Featured Looking for a Gun Range? What to Consider Forrest Cooper July 31, 2020 Join the Conversation In 2020, the Second Amendment is Alive and Well, as far as ownership goes. More and more Americans are arming themselves and that means more and more of us should be going to the gun range. But not all ranges and shops are created equal, and we're not just talking about prices. Across the spectrum from retail shops, to full-on training facilities, it's worth considering where we're going to spend our time as well as our money. Supporting the Second Amendment means investing in the best, and helping everyone raise themselves to a higher standard. Most of us have a home range, a place we single out to become a member at, or a shop who gets the majority of our business. These are things to consider when choosing where to train and get the gear you need. Let's start with what's out there. For the rest of this article we'll divide gun range options into four different categories: gun stores, combination indoor ranges with attached shops, dedicated ranges, and training facilities. Gun stores are fairly straight forward, and the things to consider primarily orbit around inventory and firearms related services. Although they do not have a place to shoot, an exception is made considering not every great shop can facilitate a full range. Combination indoor ranges typically include stationary indoor bays to try out rented firearms, and have merchandise similar to a gun store. Dedicated ranges focus on outdoor shooting environments that can host competitions, and allow practice at distances not typically available indoors. While these ranges typically operate on a membership basis, special consideration is made for those who have visit-by-visit offerings or days open to the public. Finally, training facilities often include both a pro-shop and unique offerings such as shoot-houses, or indoor facilities where movement is allowed, and are the most likely place to find dedicated cadre. The first and foremost feature needed across the board is knowledgeable and approachable staff. Ego existed long before the internet and there's no room for it to rear its ugly head when people are looking to protect themselves or prepare for a legendary hunt. Anyone who has recommended a local shop or gun range to a friend has kept this in the back of their head, or included it in their recommendation. Though it cannot be quantified, it remains necessary. Despite the spike in firearms sales during the summer of 2020, DK Mags in New Brighton, Minnesota, has worked hard to keep their store stocked. Gun Stores A staple if there ever was one. The sheer variety of gun shops localize the diversity of shooting firearms. Some specialize in specific interests like competition, tactical, hunting, or collector pieces, but most cover a wider inventory from holsters and carry pistols, to hunting rifles in calibers preferred for local game. Evaluation considers what they sell, how well they keep up with stocking the floor, and what additional services are offered, such as bore-sighting, scope-mounting, gun smithing or assembly, and applying cerakote. Keeping a shop clean should be expected, and bonus points are offered when well organized. The choice in merchandise regardless of specialization should cover a scale of options, with professional staff who keep up to date in their field. As most will include pistols designed for self defense, and customers should be able to expect helpful insight to point out differences and similarities when making a purchase. Ideally, a store should stock additional magazines for most of the guns they sell, though we recognize keeping up with demand is difficult at times. The best will be able to order them or know when the next shipment will come in. If pistols are sold, customers should expect a few holster options or recommendations. Stores that sell AR-15's but don't carry things like sights, red-dots, or slings, rarely bear the hallmarks of excellence. A clear indicator of quality will be found in the services provided. For shops that specialize in hunting gear, it's not too much to expect to have a scope mounted, even if at a cost. Gunsmithing has come to mean something different in the age of modular firearms like AR-15's and GLOCK clones, but the standards remain: quality and being on time. Thankfully, bad smiths rarely stay in business, but they can be found. Specific services like applying cerakote are more rare, but within this tight-knit industry, most shops that don't offer it themselves know a quality place to have it done. Immediate red flags are stores that gouge prices on things like ammunition, even when supply is in high demand during a crisis, or an election year. Though there is no clear rubric of what the market value of any certain caliber should be, anyone who is even remotely close to 30% above prices typical to the surrounding stores, assuming alike manufacturer, load, and quantity, can expect that their customers will go elsewhere once they find out that they're paying that much more. Keep in mind, though, that slightly higher prices are not within reason when the shop has a reputation for keeping up with stock and variety. Even if it can be found cheaper online, it doesn't always mean that the you're looking at a crooked retailer. Combination Indoor Gun Range Most of us who grew up in cities shot our first firearm at either an indoor range, or when visiting the family farm. This first impression likely left us with the budding excitement, or a mental scar to heal from. With rising research in health concerns for people with compromised immune systems, cleanliness and accessibility immediately sort out the ugly from the good, and pave the way for great indoor ranges. Since these are most often, if not always, paired with a store, all the previous considerations apply, with bonuses when what's for sale match up with what can be rented on the range. The chief health concerns can be divided into control and cleanliness. A well run range has clear guidelines for entering and exiting the shooting bays, and regulates where firearms can be loaded, unloaded, and how they can be fired. Though this is limiting for high-speed, low-drag shooters, since indoor bays are the front porch of the firearms industry, their ability to welcome new shooters is their primary objective. A clean range should be expected, with careful consideration not only for what's on the floor, but the air quality. A range with poor ventilation is not only a fire hazard, but can over time risk exposing customers to rising lead levels in their blood. Thankfully, this is rarely a problem and the best of the best pride themselves with good lighting and clean air. It is a mark of excellence when a combination range stocks not only the firearms available for rent, but also vetted holsters, or other accessories. A great asset of indoor ranges, other than being able to operate year-round in places like Minnesota or Arizona, is that they can easily facilitate permit-to-carry or other introductory classes to the public. If an indoor range does offer these courses, they should be open about how they chose their instructor and clear about what is covered. Quality of instruction ranks much higher than cost, especially when getting a permit. Any instructor who cuts corners should be avoided like a snake oil salesman hawking the latest cure-all. At any location where you are renting a firearm, expect to have to buy ammunition from the store as well. This is not only for the safety of everyone at the range, but also included in the legal protections ranges must have in order to operate. Every indoor gun range should expect customers to sign a waiver upon their first visit, and the better ones keep this on file to reduce the buildup of redundant paperwork. A well established indoor range will have firearms to rent, ammunition and stock, and sell targets to shoot at. Dedicated Ranges This category exclusively focuses on outdoor ranges, and are mostly constituted of local sportsmans clubs, but can include smaller training facilities. Though there are exceptions, dedicated shooting ranges of this type rarely sell firearms or ammunition. The trade-off is that you can expect to do much more at an outdoor range, than indoor ranges can facilitate. Since many of these are run by local volunteers with minimal paid staff, outdoor ranges make or break themselves on their membership. The greatest outdoor ranges are often home to local, or even national competitions, be it long-range precision, 3Gun, USPSA, NRL22, the Tactical Games, or what else comes up. A facility with the layout necessary for, and the staff capable of holding these matches separates the good from the great. The management prioritizes the expansion and maintenance of the range for not only the current users, but follows a vision to keep the grounds for the next generation. It is in this category that one looks for the opportunity to shoot long distance, even reaching out past a mile. Dedicated outdoor ranges are the backbone of competitions and training. On the outset, conservation fits naturally into the range plan. Yet this extends beyond the grounds itself to understand that the style of marksmanship that was common in one era will change and give way to the next. The greatest advantages that outdoor ranges present is the ability to move freely in a bay, practicing modern shooting techniques without hinderance from staff that live in the days of muzzleloading or bench shooting alone. Any outdoor gun range that views dynamic shooting, drawing from the holster, or AR-15's as suspect deserves to disappear and isn't worth the cost of admission. Most often these ranges operate on a yearly membership basis. It is in the implementation that one can begin to determine what they are getting into. With managing boards chosen by member votes, more participation can change the course of great facilities otherwise doomed by bad management, so long as one is willing to put in the time. An advantage to outdoor ranges is that the more a member uses one in a given year, the less it costs per use. It is worth considering that most outdoor ranges require don't provide targets, so plan accordingly Training Facilities Albeit rare, some institutions go above and beyond what is current and normal, pushing ever onward toward greater possibilities. As military training spills into the civilian sector, so more people are interested in learning to shoot in urban environments, where “shoothouses” or safe, 360 degree target engagement can occur. Many times these facilities require advanced stipulations, sometimes limiting certain areas to military or police, though the trend is changing. The investment required to make something like this profitable, without relying on government contracts alone, typically means that a fully stocked store selling firearms and ammunition will be attached. Top tier training facilities offer courses, as well as equipment, such as non-lethal conversion kits or night vision, for purchase or rent in order to attend a class. Ultimately a training facility is judged by the cost of admission being worth the training received, paired with the specification or diversity of courses offered. Thankfully it is rare for an operation of this scale to fail at being a great place to call home. So, as much as these facilities can be the envy of many a range-goer, they are to be considered the creme-a-la-creme, and provide something worthy of traveling to, even from out of state. Closing off For some of us, having a dedicate gun range membership and separate home store is the norm. Others have the advantage of living within vicinity of a great training facility that meets all needs. Finally, for those getting started, or those looking to try out a new pistol or rifle before buying, knowing of an excellent indoor range will often determine whether the experience is productive, or like pulling teeth with a crescent wrench. As the Second Amendment is preserved by this generation, and passed on to the next, the best gun stores and ranges must live on. If we're not growing, we are dying off. We at RECOIL would like to know of great ranges in your area so we can give them our stamp of approval in order to help you and others discover where they can find a place to buy what they want, and train like they need. Explore RECOILweb:Seeing helps the believing - Aero Precision's M4E1 Enhanced Upper ReceiverZero DS Electric BikeNew From Full ConcealSmith & Wesson M&P Shield Video NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included). Click here to get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to a digital PDF of this target pack!