What Makes a Good Shooting Range?

By CTD Suzanne published on in How To

Opinions on what makes a good shooting range are as varied as everyone’s favorite ice cream flavor. Some shooters prefer outdoor ranges, while others prefer indoors. Some prefer a heavy presence of range officers, while many seasoned shooters like range officers to observe from afar. I’ve been in the smallest of shooting ranges with five lanes cramped into a busy strip center to out-of-the-way expansive acres of woodlands. Gun ranges do vary in quality and as a gun noob, your first visit to the gun range can be pivotal in your decision to continue participating in the shooting sports or not. No two gun ranges are alike and finding one that makes you feel safe and comfortable is an important step to becoming a regular shooter.

If people are acting unsafe and the RO does nothing, leave the range immediately.

If people are acting unsafe and the RO does nothing, leave the range immediately.

Safety

First, your and the range’s focus should be safety. Familiarize yourself with the four basic rules of firearm safety before heading to the range. Each range will most likely have its own set of rules in addition to these. Plenty of ranges do not allow rapid fire. This is when you pop off rounds quickly, one right after the other. A good range will have the four basic safety rules and their rules clearly stated in a highly visible area. The ranges I frequent most often have these rules posted in each shooting lane.

My favorite indoor shooting range has a Range Officer (RO) inside the hot range at all times. He or she should be attentive to everyone’s moves. They are there to keep everyone safe. They should be aggressive enough to stop any unsafe behavior. Further, Range Officers should be knowledgeable enough to offer tips, advice and help if needed. If at any point, people are acting unsafe and no one is doing anything about it, leave the range immediately. It probably isn’t a place you want to return.

Each shooting bay should have a shelf or table to rest your gun while you reload magazines or change targets. This will remind you to keep your gun’s muzzle pointed down range at all times. Further, you can keep ammunition, magazines and other gear on the table.

Every indoor range I use has a computerized, mechanical target retrieval system; however, some outdoor ranges do not. At an outdoor range that does not have any type of target retrieval, you must be diligent when noticing the range is hot (people are firing) and when the range is cold (weapons down, chambers empty and fingers completely off the trigger). To replace targets, the RO will yell commands to cease-fire so you can change out targets. This means you will have to cross the firing line. Depending on your level of comfort with this system, it is best to ask the range in advance if you must cross the firing line to switch out targets.

 Some ranges do not have a target retrieval system. This means you will have to cross the firing line.


Some ranges do not have a target retrieval system. This means you will have to cross the firing line.

NIOSH, EPA and OSHA Regulations

The governing bodies of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration all have rules, regulations and recommendations for shooting ranges. These organizations are concerned with employees, clients and the environment’s health due to lead and noise exposure.

Unless you purchase lead-free ammunition, the primer in your ammo most likely contains lead. Firing the gun releases gases from the ammunition and some will blow back in the direction of the shooter. Even more lead gets released when the bullet hits the target and backstop. NIOSH and OSHA regulate lead exposure. Therefore, a responsible gun range will have a high-quality air ventilation and exhaust system using HEPA filters. The systems installed must meet NIOSH and OSHA requirements. If a gun range is too smoky or smelly, it might have an inadequate system.

Inhaling the air and touching lead bullets or eating, drinking or smoking right after shooting can possibly expose you to damaging levels of lead. The range should not allow drinks or food inside the firing range. Further, a sink with warm water should be available at all times so you can wash your hands, arms and face right after shooting. Two products are NIOSH-approved to remove lead—LeadTech wipes and Hygenall.

Lead dust will settle in carpets and may cause a health hazard. The firing range and adjacent rooms should have concrete or tiled floors.

Outdoor ranges are not required to have a filtration or exhaust system, however they should provide fans to direct air away from the shooting bays, especially if the outdoor range has concrete walls and overhead baffles.

Outdoor shooting ranges must abide by the EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) in dealing with hazardous waste. Read the guidelines and the EPA’s recommended best practices here.

Appearance

The comfy lounge at my favorite local indoor range.

The comfy lounge at my favorite local indoor range.

Appearances can be deceiving. One of our favorite ranges is set back in the beautiful woods of North Texas. However there is no clubhouse, no store and only primitive porta-pottys. Another local gun range with in a nice brick building with a very popular brand name attached is a little deceiving on the outside. Though it is a very nice range with excellent staff, the inside is cramped and the shooting lanes could use some updating.

Unfortunately, we do tend to judge a book by its cover and when you first walk into a gun range we make a quick, however inappropriate, judgment about the place. If you can’t walk without stepping on brass, the place probably needs some attention.
Does the range keep up with repairs? Are there multiple holes in the walls or ceiling? A good shooting range will be on top of maintenance.
One of my biggest pet peeves is poor lighting. I prefer to have ample lighting throughout the facility. Staff should replace all burned out lights.

My favorite indoor shooting range has a nice check-in front area where you can purchase ammunition and accessories and rent guns. They have plenty of ammo and targets in stock and a very nice unisex restroom. Beyond that is a lounge with sofas, comfy chairs and a table. There is a TV, magazines, sink with hot water, coffee and cold sodas in the waiting area. The place is always sparkling clean, the staff friendly and helpful, and gun smoke in the range has never choked me out.

If you don’t know where to go, start asking people you know who shoot to recommend a range. Search your local firearms forums for suggestions. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has a list of five- and four-star gun ranges based on appearance, customer/member focus, customer/member development, management, community relations and amenities. Cheaperthandirt.com also has a list of ranges you may search, however we have not visited every one and cannot verify or guarantee the quality of the ranges listed.
To read what to expect for your first time at the range, read our post Your First Time at the Range.

Do you already have a favorite range? If so, tell us where and why in the comment section.

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (4)

  • Johnny

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    I’m big on outdoor ranges but indoor are fine too. I just hate when the guy next to you sees a girl and shows off by rapid firing a 12g semi auto shotgun and no matter your ear protection you still get ringing in your ears from it. I think what makes the range fine is when you meet new people and trade stories and your guns to each other. I’m a big talker so I’m not shy with people. I hate ranges where there’s wanna b gangsters next to you shooting sideways and missing the targets; don’t get me wrong it’s funny to see dumb people but in the process could hurt someone. Range officers don’t bother me. I have friends that are them so honestly no biggie if there present or not. But a clean safe environment is the key and I love seeing little ones learning the dos and donts of gun safety and proper shooting. I like going with a group and having a shooting contest and learning from friends along with others you can always learn something I do have military history I was an Army ranger but still everyone has special ways to do everything :)

    Reply

  • JiminGA

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    We frequent two ranges, one’s an indoor with separate pistol and rifle ranges, both with a 25 yd. max distance. They supervise the ranges with cameras and microphones and the RO responds very quickly to any infractions. The environment is clean, modern and well equipped, and adjoins the gun shop staffed with knowledgeable people. The shop is normally well stocked but that’s changed recently due to wild demand. We much prefer an outdoor range for rifles but do use the indoor one when it’s too cold or rainy. They do prohibit shotguns, though.

    The other range is outdoors, featuring a 200 yd. rifle range and two 50 yard pistol ranges. One can shoot on the rifle range at 25, 75, 100 or 200 yards. On the pistol ranges you can shoot at any distance up to 50 yards, as long as nobody is shooting from farther than you. It’s also possible to practice “shoot & move” drills on the pistol ranges which is is impossible on controlled lanes in an indoor range. The range is owned by a gunsmith who operates it like a shooting club, only permitting “members” and their guests…..no untrained, unsafe rookies allowed. Because patrons are gun guys/gals, we enjoy meeting new people on each visit, as well as the cordial atmosphere among the “members”. Shotguns are permitted next to one of the pistol ranges but there’s no skeet/trap available.

    There’s also another indoor/outdoor range not too far away that’s pretty “seedy” in terms of upkeep and equipment, but shotguns are permitted both indoors and outdoors, as well as trap shooting on the rifle range.

    Adding to all this will be a soon-to-open new indoor range very close to us that is being built by a local gun shop owned by great people from a nearby town.

    Did I mention we’re in Georgia, where the 2nd Amendment is very alive and well and fun shooting opportunities are a’plenty. Y’all come!

    Reply

  • DB Cooper

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    I hate ranges where the person designing it has zero knowledge of acoustics. Example: I have shot at indoor ranges where the sides were covered in wood which, reflected the sound right back to the ears of the shooter. Even in outdoor ranges the overhead cover should not be constructed like a house roof for the very same reason.

    Reply

  • Joe6pK

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    To me and my brothers experience at a track range in Maryland was perfect for trap shooting, it was wide open, they had a little reload shake, where you could buy snacks, drinks and pick a number to get in a set.The set being 5 shoots from five positions team event. We never shoot in tournament but believe some practiced at this place for them. We were youngest at the last time, 15-16. Our father and his brothers got us in, but never tried to order us around, limit what we shoot. It was the only thing the two of us ever did separate from our families, except duty, it was our favorite place. As a supervisor of volunteer the last 17 years at a race track and to me it is the only thing close, wind, sun, dirt and loud noises, must be a guy thing I suppose, my Mom still says.

    Reply

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