Lining up the sights and steadying your breathing, you consciously adjust your stance and your hold on the gun. With steady and deliberate pressure, your finger moves the trigger rearward…
The hole appears pretty much where you thought it would. Right through the 8-ring on a cardboard target about twenty feet away.
“Yawn.” Is this what shooting is all about? I joined this range to punch paper? Is there nothing else to do?
If you haven’t had those thoughts about the range that you joined or are afraid that you might start feeling that way about a shooting range that you are considering, let me ease some of those concerns and even present you with a few that you haven’t thought of yet while considering membership at any shooting facility.
Types Of Ranges
In the simplest of concepts, shooting ranges can be either indoor or outdoor facilities. Which is better? Neither. Each has it’s own set of pros and cons to consider:
- Indoor ranges are protected from the elements as well as extremes of hot or cold.
- Indoor ranges tend to have tighter restrictions on types of firearms used.
- Some indoor ranges require that you purchase ammunition from them directly.
- Indoor ranges can be more of a controlled atmosphere in terms of safety rules.
- A shooter can find that popular ranges may have wait times or require prior scheduling in order to reserve a slot—and limit the amount of time spent shooting.
- Outdoor ranges can be hot, cold, wet, dry, buggy, humid and unpredictable day to day.
- Many outdoor ranges adopt more of a “self policing” attitude when it comes to rules and regulations.
- Outdoor ranges will generally have more to offer in terms of types of shooting and shooting disciplines.
- Rarely are there long wait times and few restrictions on the types of firearms or calibers used.
- Combination indoor/outdoor ranges can offer the best of both worlds and none of the drawbacks…within reason.
Just as you would make your decision about what firearm to purchase based upon what you intend to do with it, so will you make your decision on which range to join. What kind of shooting do you intend to do—or more importantly—what kind of shooting seems interesting to you?
A range known for it’s massive, rolling fields of sporting clays may not be the best choice for someone who just wants to learn to use a handgun for home defense. Then again, a small indoor, eight-port range in the back of a gun shop would not be the place to join in order to learn trap shooting or high-powered rifle.
If possible, keep your mindset on looking for something that is “general purpose”. Locally or economically this may not be possible, but sometimes it’s worth a little mileage on the car or a little more out of your wallet per year to embrace your opportunities that might be a little farther away or a little more expensive. What I mean by general purpose is a good mix of disciplines available like handgun, rifle and shotgun sections, “multi-use” areas (meaning you can shoot just about anything on them, sometimes called “pits”) and a well-rounded calendar full of special events, learning opportunities (clinics), competitions and lots of daily open access.
“I don’t give a rats a$$ about all that stuff. I just want to shoot my handgun as often as I can at paper.”
And that’s just fine if that’s what you want—but are you sure you’ll feel that way in the future? Once you get used to shooting, you will begin to start craving more difficult challenges and different experiences than can be met by allowing the target carriage pull your target farther and farther away from you in a straight line. One discipline sounds great in the beginning, but that changes pretty fast after a little while. Better to have the opportunity to expand and not use it, then to be roped into a contract and no way out when you want to move beyond paper punching and nothing else is available.
So What Kind Of Activities Might Be Available?
Here are just some of the activities that are available at general purpose shooting ranges…
Shotgun: Skeet shooting, trap shooting, 5-stand, sporting clays.
Rifle: High Power 900, bench rest, silhouette rifle, muzzleloader silhouette.
Pistol: Steel challenge, USPSA, Bullseye, IPSC, bowling pin shoots.
Multiple: Cowboy action shooting, 3-gun.
Now many new shooters or inexperienced shooters may read the above list and think that none of those activities are for them because they have no clue what they are about or the rules and equipment involved. That right there is the beauty of joining a general purpose and diversified range. Literally all you need to do is show up at one of these events and you will find dozens of participants who would love nothing more than to tell you and show you all you need to know about “their” sport. It’s truly uncanny the outpouring of support that you will receive. That’s just the way shooters are.
Sometimes you will even find that ranges will hold special event days to teach you the rules and regs of each type of sport—usually free of charge—in the hopes that you will gain interest and come give it a try.
What else am I looking for in a range?
Some more important factors to consider when making a decision on which range to join:
- Is the cost based on a yearly membership or do you have to pay every time you go? I am a fan of yearly memberships if you plan on becoming a good shooter. If your plan is to go once every 6 months—you’re not going to become a good shooter.
- If it is a yearly membership, do you ALSO have to pay every time you go? This is just all around bad. This was a trend a few years ago with smaller “slot only” ranges and many of them used to also make you buy their ammo. Ripoffs.
- Again, if it’s a yearly membership, is there a capital contribution fee? This can be common with larger ranges with lots to offer. Your yearly membership goes towards upkeep, cleaning, taxes and general maintenance. The capital contribution fee is usually a one-time fee upon joining that the club uses to bring in new construction, better facilities and new equipment.
- Is there 24 hour access to the range? If not, will the open hours accommodate your schedule? Remember—weekends will be much more crowded than weekdays.
- Does the range offer gun rentals? Usually the facilities associated or built within a gun shop will allow you to try different guns (for a fee) and different types of ammo (with purchase) in their range. This is a great opportunity to try before you buy, but do remember that these “loaner guns” have probably been beat to hell by the time you shoot them and do not necessarily represent the brand, make or manufacturer fairly.
- Do you have to buy their ammo to shoot. If you do, walk out.
- Are there firm restrictions on reloaded ammo, calibers, types of firearms, etc…
- Is the cost fair and on par with what the club has to offer?
- Does the facility offer comforts like clean restrooms, an air conditioned lounge or clubhouse, meeting facilities, special events, competitions, instruction/classes and adequate seating areas?
Probably most importantly in making your decision would be to join a range not based on what your skill level is at in the beginning. Research the club—visit if possible. See the grounds and talk to management. Ask questions and get interested. Only then can you really decide what will be best for you and your family…oh yeah, you might be surprised how many friends and family members come out of the woodwork and tell you how they’ve always wanted to try shooting…now that you belong to a range.