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The Best Gun Range For You - What To Consider

You might drop a dime on some guns, but they are useless if you don't train...

2020 has been a banner year for gun sales, regardless of the motivation. More and more Americans have stepped up and become citizens than ever before. However, excercising the right to keep and bear arms entails a certain amount of responsibility - most of all getting trained on your chosen firearm. And that means going to the range.

However, not all ranges are created equal…

Invariably, you’ll fire up the old search engine, preferably Duck Duck Go, and try to figure out what the best gun range is near you. If you’re in a gun-friendly area, you’ll be presented with a dizzying array of options, from converted warehouse setups in some industrial park, to gun shops with small attached ranges, to dedicated ranges where you’ll experience “guntry club”-like settings, to full-blown training facilities where you’ll learn to shoot on the move, use night vision, and so on.

There’s some common things to look for in any facility though.

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What To Look For In A Gun Range

One of the best things about the internet is that you can seek out real “person-on-the-street” reviews on wherever it is you are going. Sure, those are subject to fabrication and bias, but with knowledge, one can sort out the wheat from the chaff.

A big thing that one should look for is to see that the staff is competent and knowledgeable. You want the staff to guide you on your quest to gun greatness, not lecture you on your choice of firearm or go on an ego trip. If all you could swing was a police trade-in Beretta 92, they should be able to work with you on that. If the range is also a shop, expect some upselling, but they shouldn’t scoff at you for your choice of gun. A competent staff will be able to work with you regardless of what your load-out is. You don’t want their ego getting in the way of your education and enjoyment. Tell them to save it for Reddit.

Another thing to look for is their safety record. In today’s information-saturated age, someone getting injured or killed at a gun range will make the news. If it seems to be a common occurence, maybe you should avoid that facility. If the reviews suggest unsafe behavior that isn’t addressed by the staff, it may be wise to go elsewhere. You don’t want your range trips to be complicated by some fool in the next lane over having a negligent discharge, or worse. You’ll want to see the staff police that behavior firmly, but fairly.

Cleanliness is important. If you see a lot of complaints about the air quality, there’s a fair chance they don’t take it seriously and going there could be a long-term health hazard.

Also look for little things like the availability of first-aid gear and the like. If you are injured, you want to be sure they can stabilize you on-site and not have to wait for the EMTs to roll in. Larger ranges will often have an employee with EMT training on staff, or maybe a veteran who qualified as a medic.

Regardless of what type you pick, your choice of range should at least have competent, kind, and knowledgeable staff on hand. They should treat the beginner as well as they treat their best customer.

Types Of Gun Ranges

There’s an infinite variety of gun ranges out there, but most can be grouped into three major types: gun shop with an attached range, dedicated range, and a full-blown training facility. We’ll fisk those out below.

Gun Shop With Attached Range

A gun shop with an attached range will often be like this...

This will probably be your first experience with a gun range. In most places, finding a gun shop with an attached range isn’t hideously hard. They will span the entire spectrum in size and capability, from a shop with an attached 5-lane bay, to the “guntry club” experience as exemplified by Nexus Shooting in Davie, FL, and Frisco Gun Club in Texas.

The typical gun shop with an attached range is just that, a gun shop with an attached range. The facility is small and often really just meant for customers to try new guns before they buy them, and for locals to maybe squeeze in a range session on their way home from work. It’s actually a good thing - you get to take a gun for a spin before you buy it. Also the convenience factor can’t be beat. 30 minutes in a small range is better than no range time at all. You’ll often find that this is where independent instructors will often take you, since the smaller places usually welcome the repeat business.

The guntry clubs are just that, a country club aesthetic with an attached full-size indoor (or even outdoor) gun range. You’ll go in and it’ll feel like going into an Apple Store or high-end golf shop, but for guns. Smartly-dressed staff (sometimes with booth-babes-on-the-off-season up front), luxury furnishings, an obsessively-clean atmosphere with million-dollar air handlers, lounges, and even food and refreshments make it more than just a range. A guntry club will also often have classrooms and sometimes even resident instructors. The industry loves guntry clubs, and you’ll often see representatives from manufacturers big and small do “demo days” on-site, and as of late, big gun celebrities like Colion Noir, Kirsten Joy Weiss, and invariably some gun bunnies/weapon wabbits will usually make a pit stop at the major guntry club in your areas. It’s marketing.

One thing to look out for with guntry clubs though is the pricing. While most will accommodate you if you’re just stopping in for some range time, others will require a membership package, which usually involves yearly fees and the like. The packages will of course include enhanced amenities and included benefits, but that’s up to you whether you want to avail yourself of the option.

Both the smaller shop and guntry club should be able to help you do basic repairs and maintenance on your firearms. For example, if you need a new muzzle device placed on your AR, they should be able to square you away. Some shops may have a full-time armorer on staff, capable of offering the whole range of repair/upgrade services.

The downside to a smaller indoor range, regardless of whether it’s a shop range or a guntry club setup is that you’re often limited to what you can do. Shooting on the move is often forbidden outside of specific circumstances, and you’ll usually be discouraged from doing holster draws, etc. They’ll also limit caliber and ammo type since the backstop is usually only rated up to a certain point. It’ll take M193 5.56mm ammo just fine all day every day, but if you decide to bring out the .50 BMG, they’ll turn you away since you’ll end up just punching a hole in the backstop.

For anything beyond the basics, you may have to go somewhere else…

The Dedicated Gun Range

Dedicated ranges get you out of the house and into the great outdoors, and you sometimes get to see cool stuff like this full-auto CZ Scorpion EVO 3 via CW Gunwerks...

A dedicated range is usually an outdoor facility, where the focus is on the range, and not selling you guns. They may sell guns and ammunition on-site since they usually have an FFL for business purposes, but then again they may not. Don’t expect to be able to grab a spare box of 9mm if you run low. You’ll have to bring what you plan on using that day. These dedicated ranges are often set up along the lines of a club atmosphere, and the staff on-site is there basically to police the behavior of the patrons. Any instructors are usually independent contractors who are using the range for their classes, and aren’t necessarily affiliated with the range. However, unlike the indoor and guntry club setups, the dedicated ranges offer a degree of freedom and flexibility.

Often, these places will play host to competitive shooting events, and also usually allow their patrons to draw from the holster, shoot on the move, and things of that nature. Ask first, of course. It’s also more of a group atmosphere, as the patrons will often share in the responsibility of keeping the range safe and clean for the day.

One major advantage of course is the ability to shoot long distance. Your shop/guntry club ranges usually top out at 25 yards max. The dedicated outdoor range, you can stretch out beyond that, with 500 and even 1000 yard shooting being possible. Good examples of these types of facilities would be Henry’s Range in Homestead, FL, TX Gun Range in Texas, and Knob Creek in Kentucky.

Another major advantage is that you are shooting outdoors, and you don’t have to critique the air handlers for keeping the lead vapor out of your way. Nature handles that. Also, you can pretty much shoot whatever caliber you want, subject to the restrictions imposed by the ownership, of course.

Some of dedicated ranges, as they progress in time, have been known to set up basic shops on premises. While you may not be able to buy guns per se, they’ll have items like ammunition, targets, and protective equipment for sale. Homestead Training Center in Florida is an example of this. Originally a spartan outdoor facility, it has grown enough to warrant a basic shop and facility on premises for it’s members and customers. Don’t depend on this though, and just assume you’ll have to bring everything yourself.

Remember to prepare for the elements. Sunscreen, rain gear, first aid equipment, etc.

Outside of the larger dedicated ranges, the smaller ones have been known to come and go. Usually they are set up by someone looking to have a place for them and their friends to shoot, and they start inviting people over, charging fees, and so on. With a looser business model and significantly lower overhead, it’s not as hard for a businessperson to setup, and not as hard to walk away from.

The dedicated outdoor range has it’s advantages of course, but their fluid nature often means you have to make prior arrangements if you want to do a concentrated session with an instructor, etc. Some dedicated ranges take it o the next level though…

The Firearms Training Facility

Students learning how to clear a room at DA1 Training in Miami.

Once rare outside of the law enforcement and military sector, the full-fledged firearms training facility has become increasingly common. Pioneered in part by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper with his American Pistol Institute, now known as Gunsite Academy, the firearms training facility class of range has it all. It’ll consist usually of a small shop offering firearms and ammunition, multiple ranges, bays, shoot houses, armories, classrooms, lounges, and other useful amenities. The biggest thing a firearms training facility will offer though is a dedicated cadre of instructors, whose only job is to do just that - teach. They’re not running classes today and manning the cash register tomorrow, they only teach in whatever specialties they are tasked to.

Typically a full-blown training facility isn’t for the first-time shooter. They’ll usually set the requirements that you have some basic “guns 101” competency under your belt, whether it be an NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting class, military/LE experience, or something similar. It’s best to check with the specific facility before putting down money and signing up.

The biggest advantage to these facilities is the experience. Nothing beats having eminently-qualified instructors show you how it’s done. You may also get to learn and experience unique methods of training, such as low-light and night-vision shooting, aviation-based shooting (like from a helicopter) as well as my favorite, force-on-force training, where you get to use specially-adapted pistols and rifles, which fire a marker round, usually under the UTM or Simunition brand.

You get the “bang” and some of the recoil of using real ammunition. The projectiles are little plastic items which contain a bit of paint, by which they “mark” the target. Since they only go around 200-300 feet per second and are plastic/paint, they can be used to actually shoot at someone. Hence force-on-force. You’re shooting at the target, and they are shooting back at you. It’s paintball on steroids. You’ll learn more in an hour of force-on-force training than in a month of punching holes in paper at a standard range.

Good examples around the country would be SIG Sauer Academy in New Hampshire, the aforementioned Gunsite Academy in Arizona, DA1 Training in Miami, TDSA in Texas, and the forthcoming Deep 50 facility in Southwest Florida.

Due to the scope of their offerings and their operational requirements, which dictate having a lot of space, these facilities are top-tier and still rather rare. You’re talking many acres of land with ranges, classrooms, training structures, and even crazy stuff like helipads and runways. Occasionally, some classes will be restricted to government students only, by the way.

Unless you are lucky enough to live near one, going to a full-blown firearms training facility often involves a committment of time and finances. You’re not just going to pop in for $20 and the cost of ammo.

The Categories Aren’t Set In Stone

As broken down above, the categories are how I, and some others, seek to categorize gun ranges. However, there’s plenty out there that blur the lines. There’s some mega-ranges out there that have a fully-stocked shop, lounge, and training facility. There’s small gun shops that replicate the guntry club experience at a small scale, kind of like an upscale neigbhorhood bar owned by the locals as opposed to a swanky franchise joint like STK or the various Blue Martinis. Regardless, there’s a spectrum, and you can definitely find a facility that suits you.

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Any Training Is Better Than No Training

You might not live near a great outdoor range. You might be many hours away from one of those famous training facilities. A guntry club might be out of your budget. But don’t let that stop you from furthering your practice and training sessions. Many a skill can be learned and maintained in a simple 25-yard lane at your basic local range. Shooting is a perishable skill, and does degrade without consistent maintenance. Sure, in this time of hype and fear over a supercharged Chinese flu virus it may prove time-consuming to get out there, but you should make it a point to do something training-related at least every few weeks.

Besides, even a bad day at the range is fun.

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