A shooting range or firing range is a specialized facility designed for archery or firearms practice. Each facility is typically overseen by one or more supervisory personnel, called variously a range master or "Range Safety Officer" (RSO) in the United States or a range conducting officer (RCO) in the UK. These supervisory personnel are responsible for ensuring that all weapon safety rules are followed at all times. In some countries (for example in Finland) it is however common to have shooting ranges without supervision. These ranges are usually situated in distant places in forests and people can use them on their own without any supervision.
Shooting ranges can be indoor or outdoor and possibly restricted to certain types of arms, e.g. bows, handguns or rifles, or they can specialize in certain shooting sports such Skeet shooting or 10 m Air Pistol/Rifle.
This article discusses shooting or firing ranges in a general sense. For more specific discussion of shooting ranges in specific countries, see:
Likewise, in countries with gun laws heavily restricting the ownership and use of actual firearms, Airsoft guns often are used instead for "shooting range" practice. By their nature, "shooting ranges" for Airsoft competitions may be located nearly everywhere, even in-doors, with no significant restrictions other than the wearing of protective face masks. This article, and the articles for specific locales, do not address "shooting ranges" intended for Airsoft guns.
In urban areas, most shooting ranges will be at indoor facilities. Similarly, in less-populated areas, shooting ranges are often at outdoor facilities. Many amusement parks and carnivals formerly provided shooting galleries.
- Stationary target practice
Indoor ranges usually have a back wall with a sloped earthen berm or bank, with reinforced baffles additionally situated along the roof and side walls. Ranges with proper ventilation pull smoke and lead particles away from the shooting line and discharge them from the building to reduce potential lead poisoning. When ranges lack proper ventilation, employees and users are exposed to lead dust from bullets or cartridge primers. It can be inhaled or can settle on skin or clothing. Additionally, discharge of firearms in indoor ranges can produce noise levels of over 140 dB sound pressure level. To combat this, it is commonly recommended to "double up" ear protection by using both earplugs and over-the-head earmuffs. To protect range bystanders from sound exposure, many modern ranges have an air-locked corridor for sound-proofing, with two doors at opposite ends of the egress corridor. Most indoor ranges restrict the use of certain powerful calibers, rifles or the use of fully automatic weapons. In many shooting ranges, .50 caliber or higher bullets are not allowed.
Shooting galleries appeared following development of rimfire ammunition in the 19th century. Small-caliber gallery guns could be easily reloaded, providing an opportunity for recreational shooting without the noise, painful recoil, and tiresome reloading procedure required with contemporary muzzleloaders. Shooting galleries became a common feature of Gilded Age amusement parks, and portable bullet traps were later constructed to allow this entertainment with traveling carnivals for locations including fairgrounds. Early shooting galleries typically included several shooting positions for pump-action .22 caliber rifles. Durable steel or cast iron targets indicated hits by tipping over or rotating around a horizontal mounting rod. Target distances were short enough to make such movement obvious—as little as 10 feet (3 meters) for portable carnival galleries. The muzzle of each rifle was often chained to a slightly down-range attachment to prevent the rifle from being aimed to miss the bullet trap and threaten bystanders. Injuries from molten lead bullet fragments or ricochets off metal targets or bullet traps encouraged development of frangible bullets in specialized gallery loads including Peters Krumble Ball, Remington Spatter-Less, Western Kant-Splash, and Winchester Spatterpruf. Risk of accidental injuries within crowded amusement parks and carnivals encouraged replacement of firearms by air guns during the late 20th century; and by the 21st century those were largely replaced by simulated firearms using thermographic camera or servomechanism target interactions.
Outdoor shooting ranges are used for longer-distance shooting up to or exceeding 1,200 yards (1,100 m). Training might also specifically require exposure to the elements such as wind or rain. Competition shooting is preferred under benign weather conditions, although conditions may change, competition is only abandoned when safety becomes an issue.
Outdoor shooting ranges are designed to contain all fired shots. This necessitates a high retaining wall behind the target line called a back-stop or stop-butt, being an earth mound, sandbag barrier or specially designed funnel-shaped traps to catch and prevent misaligned shots, errant projectile ricochet or shots going beyond the bounds of the shooting range. Most outdoor ranges will restrict the maximum caliber size and / or projectile energy based on the design specification of the range. Some target-shooting ranges have separate facilities devoted for use of higher-powered firearms such as .50 caliber.
- Air rifle
- Outdoor air rifle ranges can have fixed distance such as 10 metres (11 yd) or 25 metres (27 yd) or be an area for the practice of the sport of field target shooting, where reset metal targets are placed in natural surroundings at various distance and elevations with a pellet trap behind the target.
- Small-bore rifle
- Small-bore (.22 Long Rifle caliber) rifle ranges are typically 50 metres (55 yd) to accommodate the Olympic 50 m Rifle event, but they can extend to 200 metres (219 yd). These ranges are found around the world as part of various cadet shooting programs, sometimes reduced to 25 metres (27 yd), or in American parlance "the thousand-inch range". Often called miniature rifle ranges, they featured as training establishments for initial military marksmanship training using lower-cost ammunition imparting less recoil or for entertainment carnival games or, if built to a high specification, are used for zeroing-in full-bore rifles using specially designed "ladder" targets.
- Full-bore rifle
- Target shooting range for larger-caliber centerfire rifles are no shorter than 100 metres (109 yd), except in the case of “Zero” ranges used for setting or checking the open (iron) or aperture (peep) sights of the rifle and telescopic sight “Zero”. Military ranges are typically at least 500–1,000 metres (547–1,094 yd) to safely accommodate the range of most rifles. Public ranges can be as long as and typically accommodate hunters and sportsman participating in sports such as 300 m Standard Rifle, metallic silhouette or benchrest shooting (ranges up to 2,000 yards (1,829 m).
- Specialist ranges cater for various clay pigeon shooting events and require special layouts and equipment.
The firing point normally is at a defined point on the ground, and on a civilian range will usually be level and flat. Outdoor ranges without a covered firing point are usually grass, often on a slightly raised, flattened mound. Outdoor ranges with a covered firing point are usually concrete or tarmacadam. Outdoor military range firing points are not usually covered and may have other configurations, e.g. sloping, a gravel base or hole in the ground.
A "fixed firing point" or echelon rifle range is where the targets are located at the various distances with the marksman or woman shooting from the one firing point. The most advanced rifle range of this design was constructed for the Commonwealth Games New Delhi 2010.
The firing point cover can be as simple as a tent, to a frame with only a roof (to keep off rain or sunshine) to a substantial building with appropriate apertures to shoot through.
Civilian targets are usually made of paper or a plastic coreflute, sometimes with a canvas or hessian back on the larger long-range types. Most competitive targets are a solid black circle on a white background. The black circle may have scoring rings. Targets of other shapes may be used such as used in pistol (hand gun) target shooting. Reactive targets allow shooters to easily identify bullet strikes. This allows shooters to improve their skills by quickly being able to compare their aiming point and where the actual bullet impacted the target.
Those who choose to use military surplus rifles in competition on firing ranges at set distances include bolt and semiautomatic actions, with targets used as per military standards, current and historic. The same applies for the matches they shoot. A number of countries have recently limited the use by civilian populations of the semi and full automatic firearms, to the detriment of competition at an international level. Other target types include a metal plate that is knocked over by the bullet such as in the air rifle sport of field target or handgun discipline of IPSC, and stationary metal plates of scaled animal outlines on which bullet strikes mark as well as those that mark the paint which is painted over again after scoring.
Butts / backstop
The butts / backstop is the area behind the target into which the shot impacts having passed through the target. Outdoor and sometimes indoor ranges have earth or sand butts. Indoor ranges can use angled plates with collectors, often with a rubber curtain through which the bullet passes and is then stopped by a metal plate.
Ranges without automatic target placements sometimes have concrete trenches where personnel lift and retract, mark and replace targets.
They need to of sufficient height to capture the projectile intended for the target as well as any ricochet that may occur from the projectile striking the floor of the target range fairway. Usually the top is at least five degrees in elevation from the 100m firing line.
Outdoor shooting ranges sometimes have wind flags, positioned between the firing line (where the shooters are) and the targets. Shooters observe these flags to make an estimate of wind speed, which is then converted into lateral minute of angle point of aim corrections or, alternatively, windage holdoff corrections.
The flag method is the most common method used to estimate wind speed. A flag blowing in the wind will naturally blow away from the flagpole, with the angle of the bottom of the flag to the flagpole increasing with increasing windspeed. To estimate the wind speed in mph, the angle in degrees between the bottom of the flag to the flagpole at the mid-range position between the shooter and the target is divided by 4. For example, an angle of 60 degrees between the bottom of a flag and a flagpole would be estimated as a 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) windspeed.
The clock method is then used to determine full value, half value, or no value corrections in minute of angle for this wind. Aligning the target at the 12 o' clock position or direction, with the 6 o' clock direction being directly behind the shooter, winds at 3 or 9 o'clock are equated to full value, winds at 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 o'clock are equated to half value, and winds at 12 and 6 o'clock are equated to no value.
The minute of angle correction (full value) is then commonly estimated as ((Range [meters] / 100) × Wind [mph]) / C, where C is a constant. The constant C equals 15 for ranges from 100 to 500 meters, 14 for 600 meters, 13 for 700–800 meters, 12 for 900 meters, and 11 for 1,000 meters. For full-value winds, this full windage correction is used. For half-value winds, the minute of correction in windage given by this formula is halved; for no-value winds, no minute of angle correction in windage is required.
Multiple flags are required for two reasons. First, the wind speed closest to the midpoint of range has the greatest effect on the projectile. In addition, the wind at one part of the range will not always be the same at another part.
Wind flags are not always actual flags, sometimes streamers are used, small triangle flags, or even pin wheels. Factors such as the range length and expected strength of the wind determine the best type of flag to use. When no flags are available, a small leaf or other small light object can be dropped from shoulder height, and the object is then pointed at by the shooter; the angle between his arm and his torso can provide an equivalent wind speed estimation as a wind flag, although it will not be at the mid-range location along the bullet's trajectory.
Oftentimes the same range is made available to both bow and gun shooters. However, there are many ranges that have been made available exclusively for archers, and thousands of them can be found in the USA. The most popular types of archery ranges include 3-D ranges, field ranges and indoor ranges.
Common safety practices
While some ranges require that all firearms be unloaded and variously securely encased and/or trigger-locked prior to entering, or leaving, the range facility, irrespective of whether one holds a concealed carry license in jurisdictions where concealed carry is legal, many have no such regulations.
Whether indoors or outdoors, all shooters are typically required to wear eye protection as well as hearing protection (ear muffs or ear plugs) at all times when within the defined boundaries of the range. Depending on the range, prescription eyeglasses may qualify as eye protection. Indoor ranges can be particularly unsafe, due to high lead exposures and increased noise exposures where the design or management is not of a quality conducive to best practice.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued an Alert, Preventing Occupational Exposures to Lead and Noise at Indoor Firing Ranges. The Alert presents five case reports that document lead and noise exposures and examines firing range operations, exposure assessment and control methods, existing regulations, and exposure standards and guidelines. More information about reducing occupational exposures at indoor firing ranges can be found at NIOSH Firing Range topic page.
Likewise, the rules of the appointed supervisory personnel are to be followed at all times.
Specialized classes and licenses
These will vary from country to country, and even within a country. In some countries, no license or advanced training beyond just gun familiarization (for rental guns) and range rules familiarization is required for using a shooting range. In other countries, participants must be part of an organized club and must hold licenses for ownership of individual firearms. A common requirement is that the shooter must be of legal age (or have a guardian present) prior to shooting.
Many target shooting ranges offer services to aid both novice and expert shooters.
Typically, a range will offer safety courses, concealed carry courses, and advanced training in firearms techniques, for a fee. In addition, some states in the USA require employees who use firearms on the job (e.g., armored car drivers, security guards) to have certain certifications. In most cases, a shooter may take a class and qualify for these certifications at a range.
Many ranges will let shooters rent firearms, as well. In most cases, ranges (especially indoor) rent out handguns and rifles in various calibers, however there are ranges that rent Class III/NFA firearms (full-auto weapons, suppressed weapons, etc.). Some ranges offering firearms rental also provide instructors at little to no cost as part of the rental fee.
- Gun politics
- Shooting sports
- Sport venue
- ISSF shooting events (Olympic events)
- Metallic silhouette
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- US Archery Ranges Map
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