different than the standard gun-banner’s argument against concealed carry in general? If you won’t trust them at a range, surrounded by people who will yell at them for being unsafe and with emergency gunshot supplies on hand, how do you trust them to carry to work/the supermarket/schools?

    I think there are a few arguments, but it’s just interesting to me how quickly things change from “our right” and “responsible gun owners” to “that idiot behind me.” I always thought it amazed me at some IDPA competitions where honestly the *only* time some of those people went unarmed (as in not loaded and locked and ready to draw and fire) was at the IDPA match!

    1. Not everyone carries concealed. For many people, myself included, most of our guns are about as important to us as a baseball bat. My IDPA guns are sporting goods, and I use them as such. I do carry concealed, so I understand the hot range argument, but at the end of the day regardless of how we feel about it, a gun is still a dangerous thing when handled negligently. And when working with people of unverified skill levels, I’d really rather take every precaution to not get any additional bullet holes in my body.

      1. I’m not even saying I disagree with the concept. I just find the two arguments eerily similar.

        I’ve been muzzled by enough of the aforementioned idiots at the range to completely understand the thought behind cold ranges.

        1. A majority of people who conceal carry have the intelligent not randomly pull their guns out in public for no reason. I mean, if we’re really going to look at it this way the world is a hot range and cops are SOing.
          People lose their brains the moment they step onto gun club property. Suddenly it’s okay to pull your gun out anywhere: at the range booth, in the hallway, on the benches behind the firing line, in the classroom. I mean, really? I don’t want to see you pull your gun out unless you have asked me if I want to see it and I have consented. Would you whip it out at the counter at the grocery store and say “check this out!”? No.

          Now that I’m done ranting I’ll go back to addressing your comment: For the most part, in the world people are smart enough to keep their gun in their holster until they see something they perceive to need a hole. This same rule is not applicable at your local amateur IDPA match.

  9. The ranges I’ve been to in AZ are hot (really, no pun intended). They allow cased guns behind the yellow line. I don’t see any difference with a holstered gun. If you want to uncase the weapon, you need to do it between the yellow and red lines, during the fire period. If the gun is uncased, it’s required to be unloaded, with the action open.

    The Appleseed shoot I went to required chamber flags, and the safety on. The safety was the hardest for us, because we tend not to use them (or depend on them).

    I’ve also seen differing attitudes towards what you’re allowed to do during a ceasefire. At the Appleseed, and one of the ranges, you cannot hang out between the yellow and red lines, touch anything between them, or even look like you might touch something between them. I learned the hard way (waiting 15 minutes before I could reload all my mags) to keep my ammunition at the back table and carry my empty mags with me when the ceasefire begins.

    Another range (far less populated, with more experienced shooters), will let you grab your mags and pick up brass during the ceasefire. But if you go near a gun, or look like you might, the ROs are all over you.

    1. Yeah, at KCR you can’t mess with ANYTHING firearm-related during the ceasefire..can’t touch a firearm, can’t load mags, can’t handle empty mags, etc.

      I had trouble figuring out how to put the orange flag in my .22 SA revolver without taking the cylinder out (forget that) during each ceasefire I just stuck it in the pistol case.
      Did that for like 6 hours, range officer never said a word.
      Oh yeah..just remembered another rule there..if you have a tube-mag fed gun you must remove the tube follower during the ceasefire..which is another pain. It’s pretty obvious to see if a tube-mag gun is loaded when the action is open.

  10. I shoot at a pistol match once or twice a month that is run as a hot range. Everyone understands the “rules” and is is not a problem. I also shoot at one or two shoots a month where the range is cold. I am comfortable either way. When not at the range I carry concealed.

  11. Life is lived on a hot range, but civilization pretends it is a cold range where everyone is obeying the rules and isn’t cocked and locked. The difference is important between reality and expectations.

  12. There is no simple answer and Caleb’s suggestion that each has its proper place is spot on.

    I’ve seen far more accidents — as an RO, student, and teacher — with supposedly unloaded guns than loaded ones. We can say whatever we want, but the average human’s brain is going to treat an unloaded gun differently than a loaded one. If you want people to behave with utmost safety, force them to keep their guns hot.

    1. The whole school of thought around my “a place for everything” is that I’ve been on hot ranges where I felt 100% comfortable, hot ranges where I really wished they were cold ranges, cold ranges where some guy was running around with a loaded gun behind me, and cold ranges where I didn’t even worry about it.

  13. I won’t disagree with the idea that there is a place for both hot and cold ranges. My general personal preference is for a hot range, based on the simple fact that the more someone is required to fiddle with a gun (i.e., “administrative” unloading for a cold range), the greater the chances for an accident. If it’s holstered, it’s safe. If it’s sitting (securely) on the bench, it’s not going to go off on its own – it’s safe.

    If no one is fiddling with it, it’s safe whether it’s loaded or not*, but you’re more likely to accidentally frob something you shouldn’t while pointing it somewhere you shouldn’t if you’re actively handling it.

    If someone is fiddling with it during a ceasefire, rip ’em a new one**. If someone is doing something unsafe, rip ’em a new one. If someone muzzles you (or anyone else), rip ’em a new one***.

    If they then say “But it’s unloaded,” really rip ’em a new one**** – twice.

    Then let the RO at them (if there is one).

    * Excluding certain collectibles and antiques, of course.

    **Unless it’s blatantly and immediately dangerous, you should try to be polite about it, but still be firm.

    *** Politeness on this one is optional.

    ****Don’t bother being polite with this one. Leave them (metaphorically) lying on the ground staring at their intestines lying next to them, hoping to die quickly so the pain will end faster.

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