If you're new to the world of guns, and by association, gun people, you might find the experience a little bit threatening if not overwhelming. It's true that most hunting parties are comprised of people who have known one another for decades. It's also true that the appearance of the relationships between most gun counter staff and their clients or customers seems to be the result of a long and well-maintained friendship. For someone just getting into the sport, it can be quite threatening to try and find one's place. I can tell you from experience, I am always put on edge by approaching the gun counter or going out shooting with a new group of people.
Having only been actively shooting on my own for the last four or five years, I can tell you I have had a lot of new experiences. I knew going into it that I would be the new guy and that I would have to embrace meeting a bunch of old pros who are very set in their comfort zone with a very particular group of shooting buddies.
My first adventure was when I decided to purchase a rifle. I had done my homework and had a rough idea of what caliber I wanted. I knew what I wanted a rifle capable of long range since my goal is to one day shoot in long range competitions. What I didn't know was ANYTHING about bolt action rifles. My brief childhood experience was with a heavy hitting .30-06 that had knocked my 76 lb. ass completely off the bench, leaving a nice shiner as a memento of the occasion. I asked around work and began discussing my desires to shoot with other people I knew to be gun enthusiasts. Before I knew it, I had an invite to go out and shoot bolt action rifles with a group of locals who had been shooting their whole lives. They were happy to share their sport with me, and their rifles. If you have a desire to shoot, tell those you know who shoot. Someone will be willing to take you on your first outing.
Having learned that my adult body could handle the recoil of bolt-action rifles, I set out to purchase my own. I read everything I could. I did internet search after internet search and read nearly every link that had anything to do with long range shooting or bolt-action rifles. The majority of information came from shooting forums. I didn't join any until recently, but most will allow you "lurk" their threads without logging in. One of the best ways to learn is to learn from those who "do". The forums are a wealth of information and people who are eager to share it.
Once I purchased a rifle, I needed to find a place to shoot it. Thankfully, I worked at a newspaper. One day, while asking another co-worker about scopes, a gentleman spoke up. After a few minutes it became evident that we were both building rifles for the same purpose and he offered to take me out shooting. He also provided me with a ton of information, as well as web-links, for optics. It turned out that we were both pretty good shots. After a few outings, I had the confidence to venture out on my own. Later finding a free range closer to my house. The take away here? Don't be afraid to talk to your co-workers, your neighbors, and friends from your past.
Shooters all seem to have evolved from a common place. Nearly every time I am at the range, now, I meet someone who is not only willing to visit for a few moments, but is happy to share their wisdom - and usually their weapons - with a total stranger. We are all enthusiasts, interested in rifles, pistols, or marksmanship. More importantly, if you ask anyone of us who taught us to shoot, or if we remembered the first time we fired a gun, we'd all be more than excited to tell you all about it. Half the fun of our sport is the camaraderie of those who share an interest in shooting. Most of the intimidation of the crowd comes from the power their firearms. Do your homework, know your weapons - or as much as you can about the weapon you are interested in, and don't be afraid to approach the old pros. They were noobs once, too.