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How to Build a Firearms Range

Planning to use the right configuration for your agency’s needs and your zoning laws will ensure your range will be used by generations of cops to come.

February 01, 2005  |  by Dave Douglas



Immediate Feedback


Whether in a shoot house or on a range, steel targets are a must for every well-designed firearms training facility (See “Target Acquisition” on page 22). The immediate feedback of the ringing steel is a favorite of most shooters.

That’s great for the shooters and the instructors, but it can be tough on the range designer. Ranges employing steel targets require a lot of land. And you need to be especially careful of splatter and ricochets.

Also, instructors have to be on their toes to make sure the students are set up at a safe distance from the steel before engaging the targets. You want to avoid fragments of the bullets or the targets from flying back to the firing line.

And make sure that your steel targets are made of high-quality steel. AR 500 steel, with its high carbon content, is probably the best choice. Softer steel will pock mark and not produce reliable results for bullet destruction and splatter angles.

Gun Requirements

You know this, but it bears mentioning. Every gun type requires a different type of range setup. We’ve touched on this a little bit, but let’s look at how rifle rounds require serious shoot house and range precautions.

Rifle-caliber patrol carbines are primarily a stand-off or perimeter weapons system. They can be used as entry guns, but that depends on your department’s philosophy. Many departments use a pistol-caliber carbine like the HK MP-5 as an entry gun.

For range designers, MP-5s are easy. A shoot house set up for pistols will do quite well for shoulder-fired, pistol caliber guns, even on full auto. But if your department uses rifle calibers as its primary shoulder-fired entry gun, the steel and target systems in your shoot house need to be more robust, and that translates into more expense.

As a stand-off or perimeter gun, the rifle caliber carbine needs a range facility of at least 50 yards or more ideally, 100 yards. That’s a lot of dirt and it requires a lot of land. Some agencies use smaller targets to simulate the greater distances.

This actually works pretty well. The .223 Remington primarily used in AR-15 and Mini-14 platforms has a very flat trajectory, so the simulated distance targets can provide a realistic shooting experience. However, if you are building a range to accommodate precision rifles for your department’s tactical team, you need at least 300 yards.

Stopping Bullets

Unless your new range is out in the middle of East Nowhere, rifle activity will require significant back stops and overhead baffling, especially if you plan to shoot .308 Winchester cartridges or something more powerful.

Safety is the first concern for any firearms training facility. It’s critical that your range planning incorporate safety features both for the officers who use it and for anyone who might be downrange.

If you don’t go with overhead baffling and a highly efficient bullet trap system or other projectile containment systems, you need to consider safe downrange areas well past your target area and berms.

Remember, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP rounds fired from pistols can carry well past one mile. Higher-velocity rounds like the .223 Remington from your agency’s AR-15 can carry more than a mile and a half. And .308 Winchester rounds from precision rifles can land with lethal force more than two-and-a-half miles from where they were fired.

It’s Worth It

After reading this, you may now be scratching your head and throwing up your arms and saying, “I quit.”

But if you really want to build a range for your agency, don’t give up. The rewards from completing a range project actually do outweigh the challenges.

At the risk of sounding maudlin, I ask you to remember that your work will help cops train for many, many years and that will save someone’s life.

Sgt. Dave Douglas is the rangemaster of the San Diego Police Department, a veteran law enforcement officer, and a Police contributing editor.


Target Acquisition

It used to be that all you needed for targets on a range was a bunch of paper silhouettes or standard bulls-eye targets. No more. Like everything else today, targets are available in so many varieties that they’ll make your head spin.

The following is a quick look at some of the target systems available for law enforcement ranges.

Independently turning or computer-controlled targets are a must for scenario-based training. These target systems vary from really expensive independently computer-controlled targets to moderately priced easy-to-use systems.


Provo, Utah-based Action Target produces some very versatile systems. Action Target’s computer-controlled target systems can be easily programmed to react to a push of a button. And the company’s Smart Range 2000 software can control hundreds of turning, moving, and pop-up targets from one small notebook computer. It can also count the number of hits on a target, control lighting, and even generate sound effects like return fire sounds, sirens, verbal challenges from the suspect, or submission in a “don’t shoot” scenario. The computer system can even keep track of an individual shooter’s records and act as a range management program.

www.actiontarget.com

Blackwater Target Systems, a division of the same company that runs the Blackwater Training Center in North Carolina, is proud of its patent-pending “BEAR” system. The “BEAR” is a versatile target system that uses AR-500 steel and proprietary software, “Blackwater BART,” which lets you design scenarios and use the system remotely. The “BEAR” can be customized to meet your training needs and budget. The training system includes six paper turners per section that can easily be configured as pop-ups or swingers, two pneumatic six-plate steel racks, one steel or paper mover, and five or 10 static-steel positions for static plates. Once you have completed your site preparation, the “BEAR” can be installed and ready to use in 90 minutes. The “Rolling BEAR” offers the same features in a self-contained, highway-capable trailer.
 
www.blackwaterusa.com

Duelatron Target Systems from Advanced Training Systems of Saint Paul, Minn., is another great source for high-tech target systems. The company has been producing excellent turning systems for the military and law enforcement for more than 30 years. Duelatron offers a unique blend of turning systems for qualifications and a combination of pop-up plus turning targets that can reveal both good guy and bad guy targets on the same backing. Duelatron systems are also computer controlled and user programmable.

www.duelatron.com

On the less expensive side of the turning target equation is Elite Target Systems’ TAC II Target system. Elite Target Systems is based in the beautiful Colorado Rockies town of Pagosa Springs. Its system offers two linked turning targets in an easily portable configuration that weighs 26 pounds, including the battery. The TAC II is controlled with a credit card-sized remote the range officer can carry in his or her pocket. It, too, is programmable for a number of different presentation times and intervals. This system is especially suited for setting multiple targets at varying ranges from the shooter. It is also well suited for precision rifle training because it can be activated by remote control at distances out to 300-plus yards.

www.elitetargetsystems.com

Founded on the principle that range equipment should be durable and long lasting, PortaTarget is proud of the fact that some of the portable targets the company built in the early 1980s are still functional. Located in Grant, Fla., PortaTarget manufactures a variety of sturdy, heavy-duty utilitarian steel targets. Although the company gets its name from its portable targets, a permanent pneumatic unit is now available, as well. One of the company’s most versatile offerings is its pneumatic multi-function target. It reconfigures from one function to three others in less than a minute, for four completely different target practice opportunities: 90-degree turner, swing out, pop up, and sideways pop up functions. The system can be used with paper targets and wooden firing strips, not included. A group of several multi-function targets operating at different settings can be highly effective in training. Each operates with its own air cylinder.
 
www.portatarget.com

More Target Resources

Beacon Target Turner
www.beacontarget.com

LaRue Tactical
www.laruetactical.com


Metalmasters Target Systems
www.metalmasters-target.com


Qualification Targets
www.qtargets.com

Range Systems
www.range-systems.com

Realistic Target Company
www.realistictargetcompany.com


Specialty Targets
www.specialtytargets.com

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Tags: How-To Guides, target practice, Shooting Ranges

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