Shooting range building guide

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When you set your sights on building a shooting range, there’s a lot of ground to cover. As you determine how many acres for an outdoor shooting range will be necessary – or, alternately, how large a building would have to be to house an indoor range – you’ll also need to determine the scope of your shooting range and various environmental factors.

Depending on whether your range is outdoor or indoor, the requirements of your range could vary, but some concerns apply across the board, such as the following:

  • How many patrons do you intend to serve?
  • Which types of firearms will be permitted?
  • Will the ventilation be sufficient?
  • Will noise be adequately blocked?
  • What are the safety protocols for patrons and employees?

Once you’ve made concrete choices in the following six areas, your idea for a shooting range will be a whole lot closer to becoming a reality.

Choose between building an indoor shooting range or an outdoor shooting range

If you’re currently trying to decide whether you’d rather operate an indoor range or an outdoor range, consider the needs of the patrons you intend to serve. Most specifically, which type of range would they prefer?

If you intend to have a patronage that primarily consists of private gun owners who wish to practice shooting handguns for the purpose of self-defense, an indoor range would be perfectly suitable and probably easier to manage than an outdoor range.

If, on the other hand, you intend to run a shooting range for hunters to practice rifle shooting, an outdoor range would offer longer-range shooting distances and would, therefore, be more suitable since your patrons will be coming to the range to practice an outdoor sport. With an outdoor range, hunters can gain practice on two of the most critical skills of the sport – an ability to shoot at long range and an ability to cope with different types of weather and natural elements while shooting.

The choice between an urban versus rural location for your shooting range should also be considered in this regard. If you plan to build a shooting range in or near an urban environment, an indoor range would be the most appropriate – and likely the only feasible – option. By contrast, if your sights are set somewhere along a vast rural stretch of land, an outdoor shooting range would be just as practical, if not preferable.

Decide how many shooters you plan to accommodate

As you determine the size of your prospective shooting range, you can more easily decide upon the square footage by coming up with an estimate of the number of shooters you will need to accommodate. Of course, the size of a shooting range can simply predicate the number of people who could come in to practice at any given time, but it’s best to operate a shooting range that’s most accommodating to the largest number of local, licensed shooters in a particular category.

Therefore, several questions should be considered here. What type of shooting range – self-defense, hunting, archery – do you intend to operate? From the chosen category, how many licensed gun owners live closer to the location of your prospective shooting range than any competing ranges in your city, county or state? With that information, you can more easily determine the general number – as well as some of the more specific needs – of the shooters who will frequent your range.

Determine which types of guns and ammunition will be permitted at your shooting range

The type of shooting range you choose to build is one thing, but the types of guns you allow to be used on the premises is a more complex matter. For starters, certain types of guns come with different licensing laws in various states and counties. Second of all, different types of guns place different demands on a bullet trap.

Tests have shown that on some of the most effective bullet-stopping media like sand, pistols can penetrate deeper than rifles. As such, a pistol shooting range would need a deeper set of sand compartments than a rifle shooting range. Rifle bullets, which travel at a higher velocity, also tend to break up more within a sand compartment, which in turn, can place more of a demand on the maintenance aspects of a shooting range.

Choose an optimal air ventilation system for the shooting range

Air quality can be comprised in any environment, indoor or outdoor, where particulates of lead go airborne. In a shooting range, this is one of the main areas of environmental concern due to the presence of lead in spent rounds of bullets. The dust from these can easily become aerosolized and end up being inhaled by – as well as landing on the hair, skin and clothing of – patrons and employees. To prevent lead elements from infecting the air at a range, it’s crucial to have proper ventilation at an indoor shooting facility.

Granted, the air at an outdoor range will naturally circulate more freely and be far less prone to congestion. As such, less air maintenance is generally required at an outdoor range. However, even an outdoor range can have problems with aerosolized lead dust, particularly within concrete structures under ballistic baffles in which the air can easily stagnate. Therefore, the health of shooters as well as range employees depends on the maintenance of ventilation systems at indoor and – to a smaller though no less significant degree – outdoor shooting ranges.

Select an optimal soundproofing system to curb bullet noise pressure

Firearms are capable of producing high levels of sound pressure, the likes of which can damage hearing for those who come to a shooting range unprotected. While it’s important for shooters to wear earplugs and/or earmuffs when firing rounds, it’s even more crucial for a shooting range to have sufficient sound barriers in place.

In an indoor range, noise should not exceed 140 dB. To suppress the travel of noise pressure from one corridor to another, today’s indoor ranges use air – locked soundproofing. Each corridor consists of mirror-image egress doors at opposite ends. In some jurisdictions, the regulations for shooting ranges prohibit the use of .50 caliber bullets or higher.

At outdoor ranges, it’s easier to avoid excess noise exposure by placing shooting columns further apart from one another. However, high levels of noise pressure can still be generated within concrete, baffle-topped structures. In any case, earplugs and earmuffs should always be worn when shooting at indoor or outdoor ranges.

Determine whether the shooting range will be supervised or unsupervised

In terms of the management of a shooting range, one of the more defining aspects is the presence of range officers or the lack thereof. Therefore, the reputation of your shooting range will somewhat be affected by whether you choose to operate a supervised or unsupervised range. Of course, you’ll need to check local laws for the area in question to see what regulations for shooting ranges might apply.

How to implement a bullet trap system

Whether you decide to build an outdoor shooting range or an indoor one, no component will be more critical than the bullet trap, which is where spent bullets will be contained with each shot fired. With a solid, secure and suitably sized bullet trap, fired bullets are safely stored with no damage to surrounding structures within a shooting range. Furthermore, an optimal bullet trap makes it easier to collect spent rounds with no harm to the environment.

Granted, a bullet trap needs to meet criteria on a number of fronts to be suitable for a shooting range. For starters, the bullet trap must be sized appropriately to the dimensions of a shooting range. Secondly, a bullet trap must have the durability to contain bullets without fail and endure the brunt of round after round with no harm to the trap’s underlying structural integrity. Additionally, protocols must be implemented to separate bullets from the trapping media so that lead can be dispensed with in a sanitary manner.

Regardless of the overall size of your shooting range, the following 10 steps will help you implement a bullet trap system that will make your shooting range safe, clean and user-friendly.

Determine the bullet trap footprint within the shooting range

As you determine how much space to build a shooting range will be necessary, you’ll need to factor in the size of the bullet trap to the overall equation. If you’re building an indoor shooting range, the costs that a bullet trap will entail could largely depend on whether you plan to have the range built from the ground up, or if you plan to convert a pre-existing structure into a shooting range. In the latter case, you’ll need to figure out what size of building for an indoor shooting range will be necessary, and select enough bullet traps to fill these dimensions.

If you’re building an outdoor shooting range, the overall costs aren’t likely to be as high since you won’t be dealing with the construction or renovation of a pre-existing structure. However, you’ll need to determine how much acreage to build a shooting range will be necessary. Whichever dimensions and sizes you choose, the length of a bullet trap times the width of the range could give you an idea of the overall cost of construction.

Calculate the bullet trap and shooting range dimensions

If you’re not building an indoor archery range or shooting range, but you’re instead converting a pre-existing structure into a shooting or archery range, you’ll need to consider whether a prospective bullet trap will fit through any of the entrances to the building in question. If a particular bullet trap is perfect for the interior space of the shooting range, but it doesn’t fit through any of the entrances, you might need to knock down a wall and renovate the building to accommodate the range.

If you do choose to renovate a building for the sole purpose of incorporating a bullet trap into the framework, the undertaking is liable to be costly. Therefore, it’s wise to determine the measurements and portability of a bullet trap in relation to a building before making a choice on either. Ideally, both should be chosen in tandem with one another to keep costs down and avoid sudden confusion about the dimensional aspects of indoor shooting range requirements.

Determine maintenance protocols for bullet trap media and spent rounds

The type of media – sand, water, rubber – used within the structure of a bullet trap could help determine the amount of maintenance that will likely be needed after a given day or week of operations. For example, if a bullet trap consists of sand compartments, a degree of work will be regularly required to separate the bullet shards from the sand so both can be properly dispensed.

Granted, sand is one of the easier mediums for lead cleanup because most bullets fired at a shooting range can be stopped within the first five inches of sand, and thus most cleanup work would only involve the first of several layers of sand compartments. A greater amount of separation maintenance is liable to be required if water is used within the compartments of a bullet trap. In any case, the frequency of maintenance and everything that entails at a shooting range could be a weekly, daily or even hourly concern depending on the mediums used within the structure of a bullet trap.

Decide between in-house vs. outside lead collection

The amount of time it will take per week or month to collect spent rounds is just half the overall concern when it comes to the maintenance and disposal of lead at a shooting range. The method by which the maintenance and disposal of lead are handled is of equal importance. Most specifically, do you intend to have such work handled among your very own in-house maintenance crew, or do you intend to hire an outside company to collect and recycle spent rounds and bullet trap media?

If you opt to hire an outside company, you’ll need to factor the additional costs of that labor into the budget of your operating costs. Granted, while it would likely be less expensive to simply have the lead collection and recycling work handled by an in-house crew, the work of third-party professionals could ultimately be faster and more thorough. Therefore, the choice between an in-house and outside crew could actually be of equal cost when you consider the excellence and time-savings of the latter option.

Establish fire safety and lead-mining maintenance protocols

Depending on the media used in the structure of your bullet trap, additional consideration for the fire safety of the shooting range might be in order. If the trap consists of flammable material such as wood, for example, you’ll need to ensure the range has clear and easy exit routes for members to access in the event of a fire on the premises.

You’ll also need to consider how much downtime will occur during the operation of your shooting range and how this might affect the bottom line. Will the range have to be closed periodically to mine for lead within the bullet trap? If so, how much will these closures cut into the overall profits of the range? It’s in these planning stages, before you build a shooting range, where it’s most important to determine whether it would be more financially prudent to hire overnight staff to perform lead-mining maintenance, or to shut the range down periodically for such work.

Prevent gaps between the bullet trap and walls

The vast majority of bullet traps feature horizontal designs, which in and of itself places certain requirements on the dimensional aspects of an indoor shooting range. If the length of a bullet trap doesn’t join at both ends of an interior set of parallel walls, there’s liable to be problems with the bullets in use. The fact is, one of the biggest problems that operators of shooting ranges often encounter is when bullets land in the space between a bullet trap and the right or left wall. Simply put, gaps of this nature are problematic and potentially dangerous.

If you build an indoor shooting range from the ground up, coordinate the dimensions with the bullet trap beforehand to ensure that no gaps exist between the trap and the surrounding walls. Likewise, if you construct both the structure and the bullet trap, measure out both in the planning stage to prevent the possibility of side gaps. If you import a bullet trap into a pre-existing building, fill any spaces that might remain between the bullet trap and the walls on either side.

Select a bullet trap in which lead can be cleanly dispensed with

When it comes to the environmental impacts of a shooting range, one of the most important things to consider is the release of lead into the air. Therefore, when you look at building an indoor shooting range, you’ll need to have a system in place that can deal with possible airborne particulates from bullets that do emit lead. Consequently, the first question to ask yourself regarding a prospective bullet trap is whether or not the trap is designed to collect these kinds of particulates.

Due to the ill-effects of airborne lead on human health as well as the environment, the containment of bullets is crucial when plotting out an indoor shooting range design. For these very reasons, you’ll need to have a set of bullet traps in place that will dispense with the bullets properly. The disposal of lead should be handled atomically with as thorough a system as possible, so as not to involve human contact with the material or the possibility of lingering debris.

Fortify the surrounding structural support for the bullet trap

Depending on whether you’re building an outdoor shooting range or an indoor one, you’ll need to consider different possibilities about the structural support of the bullet trap. Most specifically, does the bullet range stand freely without the help of any surrounding support, or can it only be supported within the framework of a building?

If you’re building an outdoor archery range or shooting range, you’ll definitely need to have a bullet trap that can support itself without any surrounding structural support, unless you have other plans to address the lack of support. If, on the other hand, you’re building an indoor archery range or shooting range, you’ll need to ensure the framework of the building will have the proper capacity and structural compatibility for whichever bullet trap that you ultimately choose.

Make sure the bullet trap can actually trap bullets

One of the trickiest questions that needs to be addressed by anyone new to the process of building a shooting range is whether or not a bullet trap is actually a bullet trap. More specifically, does the bullet trap in question actually contain the bullets, or does it merely deflect bullets? If the latter happens to be the case, you wouldn’t have a very safe or environmentally-sound bullet trap on hand.

Bullets can be dangerous if the bullet trap doesn’t live up to its name. For starters, there’s the risk of ricochet bullets, which could lead to injuries, lawsuits and even fatalities if such incidents were to ever occur on a shooting range. Then there’s the issue of lead particulates, which emit from used bullets that are left to linger and collect in off places at random. For obvious reasons, a bullet trap must do what it’s named to do and prevent these problems from ever occurring on a shooting range.

Select a bullet trap with optimal metal

Once all the specifications of the size and trapping ability of a bullet trap are determined, there’s still another important thing to consider about the bullet trap in question, and it involves the strength of the metal used. After all, the metal must have the strength to endure bullets on a constant basis over a period of many years with no signs of fatigue. Therefore, the question to ask regarding the strength of a bullet trap is whether the structure consists of a solid AR 500 steel, or if a more basic steel or iron is used.

The difference of metal could mean the difference between a bullet trap that proves impervious and resilient over the long haul, versus a bullet trap that withstands bullets, but does get dented from time to time. In the latter case, the dents could accumulate and ultimately weaken the structure as the years go by. Not only could this render the bullet trap less safe and sound, it could also lead to burdensome repairs and costly replacements years before such issues should ever arise. The safety and longevity of a bullet trap are largely about the type of metal used.

How to get your shooting range approved

Before you can start building an indoor shooting range – or begin leasing the acreage necessary for building an outdoor archery range – you’ll need to submit your plans in the form of a proposal to your local government. Truth be told, this can be the most intimidating step toward getting a shooting range off the ground, but it’s also necessary to ensure your plans are in compliance with local regulations for shooting ranges.

The process of getting a proposal approved comes after you’ve drawn the blueprints, earmarked the land or space, and raised all the funds for your prospective shooting range. Even if you feel you have all the technical bases and legal requirements covered, you’ll still need to submit your plans for approval by a group of elected officials. They may green-light your proposal, or they may send it back for revisions to ensure your plans are in compliance with outdoor or indoor shooting range requirements.

Of course, the list of legal requirements will differ based on whether you intend to open an indoor shooting range, an outdoor shooting range or an archery range. An indoor shooting range design will need to be in compliance with local building codes. For an archery range in any setting, you’ll need to ensure your proposal fulfills indoor archery range distance requirements or whichever regulations apply to outdoor archery ranges.

Regardless of the idea you propose, building a shooting range carries legal requirements that must be met before the range can come into existence.

Consult with local officials for further insights as you prepare your proposal

Before you finish drawing up your proposal, inform local officials of your plans and check to see if there are any legal requirements for starting a shooting range that you might have overlooked. This way, you’ll be armed with the knowledge necessary to draft a shooting range proposal that’s most likely to get the approval of your local government. Furthermore, the sooner you get your foot in the door with county officials, the higher up you’ll be on their list of priorities when the time to break ground arrives.

With an early line of communication, you’ll have the chance to resolve any confusion that might arise regarding zoning issues. In many areas throughout the U.S., only land marked as industrial or commercial can be zoned for a shooting range. By contrast, some areas don’t even have any legal requirements for starting a shooting range. In any case, your local officials will have the most accurate and up-to-date information on the legal requirements and regulations for shooting ranges.

Best of all, city governments love to work on zoning issues with businesses that could potentially spark a boost in local commerce. When you open up a shooting range, you’re bound to fall into that category.

Inform yourself on local firearm, noise, safety and environmental regulations for shooting ranges

While general common sense should be followed across the board regarding gun safety, ear protection and air – quality control, laws regarding such issues on a shooting range can vary on a state, county and city basis. In the parts of the country where citizens by and large lean in favor of gun rights, regulations for shooting ranges tend to be very basic and practical. In cities where gun restrictions have been enacted, the legal requirements for a shooting range are liable to be more restrictive.

Knowledge of the shooting range safety regulations in your area will help you present a good pitch to the city council when you go before them to present your proposal. Prepare to demonstrate a working plan to handle noise abatement and lead disposal. Prepare a detailed presentation of the safety protocols that will be enacted at your shooting range for both employees and patrons. The better prepared you are to make these understandings clear to the city council, the easier it will be to get the proposal for your shooting range green-lighted.

Prepare a speech before the city council

With your proposal complete, the final step is to prepare your verbal pitch to the city council. Even though this is often seen as the most daunting part of submitting a proposal, it’s actually not that difficult if you know what to say. If you’ve done your research and have assembled a proposal that satisfies legal requirements and clearly makes the case for what would be a lucrative, popular shooting range, your speech will likely be well received by the council.

To make the verbal part of your presentation even easier, ask a city council member beforehand about the points they’d want to be covered in your speech. Make note of the questions they’re liable to ask and prepare your answers for each one on a sheet of paper, which you can use for reference during your presentation.

Original article by Ian Strompf