Throwback Thursday: How to Build a Backyard Backstop

Backyard Bullet Backstop

You finally bought a piece of land that is big enough to shoot on. Great, now what? Here is the legalese piece: Check with the local ordinances. Make sure you are legal to shoot on your own land. Make sure there are no technicalities in the way.

For example, in Florida, it is illegal to shoot within 300 yards of an occupied building (that you don’t own). It is also illegal to shoot over a non-private road. Not that these are necessarily bad things, just make sure you check the lateral issues.

Once the legal components are covered, there are a few other items to consider. One of those is neighbors. Do you live in a strong blue area? Are your neighbors likely to become angry with your new range and the noise of shooting? Are there ways to decrease that anger? Perhaps invite them over to shoot with you. Perhaps keep shooting activities within normal noise-making times. Maybe consider noise buffering when designing the range. Certainly, make sure all your bullets stay within your property.

Another issue is law enforcement. Quite often, just because it is legal, doesn’t mean the local police are aware that it is. It never hurts to go to the local station and make friends and discuss potential issues with them. Another thing to do, once you KNOW you are fully legal and a neighbor calls law enforcement on you, is to invite the responding officers to shoot your guns. Provide the ammo. The police almost never get enough range time and most of them will appreciate it. We did this at a friend’s home range. Whenever we shot full-auto, a neighbor would call. The police had to drive over to check out the situation. After the first few calls, they drew lots to see who got to respond. It was the only fair way, as they all wanted to get to shoot the full-auto’s.

Once all the legal and PR components are figured out, you actually have to decide on the purpose of the range and the safety aspects.

Purpose and Safety

Are you planning on only shooting pistols? If so, build a pistol-appropriate range. Then, decide on what kind of pistol work: square-range precision shooting, or action-bay stuff like 3-Gun and Fast Draw? Will you be shooting lots of high-powered rifle rounds? Will you be doing precision shooting or routine mag dumps? These things all matter as to how the range is set up, and what must be done to make it safe for you and the neighbors.

My backyard range has a modest backstop for pistol and rifle shooting. We are able to get out to 100 yards very safely for aimed slow-fire rifle. Rapid-fire pistol and rifle is safe up to about 50 yards. The reason for this is that even if we manage to miss the backstop, the angle of the land is slightly down towards the backstop. Directly behind the backstop is a dry pond, then a moderate incline that eventually exceeds the height of the backstop. Between the downward shooting angle, the dry pond, and the inclining 75 yards behind the backstop, no bullets should be able to leave the property. We limit the ranges to those listed above, just to be sure.

Backstop Construction

The backstop is 8’6” wide and 80” high. The center is just over five-feet wide and each side has wings that stick out at about 45 degrees. The purpose of the wings is to catch spall from direct shots, as well as to allow for angled shooting during 3-Gun practice.

The front of the main center section is a layer of vertical 2×4’s attached to pressure-treated 2×6’s at each end. The 2×4’s are covered with a layer of ½” steel belted rubber. Behind the 2×4 layer is an air gap the width of the 2×6 and a second layer of 2×4’s positioned vertically. The air gap is filled with a mixture of small river stones ¾” to 1.5” and pea gravel.

The wood provides a semi-healing frame for the gravel and stone. The belted rubber aids in that capacity. The gravel and stone section is the kinetic bullet trap. The weight of the column keeps the gravel in place, and the hardness tends to shatter most bullets. For pistol ammunition, this is sufficient. Rifle bullets have a tendency to still go through.

Behind this, is a second layer of 2×4’s in vertical alignment with a four-inch air gap. Behind that layer is another four-inch air gap and a layer of ¾” plywood. Behind that is another four-inch air gap and the last layer of ¾” plywood. For those wanting to be REALLY sure, filling the second air gap with gravel would certainly add a buffer and probably avoid the need for the last layer of plywood. I had scrap wood and had to buy gravel, so…

The bullets are typically aimed at a steel 2/3-size silhouette target or several round steel targets. If the bullet impacts the AR-500 steel, the backstop only needs to catch the spall. The real reason for the backstop is to catch the misses. I am a belt and suspenders kind of guy. Even with the sloping hill behind the backstop, I really don’t want bullets exiting the structure.

By alternating the orientation of the 2×4’s, it doesn’t allow for overlapping seams. With the 5.5” layer of gravel, the bullets expand, shatter, tumble or at least dump a lot of energy passing through that layer. The following air gaps and layers of wood are cheap insurance for catching the tumbling rifle rounds. I added the additional layers after testing with progressively more powerful rounds.

Person shooting a semi-automatic AR-15 assault weapon rifle at an outdoor gun range

This current setup suffers no penetrations from .308 Winchester FMJ, .303 British FMJ, or 7.62×54 steel core ammo. It would likely fail vs. .338 Lapua and certainly vs. .50 BMG, which means we don’t shoot anything even approaching those mega calibers at it. I do not typically shoot the “battle rifle” rounds at this backstop, as they would quickly wear out the steel targets and the wood, but it is good to know the limits of your equipment.

I have a separate set of cut tree sections backed by telephone pole segments for this type of shooting. I only shoot at this setup from prone or from under 25 yards. It is an expendable backstop used for testing precision rifles and their ammo, as well as other high-power rounds. A friend is a tree guy, which means I have easy access to hardwood logs.

The initial 16-18” of this bullet sink is easily replaced when it gets shot up. I position a cardboard box about a foot in front of this backstop with paper targets attached and a cement weight in the bottom to keep the box stationary. With over 30” of wood, a slight downward shooting angle, and a hill behind it, no bullets leave our property. Most stay inside the logs. It is also much cheaper to fix with free log pieces than buying replacement 2×4’s and plywood.

For non-slug shotgun rounds, we have steel pedestal targets and just use the slope of the hill to catch any errant shot. This is mostly used for 3-Gun practice. The log backstop with a cardboard target is used for patterning turkey loads and similar items.

My particular setup was determined by having a lot of scrap 2×4’s and plywood on hand. My primary expenses were gravel, exterior-grade three-inch assembly screws, the AR-500 targets, and the time spent building and testing. The backstop has been in use for almost three years. I have had to replace a few boards and top off the gravel as a result of impact settling and shattering of many of the rocks, but other than a slight bit of upkeep, it remains fully functional and allows many of our friends to shoot safely, for all of my testing needs and for my girlfriend to keep in practice between her duty qualification tests.

steel silhouette target
Make sure you’re shooting a safe distance away from steel targets to avoid a ricochet.

Conclusion: Building a Backyard Backstop

I estimate 3,000 rounds of centerfire pistol, 2,500 rounds of 5.56, and innumerable rounds of .22 LR have been shot at the steel targets. At least 500 rounds of birdshot have also impacted the steel positioned on the backstop. Another 1,000 birdshot and buckshot rounds have impacted the pedestal targets. The expendable log backstop has had many log sections replaced after stopping over 1,500 rounds of .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, and similar projectiles.

In 2019, we used this setup to introduce six or eight people to shooting. With COVID-19, 2020 has been much slower, but so far, we have two new shooters this year. Between the three shooting areas, no errant bullets have made their way off the property. That is the ultimate goal. It only takes one such round and the attached lawyer to end future shooting activities.

Have you built a private range on your property? How did it go? Let us know in the comments section below!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October of 2020. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
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 (22)

  1. Florida statute Charter 790-15 discharging a firearm on public or residential property. In section 4 of the Florida statue it states that if you own one acre of property and your neighbors. Also own at least one acre of property. You can discharge a firearm without committing a misdemeanor as long as you have a proper backstop to shoot into.

  2. Built a 100 yard range using a large round bale of hay as the main backstop. Sat it on end so bullets went across the grain,not with. Behind was 50 yards of brush down to a dry river bed. All downhill. A 4’x4′ piece of 3/4 inch plywood held targets. The hay bale would stop .45 ACP @7 yards. .222 and .223 rifle rounds as close as 25 yards. Never tried my brothers.243 but my.257 Roberts passed completely through at 100 yards. Suffice to say, it was a pistol- small caliber rifle range.

  3. In Illinois we have law that says you must get permission from the homeowner/renter to discharge a firearm within 100 yards for a shotgun and 300 yards for a rifle. Most homeowners don’t know this, so prior to hunting shooting I knock on the door and just say we are hunting deer, coyotes, whatever on the property next door and are you ok with that? They don’t really know that they can say “no” and run you off. They think it’s a courtesy call. They say “ok.”

    I also have a natural berm behind my targets, but I put up warning signs to keep people from wandering onto “downrange.”

  4. I like the idea of 55-gal drums filled with sand but if you hit off-center then you lose much of the stopping power of the full diameter of the drum and there is also now the ricochet possibility…. so I’d suggest either a second row behind the first – staggered so no matter where the bullet goes you are guaranteed a full diameter’s worth of drum and sand. And probably wouldn’t hurt to have either a berm or railroad-tie backstop behind it, and wings either of ties or single rows of sand-filled drums. But I’m a beginner so I’ve much to learn. I have enough property and I live in a rural area where you hear occasional “target practice” so I’m looking forward to building my own stop. I want to practice often and not have to travel anywhere to do so.

  5. I built a 22 lr backstop using 2 x 6 lumber framing at 16 inches on center with ½ inch plywood (OSB) front and back, filling the voids with rubberized mulch from the home store. The back wall measures 8 x 8 feet and the perpendicular sides are 4 x 8 feet. I put a clear panel roof on it to keep out the weather and to let light in. There is a shelf that holds frames for paper and steel targets on the bottom. More bags of the mulch are placed in front of the back wall to catch most bullets. Have used it for two years without anything passing through. To keep the neighbors happy, I shoot suppressed (Ruger SR 22) using subsonic ammo (Federal Suppressor) for my pistols (Ruger Mk IV, S&W Compact 22) and rifles (M&P 15-22, Ruger American). I also shoot CCI Quiet 22s from my lever gun (Henry Frontier) and Aguila SUPER Colibri from my revolver (Ruger SP101). No complaints from the neighbors.

  6. Thank you for the info about backstops.
    But, I was wondering if I had 6 inch sand bags put three layers deep with 4 inch airgaps. I’m wanting to also build the wing walls at 45° with 2 layers airgaps and sandbags. Do you think that would work for .270 and 30×30. All the rest should be pistol rounds the largest being 44.
    I’m also was wondering, how wide do you think I need the wings to be?

  7. For paper targets I stretch chicken wire or 2×2 roll fencing between two T-posts in front of my backstops. I buy cases of wooden clothespins at the dollar store to attach the targets. When the wires get all shot out, you just unroll a little more.

    I built a concrete shooting table that accommodates both left and right hand shooters. The only problem is it fills up with gear real quick. If you’re going to build a shooting table, make it large enough for gear or have a second table dedicated for gear.

    If any of the readers are considering building their own range and inviting neighbors and friends, etc. Decide what your policy will be about brass, and make it known. It’s funny how your own brass tends to blend in with the ground but your neighbor’s brass will almost blind you when the sun hits it, and he must be coming over when I’m gone and shooting because there sure is a lot of brass everywhere. Many of my neighbors hand load so it isn’t a big problem. For those that don’t, I provide a trash can. I even purchased a brass retriever that works like the similar gadgets that pick up pecans. I also have a brass catcher that mounts on a tripod so it can follow the shooter around and be set at any height. I try to make it as easy as I can for anyone to pick up their brass, including me. I’m looking for something that will pick up rimfire brass if anybody knows of anything.

  8. For those with the time and resources, fifty gallon industrial steel drums packed full of sand will catch anything up to smaller grain 50 BMG. When holes get big and start copiously leaking they can be patched with a stick welder and scrap steel. (Many metal and fab shops will sell from their scrap pile by the pound.)

    My older brother keeps a supply of el-cheapo white spray paint for shooting steel. It has enough contrast too see hits even at long distances and takes only a minute to refresh a target (not including travel time).

  9. When the town road crew is working nearby cleaning out ditches, I ask them to dump the dirt behind my easy to drive to target. Then I use my tractor or rent an excavator to pile it up behind my targets. There is enough dirt there now to stop any rifle calibers. Now, I am just trying to make it higher. I don’t worry about rocks in the dirt as the piles are deep and there is nothing around for spall to damage.

  10. I live in a rural area of West Palm Bch. Fl and here if you live on at least an acre you can shoot all you want as long as the projectile doesn’t leave your property.

  11. I used railroad cross ties 8 land scape timber to keep them in place. Lots of old tree trunks behind it all. Max range is 200 yards. Shoot everything up to 300 win mag.

  12. Thanks for posting. I am in the planning/thinking stages of creating my own range on the lower portion of my property. If possible, would you be able to create/share a plan view of your backstop construction. This would be very helpful. Thanks again for the post and picture. Happy shooting.

  13. Back-yard shooting ranges should be discouraged unless the range is miles away from neighbors. Gunshot noise travels for miles—especially when it applies to rifles. The maximum caliber size used for a backyard range should be .22 rimfire, and the approval from neighbors should still be sought before subjecting them to the noise from shooting pistols and (especially) rifles.

  14. I was intimated by the elaborate construction described in this article. For over 20 years, I’ve gotten by with simple earth mounds … one providing a 25-foot max range for pistol cartridges (.22LR, 9mm, 45ACP) and one providing a 50-yard range for rifles cartridges up to .30-06. Both have in excess of 4 feet of earth that have never failed to stop a bullet … and are backed by boards that would give visual evidence of being holed should rounds penetrate the earth mounds. I’ve had Sheriff Department deputies stop twice … once because they heard our shooting while driving … and once because a neighbor was concerned by (?) the noise even though the range is 500 feet from the nearest neighboring residence … and my policy is to never shoot before 1200 or after 1800. Both times, the Deputies approved my setup. In response to the noise complaint case, I invited the City Administrator to check out my setup … and he and I stood at my property line with a decibel meter while my wife and a second city representative shot pistols … and the verdict was “thumbs up”! Other folks’ fireworks are MUCH louder and more frequent than our shooting.

  15. Couple ideas. The shooting lane we had growing up was a big sheet of scrap steel. Probably 5/16 and 5×7 feet. Hung at an angle off a tree and backfilled with several feet of scrap concrete.
    Now, one of my buddies recently, just rented a dozer for a day. He built a 10 foot high by maybe 50 foot long slightly concave backstop. Then two parallel shooting walls back where you would shoot from. The shooting wall on either side of the line shields sound from the shots going into surround properties.
    Pretty ingenious, and only took him a day.
    Granted, the property doesn’t have trees everwhere and he knows how to operate a dozer,but his cost was like $500 for the rental i believe.

    Good article

  16. I went a little more extreme, I did a 8 foot high stack of railroad ties,2 feet compacted dirt, then 6 foot high railroad ties. We shoot most everything up to 450 Bushmaster, nothing gets through at 100 yards.

  17. What about lead collection? I am concerned with collecting the lead for two reasons. The first is the potential for contamination to my dug well. The second is to gather the lead to reuse for casting bullets when bullets become either too expensive or unavailable (as is the case right now). I am thinking a large steel trap with a collection tray below would be ideal. Anyone have experience with a similar setup?

  18. Good info on a basic and yet sounds to be an effective way for a normal shooter to possibly build. I live so far in the woods, but do live within 300 yards of another occupied building I don’t own and discourse I love in lame Florida where in the woods you really can’t do a thing as someone will call the cops just because even though 47% of us who live her have conceal carry permits and surely So many more have at least one gun in their house so I’d guess a very good estimate is at least 80% of all Floridians have guns but are the first ones to call as if they are so dangerous even when proper steps are made to make sure no stray rounds go where they are not wanted.

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