Safety and Training

Shooting on a Budget

With gas, energy, groceries, and guns and ammo prices increasing, but salaries staying stagnant, all of our priorities are shifting. Food, electricity, and hot water (okay, maybe not hot water; I can suffer through a cold shower if it meant I could still shoot) sometimes have to trump hitting the gun range once a week. However, all this budgeting doesn’t mean we have to give up our favorite hobby altogether. It just means we need to think outside the box a little when thinking of ways to save money on our favorite sport.

Picking a Range

Not all of us have acres and acres of pasture to shoot on or friends with a deer lease. If you are like me, you get out to your friend’s land or lease only once a year so you have to go to the local shooting range to get in practice time. In my area, I have many choices when it comes to shooting ranges, all with different pricing structures. Research your local ranges and compare prices. Some ranges offer a flat, annual membership fee. This may end up being cheaper in the end when you add up all the costs of weekly or biweekly range fees. I usually go to the range after work. Typically, weekdays are cheaper than weekends, and the range isn’t as crowded–bonus!

Sign up for all of your local gun ranges’ e-mail lists. They will run specials that you can take advantage of. You can also find special deals on handgun rentals, concealed carry classes, and range time on Web sites like,, and A few of my local ranges regularly run deals on these Web sites. For more deals, check out your Sunday newspaper. The big name chain stores usually run ads with special deals in them.

Some states have free public shooting ranges. Do a Web search for your state’s parks and wildlife division to find if you have an accessible, free shooting range in your area.

One way I save money at the range is by teaming up with a friend and splitting a lane. It cuts both our costs down and we get to shoot each other’s guns.

And finally, if you haven’t subscribed to Cheaper Than Dirt’s e-mail list, then you should do it now! We send two e-mails out every week announcing sales and special deals.

Range Gear


Last time I bought targets, I spent 30 bucks. Ouch! There are tons of alternative and even free targets out there for the budget-conscience shooter. One of my favorites is beer or soda cans and bottles. If you have a place that will let you shoot them up, they beat traditional paper targets when you are plinking. Also, you can save your milk jugs and other plastic bottles; any will do. Fill them with water, add some red food dye and a zombie face if you like, and you get an instant explosive target.

Many people make their own targets out of paper plates and orange stickers. When you make your own targets you can get as creative as you want. Further, there are plenty of Web sites with free, printable targets.

To extend the life of your store-bought paper targets, throw in a few extra bucks and get repair pasters to cover up the holes on shot-up targets.

Eyes and Ears

The range I frequent provides eyes and ears to those who do not bring their own. Most ranges will include eyes and ears with the range fee. I have acquired free eye protection through a few different outlets. I got one “disposable” pair from a clinic I took, one pair from a friend who had plenty, and yet another pair from a friend who has to wear them for work and brings them home all the time. I have a pair of nice, passive earmuffs, but if you want earplugs, you can just buy generic ones from the drug store or from Walmart. Earplugs need to offer an NRR of 28 to 31 to be safe for shooting. I have purchased a pack of one-time use earplugs for cheap at Target. I keep them in my purse all the time. Earplugs have way more uses than the shooting range!

Range Bags

Bags specifically designed for use at the range can carry a hefty price tag, but any old bag will do. I use a bag I got free at a shooting clinic. In the past, I’ve used an old backpack and even the plastic sack my ammo came in. I’ve seen everything from plastic fishing tackle boxes, to military surplus grab and go bags, to ammo cans at the range. And really? Are you checking out people’s range bags when you go to the range? Highly doubtful. So use what you have. It will work just fine.


Besides the purchase of guns, ammo will be your biggest expense. .22 Long Rifle is the cheapest ammunition you can buy, with 9mm being the second cheapest. Our resident gunsmith and FFL, CTD Joe, suggests consolidating calibers. He says, “I have reduced the number of different calibers that I shoot to simplify things and to save money.” Many guns on the market offer .22 LR conversion kits. The AR-15, 1911, European American Arms, CZ 75, SIG’s P220, P226, and P229, Phoenix Arms, Glock, and even the H&K 91 and CETME all have .22 LR conversion kits.

.22 LR is also one of the most versatile calibers you will find. You can get semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, semi-automatic rifles, lever-action rifles, break-action rifles, and bolt-action rifles all chambered in .22 Long Rifle. Nothing wrong with utilizing this gem of a caliber for target shooting, sighting in, varmint hunting, plinking, training, and competitions.

Another versatile round is the .410 Bore. For less than $300, you can purchase a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun in .410 Bore or for less than $150, you can get a Rossi single-shot in .410 Bore. An extremely popular home defense gun is the Taurus Judge revolver, which shoots both .45 Long Colt and .410 Bore shot shells. The .410 Bore is the smallest shotgun gauge and is good for youth and those who are sensitive to hard-hitting recoil of a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun. .410 Bore is also a significant enough round for home defense and will kill small varmints and game such as rabbit, squirrels, and snakes.

When you are shooting your home defense gun, keep your expensive ammo at home and practice with cheap full metal jacket rounds. Generally, buying ammunition in bulk is cheaper when you break down the cost per round. A little bit investment at first will pay off in the end.

Another initial investment that pays off in the end is reloading. A few hundred bucks will get you a basic reloading press. With the brass you collect at the range, you can always use for yourself or bargain and trade with friends who also reload.


Classes and regular training costs money! Range fees, class fees, and ammo certainly add up quickly in a month. If you have to cut costs by cutting out range time, dry fire practice at home. You will improve your trigger control with practice, making your actual range time more valuable. To dry fire, make sure your gun is completely unloaded. Next, place a small dot target 20 feet away. Then concentrate on your trigger control. Your eyes should never come off the dot on the target. You can also practice drawing from your holster at home. Air guns and air soft also come much cheaper than firearms. Both air guns and air soft are cheap alternatives to training at home.

Purchasing Guns

The majority of our top-selling guns are also our cheapest. It’s not surprising. We all understand trying to save a buck. Plus, there are plenty of affordable, brand new guns that fall into the “cheap” guns category that are worth a damn. Another alternative would be to look at used guns. Guns, like cars, depreciate in value as soon as you walk out of the gun store. Even one trip to the range makes that gun worth much less than its original, unshot asking price. You can find used guns for sale at your local range, gun shop, gun show, or on online auction Web sites, such as

If you are in the market for a new rifle, have you considered a military surplus rifle? All of us here at Cheaper Than Dirt either currently have, or have had military surplus rifles. At one time I had an SKS, purchased for $100 and two Mosin Nagants, purchased for $89 a piece. Those are both excellent firearms at excellent prices. Besides, military surplus ammo tends to be cheaper.

Cleaning said firearms does not have to be an expense either. A simple boresnake kit and a bit of gun cleaner will do the trick. I use an old toothbrush and old torn-up cotton t-shirts. Why buy expensive tools when you have the same things with different names right at home?

Sure you could just shoot less often, but where is the fun in that? Plus, it is important to stay proficient. Hopefully these tips will help you get back out to the range. Do you have any tips or tricks to save money on shooting? Share it with us!

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 (5)

  1. Great Article! One more item you passed over: Airguns. For me time, money, and range availability are all a premium but thousands of rounds of BB and Pellet rifle and pistol time in the basement while throwing a load in the wash pays off dividends when I take the “real” guns to the range. An improvised backstop of cardboard across a 27 foot unfinished basement and pop bottle caps for targets makes for great trigger time.

  2. My shooting bag was easy. The NRA sent it to me for free with my renewal. A Christmas gift included a pair of small Craftsman tool bags. They sat around untill it occurred to me that one worked great for ammo & the other for magazines. I like to freeze jugs of water, cut them open & hit the blocks with .357’s. Clay pidgeons are free, range pick ups.

  3. I’d stay away from the glass bottles.. I wouldn’t shoot them on my own land so I won’t shoot them on someone else’s. You can buy a case of 90 bright orange clay shotgun targets for $10 at Walmart. I’ve also used the plastic milk & soda jugs full of water.

    You can also make your own “Shoot’N’C” targets really cheap. Go to Walmart or Target.. get some packages of black & bright safety yellow paper, glue sticks, and some round tab stickers– they come in several sizes.

    Rub the bright yellow paper with the glue stick.. then stick the black paper to it. Use the round tab marker to make your bullseye.. and you can use a ‘white-out’ pen or some chalk to make your rings.

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