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Our mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
NSSF is the trade association for America's firearms industry.
Our mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
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Range Design - Retrofitting Your Existing Range

Range Design - Retrofitting Your Existing Range

By M. Scott Roberts, Vice President
Action Target, Inc.

(This article is reprinted from the Third National Shooting Range Symposium, 1996 with permission from International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Action Target has observed and learned a lot over the years regarding firing ranges. We have become information gatherers, finders and problem solvers when it comes to building or retrofitting indoor and outdoor firing ranges. In 1989, when I was on the road a great deal, I visited about 350 firing ranges. I have been able to see a lot of things that have gone on in the real world regarding ranges, both successful and unsuccessful.

I saw a range in Charleston, North Carolina, where the entire range was twisted 30 degrees from the original location because there were protected birds' nests downrange that could have been in line of some errant fire. I saw another range that where all the concrete walkways had to be replaced with an above ground boardwalk to allow the indigenous mice, also a protected species, to get around better.

A range in West Valley City, Utah, was shut down because a man who lived at the nearest farm house (about 1.5 miles away) claimed to find a bullet in his front yard. Although it took him about two years of complaining to the city, he was successful in closing this range that previously had been approved for operation by the city.

An outdoor range in Seattle, Washington, was told to purchase a bullet trap or it would be closed. They had been firing projectiles into a hillside for about 50 years.

Running or operating a firing range in today's world is like speeding on the highway. As long as they don't find you or make you their pet project, you can shoot for 100 years, and no one will care. However, if someone gets a burr under his skin about your range, you may find yourself in need of some serious range retrofitting, and it may cost a lot of money.

Although some ranges go back to Civil War times, and there's still grass growing on the bullet backstop, you may be asked to stop shooting because of issues such as lead, safety or sound. This presentation will examine retrofitting of a firing range. When could retrofitting work? When may you simply need to move or close your range?

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

This presentation will be directed by one main philosophical foundation, which is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That is the place to start. When one evaluates a firing range, does the range really need something new? Is there really something missing from your range that will make it better? Is information available from the range industry that can affect your situation for good or bad? You have to make a good judgment call. To make a good judgment, you have to become an information gatherer and finder. I will talk about various manufacturers and industry representatives to help you make a better decision.

Know your goals

Part one deals with knowing your goals. You must answer: What, if anything, is wrong with this range, and what design improvements do you have to consider? Consider the following categories: 1) Do you have a problem in the area of safety? 2) Do you have a problem in the shooter enjoyment area?

Sometimes customers and clubs disappear, not because of hazardous issues, but because there is just no more shooter enjoyment. You may have to evaluate the area of shooter enjoyment. If your range provides only bull's eye shooting, it may be time to look at other types of shooting, such as action pistol shooting or more exciting target setups.

Developing a plan of action  

After you have evaluated your range, you should look at a plan of action. What specific action will alleviate or reduce the problem identified?

Sometimes you don't need to do much to gain greater success at a range. Maybe your range needs a new coat of paint. Maybe better lighting is needed. For example, one indoor range that I visited was very dark and dingy. However, another range in Chicago was just the opposite. This range is bright, it has nice pastel colors, and it's the type of range that's setting the standard for the future. People were shopping at the range's store as if they were shopping at a miniature K-mart. There was a teaching facility. The builder of that facility was more a retailer than a shooter when it came to design and function.

Maybe it's time to brighten things up, become more of a retailer with your commercial ranges or your outdoor ranges. Provide more than just a place to shoot. We've had "just places to shoot" for a long time. Look at unmanaged ranges. As management is less existent, range signs, target frames and equipment get more and more holes from shooters until a range is shot to pieces. People don't use an unmanaged range. They destroy it.

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing what will make your indoor or outdoor range successful. Maybe you need a bullet trap. Maybe you need better management. Maybe you need to offer better shooting classes.

Achieving your action plan

After deciding your plan of action, you must look at achieving it. It will require what? Number one, what is the cost of implementation of this new target system, this new bullet trap, new lights, new targets, etc.

Are the costs justifiable? Will you really have a return on it? What are the time requirements? You must know how long it will take for the retrofit to take place. One range comes to mind, a county sheriff's range in the West.

They decided to change one of their ranges. They started digging holes to put fresh drains on the range. Those holes were there for about five months. No one thought through how long it would take to dig a hole, fill it with racks and put a drain cap on top. These holes disrupted range usage for some time.

If you don't think through the time element, you haven't thought the whole thing through. Even though you have the cost and the desired goal in mind, think about how long it's going to take and who is going to do it, because some projects can sit unfinished for years.

The best schedule for implementation is during a down time. It's not good to retrofit your range before the deer hunt or elk hunt. This may seem like a simple thing, but I've found that frequent review of fundamentals brings success.


Finally, you need to evaluate whether the plan achieved the goal? Were the costs in line with planned estimates? Did the time and scheduling work out? Are the results as expected?

Indoor ranges: ventilation systems

This outline is just a quick look at planning a retrofit. Maybe you don't need one at all. With the forgoing as a backdrop, let's focus on indoor ranges.

I listened to the previous presentation on ventilation systems and wanted to mention a few things that Action Target has found in tests of indoor ventilation systems. In the traditional range, a shooting stall is at the front of the range. Usually some type of diffuser is used behind the stalls in the top of the ceiling to direct air down and past the stalls. Hopefully, the air goes past the shooter properly. The goal is to create a laminar flow. You don't want 75 feet per minute of air flow past the shooter area, especially if you have booths and overhead target equipment. You want somewhere around 55 feet per minute of air flow with a laminar flow. To do this with diffusers, you need a minimum of 15 feet from your back wall to your shooting stalls for this air to become constant in its dynamic motion past the shooter areas to the back of the range.

If you go with a plenum wall (pegboard type holes in the back wall), you can go with a see- through, clear plenum wall; it will have small holes in it. We've done ranges like this. Observers can still watch shooters if you use a see-through material. If you go with a plenum wall for ventilation, you can reduce the distance between that back wall to as low as 7 to 10 feet and still have a balancing effect with the air flow.

Another ventilation concern is the head and shoulders of the shooter that can create eddies and air currents around the shooter. That's why slower air flow is helpful. Also, a directional diffuser in the shooting booth or near the shooter can be helpful. Remember that the goal is to remove gases produced by the gun away from the shooter in a downrange direction. These items are things to consider as you design your range. You have to have a fair amount of space. I haven't seen a range where a successful laminar air flow was created when air is introduced closer than 15 feet before the stalls. It is too hard to balance the air in a shorter distance.


What about shooting stalls where wood or some other material is placed across the bottom of the stall or over the entire stall with just a small opening to shoot through?


Nothing is wrong with that as long as you can test it and show that you have a consistent flow. Also, too small of shooter opening can become very counterproductive for proper air flow.

Whenever the air flow goes faster than 55 feet per minute, air starts to roll around people and come back into their faces. A faster air flow creates currents, especially if you have a target system that hangs down right in front of the shooter with a large target motor. That's why a small fan or diffuser, just across the top of the stall, is a good idea.

Regular range cleaning

Regarding maintenance or cleaning the indoor range, Action Target recommends the week-long National Rifle Association class, "Get Ahead on Lead," for information on cleaning in detail. I will quickly mention some of the key points here. Never use a broom or dust cloth, only an approved HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuum. Only vacuum indoor ranges. Sometimes ranges are designed so you can wash them down with hose and water. That can stir up dust, but the washing can work if it's done properly and you've planned a proper trough to collect the water.

If you have a pit and water trap range, you can just wash particulate down into that pit as long as that pit is designed to also be your containment area.

Vacuuming is the best method. Even if you do wash a range, it's difficult to keep track of where you are and can paint yourself into a corner. You can't get all the particulates wet at once. They don't all go to the floor. Some become airborne.


Does Action Target make the correct firing range vacuum?


We purchase HEPA vacuums from other manufacturers and then sell them. The least expensive units are about $600. The highest costs are a few thousand dollars per unit. They even have wet-vac type units. To be officially HEPA, it means you have to be 99.99 percent efficient down to .12 microns.

When it comes to indoor range cleaning, the HEPA vacuum is the way to go. You can also contract this type of cleaning to an outside party. There are companies that make a living doing this kind of work. If you told them you have a firing range and need HEPA vacuum cleaning, most of them will know what you need; they do it for operating rooms or clean rooms where computer chips are assembled. That is something you could look into. Doing it yourself usually is much less expensive.

Plan your regular cleaning schedule and stick to it. The nicest looking indoor ranges are cleaned daily.


Daily range maintenance and curb appeal

Another tip: shooters at indoor ranges can easily get bored with shooting bull's eye targets, so they'll pick out the shiniest bolt downrange or a speck on a baffle. I've been to ranges where a crew goes downrange every night with putty and paint to fill and cover every misdirected shot. It changes the attitude at that range. People say, "Wow, there are no holes in this range. The baffles aren't shot to pieces and falling off. I guess we can't do that at this range."

When shooters find a clean, nice-looking range without holes in the baffles, people stop shooting the baffles because when they do, it's embarrassing. They get discovered. They're the only ones that shot that high at a target 5 yards away.

However, if you let your baffles, side walls and everything else get shot repeatedly and never make repairs, people will have the attitude that they can do whatever they want to do.

So maintenance is key to creating appeal. This appeal brings in new shooters, repeat shooters, women shooters.

Also important is to give your range eye appeal. Try to make your range more like visiting the mall instead of a dingy, smelly firing range.

Lighting and colors add curb appeal; curb appeal brings in your visitors. Visitors become customers. What's inside brings them back. So think it through. You've got to have curb appeal if you're dealing with an indoor range. You need a range that inspires passersby to say, "I've got to go in there someday."

Once they're inside, make sure it's a pleasant, nice experience that will bring them back. Make sure that you have the type of supplies and things that they want. The greatest success of an indoor range is the retail counter. The range just attracts people. It's the retail counter that gets allegiance and customers to come back.

Developing lines of authority

It's important to develop administrative controls on an indoor range. Make sure that you qualify your range masters and give them authority.

There's nothing better that speaks better to me at an indoor range than when I get kicked around by an indoor range master who knows he has authority. He watches people. He sees where the muzzles are. He feels that the range is his turf, and he controls it.

If you hire an authoritative figure and then give him authority, people will know that they can't be lax at that range. He'll also be sharp to look for things, to see if people are coming in who really shouldn't be there, etc. Qualify your range management and give them the authority to run that range the proper way.

I tried to enter a range one time to look at our installed products. No one was shooting on the range, and I didn't have my ears with me. The range master said, "You can't go in there without your ear and eye protection." I went back out and got my ears even though no one was there yet. I thought, "That is great." This is his turf. If it's his turf, it will be run right and taken care of carefully.

Upgrading outdoor ranges

Upgrading outdoor ranges has a lot to do with the original design. There are so many considerations and factors with outdoor ranges because of terrain, neighbors, the environment, etc.

The original design of a range has a lot to do with the success and shooter fulfillment at that range. Did you design a qualification or bull's eye range? That is the most common range. Shooters stand in one place, shoot in one direction and try to make a small grouping. That is a typical range and is great for teaching basic marksmanship skills to new people.

While you're considering range design, you should first consider the instructors and courses available. As long as you have an instructor who has enthusiasm and makes it interesting, you'll have people who want to come back and shoot.

Consider a tactical or action range, something that gives shooters reactionary type targets. Steel reactive targets require a containment location; it requires not only having a backstop berm for misdirected fires but also a flat area where the steel targets are because projectiles splatter about 12 to 15 degrees off of the target in a 360-degree arc. In effect, you need a floor trap on part of your range where you can shoot steel targets. If you move steel targets around everywhere, you don't have containment. You have lead everywhere. Confine your steel targets to one location. Put a marker up, even a ground baffle of some type, and say, "This is the steel target area." It's important to be able to show your containment for a steel target area to any regulatory board.

Drainage problems at outdoor ranges

A big problem at outdoor ranges regards drainage. Where does the water go as it relates to the bullets in the backstops, the berms in the bullet traps? You should consider water runoff in three categories: speed, geography and erosion.

If your backstop is eroding and you're getting these grand canyons on each shooting lane, you have a serious problem because lead won't travel without a companion. A great companion that picks up lead is water. That's probably the greatest single way that lead moves at outdoor ranges. The most usual companions for lead are water, air and people. Your lead will stay in a place until water, air (meaning wind) or people get to it.

Safety is part of design. You need to lay out your berms and your shooting stations properly. I'll relate a situation from a range dedicated to use by the local police department. That range had a berm in the back of a lower range where they were holding a meet. Above this berm was an air gun house where teenagers were shooting.

A 16-year-old boy was sitting in a chair at the air gun range waiting his turn when a .45-caliber projectile entered his head and killed him. The match people couldn't figure out from where it came. The berm looked like it was tall enough.

I happened to be one of several individuals called to look at the situation. One of the first things that we looked at was the back wall of this air gun house, and we not only found the entrance of the .45-caliber projectile, we found about 10 other projectile holes that had gone through this metal building.

We then went to the top of the berm. We found that the top of the berm looked level, but it was really at various levels because of erosion. It had so much growth and bushes on it that no one knew where the top of the berm was.

When the range designers originally made these berms, they made them peak at the top; they put bushes on them. However, some of those peaks had actually eroded 12 to 14 feet down, but you couldn't tell it because of the bushes and shrubs on the berm. Everyone thought it was a solid berm, but one of the valleys in the berm actually allowed projectiles to go through the backstop berm and into the metal building.

So, when the National Rifle Association says to have at least a 4-foot flat cap on your berm, that makes a lot of sense. Berm eyebrows and ricochet catch additions may or may not be of help in this type of situation.

Safety fans and ballistics

Let's look at safety fans and ballistics. I want to talk about baffles for ballistic containment.

Some designers will say that once your range is encroached upon, you may have to evaluate putting up ballistic baffles. Try to avoid that like the plague because they are very expensive.

Building or retrofitting your range with ballistic baffles will cost you quite a bit of money. Even if you do it yourself the old-fashioned way using plywood filled with gravel, getting the club to fill those baffles is tremendous work. I know because I've done that type of work before. It takes months of effort.

If you buy steel baffles like Action Target sells or you buy the concrete baffles, you will pay $10 to $15 per square foot for coverage material.

Action Target supplied overhead baffles for two ranges in Georgia. The two ranges were 150 feet wide and 50 yards long, and our bill for the baffles was about $700,000. That gives you an idea of costs.

Those baffles were quarter-inch armor plates because the range owners wanted them to stop bullets up to a .223. You can stop projectiles with 10-gauge steel or less if you restrict shooting to pistol fire. If you're going to try to stop .223s, .308s or even 7 mm mags, then you must change the angle of your baffles (as it relates to the trajectory of the shooters) to stick with mild steel. A-36 steel is fairly inexpensive. If you're going to have bigger spacing between your baffles, you will have to consider harder and thicker steel. The more perpendicular the projectile can hit a baffle, the greater the damage to the baffle even if the baffle offers terminal ballistics.

No-blue-sky ranges require about three times the baffles as single shooter point ranges. With this kind of range if you look forward, there is no blue sky; if you look up, there is no blue sky. You have to look actually backwards to see blue sky.

Another thing we had to consider at the Georgia ranges was air circulation. Because there were so many baffles over these ranges, the gases from the guns lingered around the shooters. Because there were so many baffles, no wind comes by. Tests have shown that if you're firing on an outdoor range and there is no wind, you might as well shoot in a closet, because the gases are going to slowly surround your head. The solution was to put about 16 large air volume fans in each range-great big fans to move the air.

Baffles are good to have. They're necessary at some ranges. However, if you control your shooter line on a 25-yard range, only six or seven baffles are needed if everyone shoots from the same position. If you allow people to go downrange, a 25-yard range now requires 23 baffles of the same size for ballistic coverage.

You must evaluate whether you can control the shooter line. Do you want seven baffles versus 23 baffles? Will your range allow rifle, pistol or both kinds of shooting? Try to manage your shooters with greater knowledge and direction. Your new neighbor, as you're being encroached upon, will be less likely to bring some projectile into the mayor's office and say, "I found this in my front yard."

You can manage your shooters to prevent having to construct baffles. Key points are to: 1) make sure that their muzzles are always downrange in a safe position that will hit the backstop berm, 2) have shooters in mandatory safety classes, 3) always emphasize safety and proper shooting at your range.

I know about a range in a small Illinois town that has no baffles, and yet the range is two blocks from a freeway. They emphasize safety over and over. No muzzles are ever allowed to approach perpendicular. Muzzles must always be down or level. They've never had errant fire, so they've been able to avoid baffles.

I'm not saying no baffles is the best choice because mistakes happen. I'm just saying that education and management can make a difference rather than simply paying big dollars for baffles.

Target systems considerations

When it comes to maintenance for the outdoor range, who is responsible for damage, access, grounds keeping and target systems? Sometimes range owners purchase target systems to make shooting more interesting, but a problem can arise if the target system is too complex.

Does the system have hit sensors? Is it run by a computer controller that only one or two individuals know how to operate? Think about the implications of this statement: "Mike knows how to run the computer, so we always have to have him at our shoots. However, he can't show up all the time."

Shop around, find something that's simple. A simple system will work better if you do not run firing ranges and target systems full time or for a living. Most targets manufactured by Action Target use pneumatic pistons for actuation. Pneumatics is more simple. It's just compressed air and a quarter-inch air tube that push a rod in and out to pop, turn or move a target. Find a target system that is easy to maintain and use unless you have a large management team to care for sophisticated or maintenance-intensive, radio-controlled systems.

Administrative considerations

You need organizational charts and administrative controls at your range. You need to know who is going to manage what aspects of the firing range. Will you share the range with police departments or groups? Can you manage the range on your own or if you need other managers also?

Successful examples

Let's look at some successful things at indoor and outdoor ranges to make the range safer, more appealing, more exciting.

Mega-Sports, Chicago

Mega-Sports in Chicago has a seven-lane range and a five-lane range. The owner wanted to create a K-mart shopping mall feeling in his retail area. Visitors are welcome to shop here, even it they never shoot a gun. They didn't have to be shooters to spend money.

A spacious door is the only entrance and exit to the shopping area. It's the only way the public can come in and out of the facility. As visitors come into this store, there is a "welcome counter" with sharp-looking people who act as greeters. The greeters hand out fliers for most recent promotions and specials. Sharp-looking men and women greeters make every visitor feel important as soon as they step inside the store. This isn't a range where some guy is behind a counter chewing tobacco and saying, "Waddaya want?"

Even though the store is not big, the owner is a big promoter and produces $50,000 weekend days with retail sales alone.

The owner uses all the walls and counter space. All his workers wear the same sharp shirts. Everyone is in uniform and part of an upbeat team with a heavy retail orientation. The range has a nice-looking retail layout, and windows wrap around the range area. People can look inside and say "Wow, I'd like to try that new Smith & Wesson." The result is that customers often buy, because they focus on the retail aspect first. Then firing on the range is really fun.

The range has double doors to cut down on sound as well as to create a better management control atmosphere. You have to go through two doors to get to a firing range. The first door that you enter says, "Warning, you must check with the range master before entering." Also, at the entrance is a sticky pad floor mat. When you walk in and out of the range, your feet get cleaned. They change the pad about once or twice a day, depending on traffic. This is a great idea for range particulate dust control. Also, it impresses people that the mall area and firing range area are separate.

Top-of-the-line chrome and bulletproof glass shooting stalls are at this range. All shooters are under the close management of the range master. The glass stalls aid in better range management. This range also has a big stall counter. This is a great idea so that shooters can lay out a lot of ammunition and have plenty of room.

The colors at this range and retail area are upbeat. The range is well lit. It's a very inviting place. I was there for two days at the stores grand opening. I saw ladies in high heels come to shoot, and they felt good about being there. With all the new concealed-carry laws, range owners need to make it nice for dressed-up women to come to a range to shoot.

     The Chicago range is 25 yards, and it takes seven rolls of baffles for standard ballistic containment. It uses Action Target's Total Containment Trap.

Outdoor ranges tips

Let's talk about tips for outdoor ranges. One of the biggest enemies to outdoor ranges is water collection pools. If you just push up a berm on your land, you're going to create a water collection area from whence the berm originally came. It's nice to have a slope that directs water to settling locations not directly on the firing range.

In California, I know of a shooting facility that had to pay to clean up a duck pond that was 200 yards away from the range, because they found lead particulates in the water. The particulates traveled that far because no one had paid attention to drainage. It cost more than $100,000 to clean up that pond.

You want your backstop to be at least 1-to-1 or 45 degrees with at least one foot of clean fill dirt material on top. Once you get hot zone buildups in your backstops, ricochets bounce off the backstop and out of the confinements of the range. Also, if you create an earth backstop that is too steep, it will bounce projectiles and fragments at you. The 1-to-1 ratio is the best way to go.

My favorite of all range surfaces is chipped black slate. I've seen white slate, black slate, slag, gravel, grass, etc. Grass is nice and cool, but it can make things really interesting when you have to mow, especially when you have unspent cartridges lying on the ground.

It's also kind of a pain to collect your old brass on grass surface ranges. This black material, even though it's hotter on the bottoms of the feet, is so much easier on the eyes. It makes it much easier to collect the brass.

An interesting and useful apparatus is the fiddle table. The fiddle table is a place where you can set your weapon down, and the muzzle must be pointed through two red poles. The muzzle is always pointed into a side berm prepared for receiving any rounds.

I saw a friend shoot another friend in the foot at a range. One friend was showing the other his new gun. They were both firearms instructors for 20 years. They knew all the rules, but a man was shot in the foot anyway. A fiddle table makes it very plain, "We've got one place for you to fiddle with or look at new guns. We have a table for it, and the muzzle is always in one direction." It's a good addition to a range.

Once you have a firing range containment area and have calculated the required safety fans, a simple wire across two poles can act as a target holder. This is a simple "hang-targets-with-clips-on-a-wire" system. It's not sophisticated and doesn't cost a lot, but it works well for punching paper.

There also are some very exciting targets such as turning targets and swinging targets. If your range becomes boring, find a qualified instructor to use this equipment and make it fun to shoot for even old timers.

Thunder Range, Texas

Thunder Range in Texas has interesting instructors and shooting situations. Thunder Range is a very successful teaching location. Their classes are booked for the next 11/2 years. They have excellent instruction and a superior range facility.

You can set up the range in for six-shooters in an Old West scenario, or as a metropolitan downtown city for police applications.

The metropolitan set-up is for more than police or military use. So many shooters don't know how to handle their firearms in close-quarter situations. Shoot houses require very competent instruction and management and provide rewarding shooting experiences. A lot of people buy guns for safety and protection for their cars, home and close-quarter situations. The problem comes when a new gun owner goes to the range to shoot on an open 50- or 100-yard range and thinks he is ready to competently handle a pistol. We need to help change that.

The Thunder Range shoot house allows you to learn to draw and fire safely in a close grouping with others, down a hallway, in a kitchen, in a bedroom. Numerous civilians attend these types of classes at Thunder Range. Most individuals have never fired under those type of conditions. They are used to open-range shooting.

Bullet traps

Let's now examine bullet traps and capturing spent ammunition.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not consider lead on a range to be an environmental containment problem unless the lead becomes discarded, abandoned or gets into ground or surface waters.

When you shoot a gun, the lead is being used for the purpose it was intended. That is not a problem. As long as you're using the lead for what it's intended and don't contaminate water on your range or in the ground, you can shoot all you want.

There are two basic ways of containment lead projectiles at the range. There are passive and active methods of containment. Passive containment is an earthen berm backstop or a sand backstop berm. You just shoot into it. There is no problem shooting into earth or sand, as long as your drainage and containment are developed properly. Of course, you have to clean your backstop occasionally.

When it comes to the active approach, there are other things to consider. A lot of bullet traps have been introduced during the past few years. If you have constructed a steel trap to take care of your problem, it probably hasn't very been helpful at all.

Most steel escalator bullet traps of the last 50 years bust up the projectiles on impact. They implement impact steel surfaces of 25- to 45-degree angles. This fragmentation creates a lead mess at the trap area.

You may have to construct rubber curtains or a conveyor belt in front of the trap to prevent lead from hitting shooters as the fragmented projectiles fly backwards. Old steel traps are not the answer. New, well-designed sand traps with lime pits for collection make more sense than spending money for the old-style bullet traps.

Rubber is sometimes used for bullet trap construction, and it is becoming popular to use chopped tires for the basic rubber material. However, I've never seen rubber in a bullet trap last very long. Action Target maintains that rubber can make good ballistic wall material, but does not work well in a standard bullet trap on indoor or outdoor firing ranges. Rubber traps make sense in some tactical ranges where you're shooting in different directions all the time.

On qualification ranges where shooters are trying to get tight grouping, rubber doesn't make any sense. Shooters can destroy rubber traps in a matter of weeks unless they're maintained properly.

There was a rubber trap at a range near Chicago where a shooter shot repeatedly in the same small grouping, and he finally broke through the steel back plate and block wall of the range. Projectiles were whizzing down the street outside.

A lady was filling her car with gas, and she kept hearing things whizzing by her car. She went in and told the guy who operated the gas station. He said, "Oh, they must be coming from the range down the street." He hurried and called the range and told them to shut down. The range personnel found that there was a hole through the rubber trap and the back wall that allowed projectiles to whiz down the street.

Fortunately, no one was hit or hurt, but that's the problem with rubber. Every time you shoot into a rubber trap, you're destroying it. So you don't want to shoot a lot into it, and you don't want to shoot in a small group. Other than as the main bullet backstop trap, rubber can have some applications on a firing range.

Here are a few other things to remember. Beware of steel leading edges. You don't want the trap to be a group of small units put together to cover the range, which provides greater opportunity for ricochet and uncontrolled  splatter.

Action Target decided to make a trap where the users could shoot hundreds of thousands or millions of rounds without a lot of cumbersome maintenance. We like steel for its durability. However, we don't like steel when the angle of impact is great enough to bust up projectiles on impact. We prefer steel with low angles of incident (around 15 degrees or less) combined with a system to swirl the bullet until it drops. Several companies now produce traps such as this. Action Target's Total Containment Trap is such a design.

Lubricants besides water are sometimes used with other steel traps. Some traps on the market use water, oil or grease as a lubricant. We tried water at one time as a spray inside the trap impact chamber, and it didn't make sense because of problems with nozzles and water handling pumps. A lot of handling pumps are involved when you use water and/or oil on the steel plates.

Action Target's Total Containment Trap (TCT) is a passive trap in its simplest format. In active mode, the trap actively takes the lead out of the air at the bullet impact chamber area.

The TCT has the 15-degree angle of incident with the steel plates going into a chamber with a small mouth. The mouth is designed in such a way that it doesn't let any splatter, ricochet or kickback. You can stand in front of the trap and shoot an automatic weapon. You can stand 6 to 9 feet from the mouth and fire downrange. The projectiles will go into the bullet collection chamber.

With rifle fire (and some hand guns) the bullet breaks because another medium such as rubber, water or oil is not used to decelerate it. We developed a filtering system that works very well. The filters, rated at full service, are only supposed to be changed at every 10,000 hours of operation.

TCT has a vacuum system hooked to the trap deceleration chamber. It sucks air out of the chamber at 350 feet per minute-150 to 200 cubic feet per minute-out of each chamber. Thus, TCT is a steel bullet trap that vacuums itself of all lead dust and particulates.

TCT's collection chamber has eight internal deflector plates that come into use after the projectile enters from the trap ramps. The bullets continue to deflect at low angles of incident to take energy out of the projectile.

With pistol fire, the projectiles squash flat and fall into a 4-gallon canister that you can change when it becomes full. The canisters get the bulk of lead fragments, but fine particulates and atmospheric dust are vacuumed through a special filtering system that has low cost yet high performance characteristics. It is relatively inexpensive to operate. The filter actually is 99.97 percent efficient down to .2 microns. It's almost HEPA grade, and yet it's a lot simpler and cheaper than HEPA filters. However, the entire TCT vacuum system can accommodate  a final HEPA filter if so desired.

The system comes with a backwash system. An air compressor back blows the filters every time they become impacted with too much material; the material drops into a barrel or small canisters. The active TCT trap has only one moving part-one motor-and that's what we thought was advantageous. It's a dry steel trap system versus a wet/oil or a rubberized system.

I would suggest, though, that you shop around with every manufacturer and see what they have to say. Look at every bullet trap system, hear the pros and cons from everyone. Then you can make the best decision for your range and situation.

With the TCT system, the contained lead is also cleaner, and you can sell it at higher rates than if the lead is contaminated with sand or other materials. That's another reason why we think the dry vacuum system is better. Do your homework and decide what system is best for your firing range.


What is the price of the Action Target TCT bullet trap system?


The pricing varies a bit depending on a few variables. Sometimes people purchase it without the lead dust collector vacuum system. Also it depends on the economy of scale a little bit, but a rough ballpark price is around $1,100 a linear foot. If you also go with the lead dust collector unit, and if it's not a very big trap, it might go up to $1,400 or $1,500 a linear foot.


What about the division between the collection chambers-since it's a 4-foot seam section, how is the bullet not deflected over the plate where the seam is?


The TCT is actually steel over steel; there are no horizontal seams, only vertical ones. We have made the trap with one seam. Our conventional way of installing the ramp plates is with 4- by 4-feet  sheets of armor plates. Action Target typically uses at least AR 500 for the main impact plates. However, we have used steel of different mil specs depending on the application. Especially if you're going to shoot assault firearms at your range, use steel that doesn't allow ductile fissures. You want the steel to stretch on the molecular level.

Action Target offers a couple of types of steel. We use it in 4- by 4-feet sheets. That's in case there is any damage to one plate section. You can remove a 4- by 4-feet section and replace it. The drawback is what you just mentioned. It's not one seamless ramp. The projectile follows its first impact plate, and then it's usually traveling through the air as the plates overlap. That means less abrasion on the projectile as it enters the mouth of the trap.

Also, hardened armor plate steel cannot be field-welded or it will lose the hardness characteristics. It also would be impossible to harden a damaged portion of a trap in the field. You would have to go through quite a process to repair a funnel trap that's one solid component.


What is the degree of impact on your entrance ramp plates?


It's around 13 degrees.


Why can't you use hardened rod and then surface-grind a plate for a field repair of a trap?


You can attempt that. There are still some problems to make it work well. The hardened welding rod works well but the hardened plate that is already in place is affected by the heat of the arch. There are hardened materials you can weld and grind. However, with the constant vibration of a bullet trap, the repair holes will vibrate loose unless you preheat the original mass area of the plate. That becomes another problem for field repairs. This requires quite a welding technique, especially in the field. It's a little tricky also, because the preheat treatment affects the original hardness of the armor plate.


Does the deceleration chamber also use welded joints?


No. The deceleration chamber is a bent chamber. It takes a 400-ton press break to bend those plates in the proper way. We wanted our impact plates to be smooth and one contiguous piece of steel, so we create impact plate surfaces with one hardened plate in the chamber section. It also serves a second purpose. It gives us an airtight chamber except for the entrance mouth which increases the efficiency of the lead dust collection unit or DCU. Freestanding plates would allow leakage along the seams. You'd then have to increase your vacuum suction and speed.


Developing, designing, building and retrofitting a firing range takes a great deal of research and effort. However, the results are well worth it. This presentation could only briefly address a few major areas for consideration when upgrading or retrofitting a firing range. Please consider becoming an information gatherer in your own personal quest for the best firing range for your goals.

Please note: Please see the handouts on the following page for a checklist and continuation of this presentation.

Handouts for Retrofitting Your Existing Range
By M. Scott Roberts, Vice President - Action Target, Inc.

Please Note: The following handouts were provided by Scott Roberts during his presentation.


Building, upgrading or retrofitting a firing range is a major undertaking. There is no quick way to achieve positive results. Retrofitting an existing firing range requires accurate evaluation of all existing range characteristics and careful implementing of range data in creating a plan of action. If the evaluation steps are conscientiously followed with as much range knowledge as one can gather, only then is the plan of action worth following. The final steps in the range retrofitting process are implementation and evaluation.

This presentation is intended to give a working plan for a successful range retrofit design which considers major areas of firing range problems and design for a possible plan of action. The information found in this presentation is only a starting point that will give you some necessary guidance and a workable philosophical outline and approach to successful firing range building and retrofitting. Actual results of your own range retrofitting project will depend on your working plan and goals.

A successful firing range retrofit or rebuilding is determined in the final evaluation step. Creating a safe shooting environment for all visitors and observers is the paramount goal. If the firing range that one builds or retrofits creates a range design that is safe for the users, safe for the neighbors, safe for the environment, and has a good deal of utility over reasonable range life expectancy, then one has achieved a worthy goal.

All firing range development and design input found in this paper has been developed for live firing only. Although a range may be used for various types of simulated firing and paint ball type shooting, this paper will not go into the design criteria necessary for those types of ranges. Action Target does not assume any liability for the use or misuse of any information contained in this paper or presentation. All items reprinted in this paper are done so with permission.

Know Your Goals

The value of a firing range is based on safety, correct firearms instruction, and successful management of people and resources at the range-not how big, how automated, how modern or how expensive the design of the range may be. The following is a brief outline of the steps required for defining goals and then following them through to completion for a successful firing range retrofit or range rebuilding.

1. Evaluation (existing range)

 A. Is anything wrong, or is there a desired improvement with our current firing range as it relates to:

  a. Safety?

  b. Shooter enjoyment?

  c. The public?

  d. The environment?

  e. Financial stability?

2. Plan of action

 B. What specific action will alleviate or reduce the problems identified in the first evaluation step?

  a. __________________________



3. Implementation

 C. Achieving the "plan of action" will require answers to the following:

  a. What are the costs of the improvements?

  b. Are the costs justifiable and/or recoverable?

  c. What is the time required for the improvements?

  d. What is the best schedule or time for implementation?

  e. Will the plan achieve the goal?

4. Evaluation (retrofitted range)

 D. What are the results of our actions as they relate to:

  a. Did the "plan of action" achieve the goal(s)?

  b. Were costs in line with planned estimates?

  c. Was time and scheduling in line with the plan?

  d. Are the results as expected?


Upgrading Indoor Ranges

Indoor ranges produce special challenges as it relates to construction, cost factors, safety, and utility. We could spend the entire class on a single consideration (such as ventilation) alone. However, for the scope of this presentation, we will review the following major considerations when seeking to upgrade or retrofit an existing indoor firing range.

1. Improving ventilation

Lead concerns on indoor ranges come in two major forms. Firing range ventilation deals with atmospheric lead particulates. Lead particulates in the air on an indoor range do not pose a health risk to the users or management if the ventilation system operates correctly and is maintained properly. Expelled gasses and projectiles from guns must be moved away from the shooter (and the shooting line) with a constant laminar atmospheric flow down range. Creating a negative air pressure at the bullet trap area is essential for achieving this goal. Moving the air too fast or too slow will create health hazards for the shooters and the range management. Regular maintenance and service of the ventilation system is very important for the proper operation of a system. When it comes to indoor firing range ventilation, use the experts, get a lot of opinions, and copy the test and working systems.

2. Cleaning the indoor range

 A. Never use a broom or dust cloth-only proper lead HEPA vacuums.

 B. Wet wash downs-the pros and cons.

 C. Proper protective clothing for range cleaning.

 D. Contracting your cleaning with an outside company.

 E. Cleaning and dealing with the lead down range and at the bullet trap.

 F. Safety, health, heating, air conditioning and ballistics in a totally contained environment.

3. Maintenance for the indoor range

 A. Plan your regular schedule and work your schedule as planned.

 B. Daily, weekly, monthly and bi-yearly needs.

 C. Do and keep lead level test results for the range and personnel.

4. Liighting, colors and curb appeal

 A. A well-lighted range is an inviting range.

 B. Do you need new colors or does drab and grey work for you?

 C. Curb appeal brings in visitors; what is inside brings them back.

5. Administrative controls and range management

 A. Using an organizational personnel chart.

 B. Follow-up and report on assignments.

 C. Qualify your range master(s) and then give them authority.

 D. Is it really fun to shoot here?

 E. Range communication and safety control devices.

Indoor Firing Range

Ventilation/Filtration System Considerations

As I am sure you are aware, many ranges are shut down due to ventilation problems. These ranges include those run by police departments, government agencies and commercial proprietors. The potential liabilities to the range owner and installation contractor are simply too great to prudently ignore. However, when properly designed, installed and operated, there should be no environmental problem.

     It is not enough just to have proper amounts of air flow in the range:

     1.   You must have diffusers that are properly designed and set.

     2.   You must have properly designed control panels.

     3.   You must have air balance and air flow checks made before startup.

     4.   You must have proper operating guidelines for housekeeping and maintenance of equipment.

For example: A range that has proper amounts of supply and exhaust air can experience swirling at certain shooting stations that will bring the lead back into the shooter's breathing zone. In fact, if not properly designed and installed, the range almost certainly will have problems of this type or similar air flow problems. If not properly designed, the range owner will usually spend more time and money to correct air flow problems than a properly designed system would have cost (not to mention the costs of the flawed system). If properly designed but not correctly installed, the system can be straightened out later, but there may be liabilities that the operator and installation contractor would encounter that could have been avoided.

The ventilation system in an indoor firing range is a specialized field that requires knowledge from past installations in order to avoid a hit-or-miss approach. Action Target's experience indicates that the odds are against a contractor properly installing a ventilation system the first time without some outside guidance, even if the system has been accurately designed. With a properly designed ventilation installation, it will normally take one to two days to fine-tune the air flow during startup.

You should purchase ventilation equipment only from a company that has positive independent test results from installed and operating ranges. Inexperienced suppliers will probably cost you time and money if they cannot supply you with proper installation and range operating guidelines.

     The ventilation equipment supplier should furnish you a written guarantee that the system will pass government agency standards when properly designed, installed and operated.

     After startup, the operator must follow both proper housekeeping guidelines and ventilation system operating procedures to insure continued compliance with government environmental standards.

Upgrading Outdoor Ranges

Upgrading outdoor ranges has a lot to do with the original design and purpose of the outdoor range. There are so many considerations and facets when it comes to an outdoor range. From site selection and terrain, to the neighbors and the environment considerations-an outdoor range comes with a great deal of variables. Lead concerns at outdoor ranges have become a major item for evaluation.

1.   Design improvements

     A.   What type of outdoor range is desired?

          a.   Qualification and bull's eye ranges.

          b.   Tactical or action ranges.

          c.   Steel reactive ranges.

          d.   Trap or skeet ranges.

     B.   Drainage: Where does the water go as it relates to:

          a.   Bullet back stops, berms or bullet traps.

          b.   Water run-off/speed volume, geography and erosion.

          c.   Groundwater and water table.

     C.   What design will create overall safety?

2.   Improving safety and public acceptance

     A.   Safety as a function of use/safety as a function of design.

     B.   Safety enforcement program.

          a.   Have a plan.

          b.   Evaluate, educate and enforce.

          c.   Range masters, coaches and safety officers.

     C.   Know your neighbors, zoning, local ordinances and become a bit political.

3.   Safety fans and ballistics

     A.   Spent projectiles and safety fans.

     B.   Baffles for sound and neighbor sanity.

     C.   Baffles for ballistic containment.

4.   Maintenance for the outdoor range

     A.   Range access considerations before range maintenance plans.

     B.   Who is responsible?

          a.   For damage?

          b.   For grounds keeping?

          c.   For target systems?

     C.   Plan a schedule and work it.

5.   Administrative controls and range management

     A.   Organizational charts.

     B.   Qualify your management and then give them authority.

     C.   Supervised and unsupervised usage.

     D.   Private sector and police department usage and management.

Capturing Spent Ammunition

Lead concerns at outdoor ranges have become a major item for evaluation when it comes to building or operating an indoor range. On outdoor ranges it is important to remember that as it stands now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not currently consider the lead on ranges an environmental containment problem unless the lead becomes discarded or abandoned. The lead in backstop berms and on ranges is not considered waste because it has been used for the purpose it was intended. However, if lead from a range is allowed to enter waters on or off the range, serious problems can arise. Although one could limit the lead problem at a firing range with the use of lead-free projectiles and primers, this approach is very difficult to enforce and is not practical at this time. Therefore, a review of the latest improvements in firing range backstops and bullet trap technology is in order.

1.   Containment

     A.   Are the spent lead projectiles at your range limited to a containment zone?

     B.   Lead travels with a companion-water, air and people.

     C.   Drainage, old steel traps, sand traps, rubber traps, indoor and outdoor concerns.

2.   Recovery

     A.   Recovery from earth or sand berms.

     B.   Recovery from old steel traps.

     C.   Recovery from rubber type traps.

     D.   Recovery from new age traps.

3.   Capturing

     A.   How the projectile is decelerated affects the recovery process.

     B.   What media are used-earth, sand, water, rubber, steel, oil, air, etc.?

     C.   Contamination and use of a second hazardous material for capturing bullets.

4.   Short and long-term health and safety considerations

     A.   Is your lead situation a time bomb?

     B.   Lead as it relates to the health of range visitors and range management.

     C.   Range hygiene and cost considerations.

Where to Get Help

Range development companies

The following is a brief list of a few individuals and companies that can give you guidance and input for your range development and upgrades.

Donald K. Yarnall                               Action Target, Inc.
D.K.Y. Enterprise, Inc.                        P.O. Box 636
12116 Dumfries Road                          Provo, UT 84603
Manassas, VA 22111                          Attn: Scott Roberts
(over FBI ranges for 20 years)             801-377-8033


National Rifle Association of America     Lead Industries Association, Inc.
Range Department                                 295 Madison Ave.
11250 Waples Mill Road                       New York, NY 10017
Fairfax, VA 22030                                 212-578-4750
(703) 267-1278 or


Environmental & Engineering Solutions, Inc.       Lorin D. Kramer
John Carter, P.E., PhD                                      Kramer One Architects/Planners
P.O. Box 280                                                   7221 East Virginia, No. 2
Mendon, UT 84325                                          Scottsdale, AZ 85257
801-753-6062                                                 602-941-9179


Articles, booklets and published materials available:

"NRA Range Manual"                  
Order #14840                        
National Rifle Association of America    
Range Department                   
11250 Waples Mill Road            
Fairfax, VA 22030                     
(703) 267-1278 or email range@nrahq.org


"Employee Guide to OSHA Lead Standards"
Lead Industries Association, Inc.
295 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10017


"Text of the OSHA LEAD Standard and Its Appendices"
OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1025            
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20210


"Lead Exposure and Design Considerations for Indoor Firing Ranges"
NIOSH Technical Information #76-130
Department of Health, Education and Welfare
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Division of Technical Services
Cincinnati, OH 45202


Video available:

"Total Containment Trap Video"
Shows 12 different types of bullet traps and their lead containment qualities.

Action Target
P.O. Box 636
Provo, UT 84603