recently conducted its two-pronged Modern Firearms Training & Shooting Range Development course in Bloomington, Ind. The development of a shooting range takes a lot of work and planning, and the beginning states involve three critical issues.
First, design your range to meet the requirements of your existing firearms training. Do not build a range and then figure out how you are going to use it. Second, involve the right people from the beginning. This means letting the firearms instructors have the most influence and input on the design and layout of the range. Third, plan for the future appropriately. If you build a range too small, you may outgrow it within a couple of years. If you build it too large, maintenance may become an issue, and overhead will eat you up.
Whether you are planning an indoor or outdoor range, there are some general considerations. How much land is available or what buildings are available? Are there any zoning or environmental issues with the proposed site? Will you be able to retrofit an indoor range into an existing structure, or will it require a new building capable of supporting the baffle system necessary?
Will it have a single firing line or will there be multiple firing lines within the range? You have to consider whether your SWAT team will use the range; in other words, what weapons should the range accommodate? Handguns, shotguns, patrol rifles, sniper rifles? Will other police agencies have unsupervised use of the range? What government agencies and regulations will you be subject to? EPA, OSHA?
Forcing a shooting range onto an inadequate piece of land is going to lead to many unforeseen issues. One must consider not only local ordinances and laws, but also health department requirements, soil conservation and zoning issues. Expect the unexpected, and ultimately get the help of a professional such as a lawyer to ensure the project is feasible before you move ahead. Identify several potential sites in case one becomes unusable.
Some additional considerations for outdoor ranges are the location in relation to population centers, commercial areas and possible future encroachments. Get as much land as possible for future expansion. It does not have to be developed, but it will be nice to have if it becomes necessary.
Access to the property is important as well. Long lanes or difficult touring will increase maintenance and hinder training. Think about floods, snow removal and any necessary heavy equipment to maintain those lanes and the range itself. Flooding goes hand in hand with soil types, irrigation and drainage.
Environmentally, one needs to consider any wetlands or animal habitats in the area, as well as historical sites and water tables. There are several acts that might pertain to your range development, such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Some other items to consider toward the end of planning would be utilities, electricity and drinking water. Will it be on a public water system or will it need its own well? Will it provide bathroom facilities? Will any additional structures provide lighting, heat or air conditioning? What other amenities do you want to add to the range besides just somewhere to shoot? Will it have classrooms, an armory, safe/staging rooms, clearing traps or gun cleaning areas?
Once you have the location and land issues worked out, there are some more detailed things to consider, starting with a surface material. Compact dirt, grass, gravel and concrete/asphalt all have negative and positive attributes. Dirt is inexpensive but will turn to mud in inclement weather, and it requires weed maintenance. Grass is comfortable as less heat is absorbed, but it requires the maintenance of mowing and possibly watering.
Gravel is less expensive than concrete and has better drainage, but it still requires weed maintenance and raking. Concrete/asphalt is a more permanent surface with less short-term maintenance, easy brass cleanup and good drainage with adequate slope. The downside is that it’s more expensive and generates more heat. There is also a fatigue issue, which you all know about if you have ever experienced a day of shopping at the mall, not to mention the increased threat of injury from falls. Lane width and depth of firing positions vary for each shooting drill, but a minimum of 5 feet to 6 feet wide per lane for law enforcement should be observed.
Some sort of shelter must be provided for instruction and storing of basic necessities. Shooters should have everything they need close by to help increase the efficiency of flow and training. As always, communication is important. Some type of amplification system should be used. Anything from a simple bullhorn to a wireless PA to individual hearing protection or intercom headphones could be used.
Sound containment is another large issue to be considered. An EPA study showed that a minimum of half a mile between inhabited dwelling and a range helped reduce noise complaints significantly. This is one of those lawyer considerations. The last thing you need is someone filing a lawsuit against the range for noise nuisance. A large portion of our class, and instruction manual, was dedicated to sound decibels. The effect of alteration, trees, structure and walls is covered briefly, but obviously the noise issue could very well be the leading issue for outdoor ranges.
The next serious consideration is heavy metals, specifically lead. A large number of factors affect lead particle mobility. You will need to have a range-specific test and evaluation conducted by a trained professional to determine possible issues. The good news is there is a number of different management options that can be used to deal with these problems.
Lead is normally present in the environment without any addition from range lead mobility. Any test should indicate a pretest of an adjacent geographical area. A better solution would be a long-term program that includes a base line test before the range initially opens. Lead has to be ingested, swallowed or inhaled to cause harm to a living organism. A proactive approach that analyzes your range and its conditions should be conducted. If problems do exist, then modifying contributing factors like dissolution and weathering can help minimize lead exposure risk.
With indoor or outdoor ranges, one of the most important equipment issues is the bullet trap. The type and caliber of firearms to be used on your range, plus the size of your budget, will help determine what will work best for you.
Action Target offers a rubber berm trap, which is a step above a dirt berm. This is basically chopped rubber that is used about 2 feet deep on a sloped surface. Initial cost is less, but through time, depending on the amount of use, the rubber may have to be mined to remove the lead content. With rubber, fire is always a concern, and Action Target treats its rubber with a non-flammable adhesive fire-retardant combination to minimize this risk. This type of berm is a good idea for low-volume ranges due to its expensive, time-consuming maintenance.
Action Target also offers the “total containment trap” for indoor and outdoor ranges, which is capable of handling rifle rounds up to the 50 BMG caliber. Instead of using sharp-angled panels it has sloped panels leading to the deceleration chamber. Because there are no deflectors, sidewalls or vertical edges you can shoot from “lane one” across to “lane ten” with its open design.
The deceleration chamber allows the bullet to spin until it loses its momentum and falls into a bucket collection system or an optional conveyor system. There is also an optional dust collection filter system, which collects all dust from the trap during range use.
Projectile containment is not limited to the bullet trap. Baffles, plates and building construction materials can accomplish containment. Sound transmission is also an important factor. The installation of sound-deadening materials over existing hard, protected surfaces is a must. It is important that these baffles are repairable or replaceable.
Ventilation may be as important as projectile containment. Inadequate ventilation is one of the major causes for indoor range closures. Proper ventilation should provide clean air to everyone on the range, as well as keep the range free of pollutants and keep pollutants from escaping into the environment. Local HVAC contractors will not have adequate knowledge and experience for these tasks. The ventilation system will have to be custom fitted to the design and layout of your specific building. This is something that must not be skimped on. It is the heart of your indoor range and key to its long-term viability.
The choice of targets and controls for your range will be endless. There are too many variables to address in this article of target selection. At a minimum, turning line targets are a must, and maybe a single runner if it is in the budget. It truly comes down to your budget and what meets your current training program needs.
A note on targets: Steel hardness is very important. For handgun rounds, AR-500 steel is a suggested minimum, and AR-550 steel is recommended for rifle rounds at 100 yards. Any rounds with a velocity of more than 3,000 feet per second will damage steel.
Indoor and outdoor ranges both present their individual concerns. The key is to address the unforeseen issues, like lead mobility and ventilation, before target design and selection. Spend the money on design and an efficient facility. You can always upgrade your targets in the long life of your professional range.
The class included some simple side notes about the long-term success and survival of your range. Involve the public, be gracious and sell yourself as an asset to the community. Be a good neighbor and be proactive to prevent a problem from arising. Don Munson is a deputy with the Benton County, Ind., Sheriff’s Department and point man with his multi-agency response team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.