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November 30, 2017

Behind the Firing Line: OnTarget Range and Tactical Training Center

By Peter B. Mathiesen

NSSF’s “Behind the Firing Line” column works to accomplish two things. First, it recognizes those ranges that have met the stringent requirements necessary to achieve an NSSF Three-, Four- or Five-Star rating for excellence. Second, it works to explain how these ranges met specific criteria within the Star-Rating Range Program, so that other ranges working to make the grade can discover ideas and guidance for their improvement. For more information on NSSF’s Star-Rating Range Program, visit
—Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Range Services

OnTarget Range and Tactical Training Center, Crystal Lake, Illinois

Opened in 2012, this range is located in northern Illinois, 20 miles south of the Wisconsin border and 50 miles northwest of the Chicago city limits. The shooting lanes utilize over 17,500 square feet under roof, with 12 75-foot pistol and 12 150-foot rifle lanes. An additional 3,000-square-foot retail store stocks an average of 365 new firearms, with a revolving stock of 135 rental guns. There are also training rooms, a customer waiting area and office space.

OnTarget employs a staff of 24 full- and part-time employees, 12 of whom are certified NRA range safety officers (RSOs). The facility is open Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. and Sunday 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. The range is open for all holidays except Christmas and Easter.

As a Five-Star NSSF range, the facility meets best practices standards for state-of-the-art design. This ensures a high level of safety and comfort for workers and customers. Our interview with this range included Bo Strom, CEO; Judy Claxton, Business Development Manager; and Tom Dorsch, Director of Operations.

Creating Something from Nothing

On Target Range - Behind the Firing line
The large staff at On Target includes women, essential to creating the family-friendly environment for which the range is known.

Although many business startups begin with grand plans of massive space and a large real-estate acquisition, OnTarget founders saw an opportunity with what they had.

“I was in a board meeting with another company when someone was discussing the potential profit in the shooting range business. It just so happened we owned a piece of property in a business park that was exceptionally limited in its building uses. With a high-pressure gas line underground, overhead high-tension power wires and a long horizontal footprint, the property was not well suited for many types of office, warehouse or manufacturing spaces. However, it seemed to work well for a shooting range,” said Strom.

Armed with design plans, the OnTarget facility quickly emerged. The need to maximize space required vertical rise.

“To keep a roomy feel for our training rooms, the building required a second floor. Our administrative office space suffered, though, and offices for the owners, Bo and Judy, were moved off-site, as the training rooms are pivotal to the success of many of our events,” said Claxton.

OnTarget was operational by 2012.

Earning Five Stars — And the Meaning of Clean

On Target Range - Behind the Firing Line
OnTarget boasts an ample firearms inventory.

OnTarget applied for NSSF Five-Star Rating after it opened its doors. With the state-of-the-art ventilation system, the company was well on its way toward accomplishing that goal.

“At the time of construction, we were just starting to communicate with NSSF. We knew our ventilation system was key to the long-term success of the range. Expanding the system to the highest levels of performance was one of the smartest design decisions our company made. The air in our facility is notably cleaner than the air outside. Our clients comment on it when they walk in the door every day,” said Strom.

The NSSF identified further changes it advised the range undertake—simple but important adjustments to improve operational efficiency and environmental safety on site.

“NSSF recommended staff members wear a clear and readable name tag, and advised cleaning regimens for our filter systems and range area, as well as protective clothing employees must wear when executing cleaning tasks. It also suggested a lead testing schedule, expanding our first-aid kit and adding a defibrillator,” said Claxton.

“The range is in a constant state of upgrading,” Claxton continued. “One recent addition was lead testing the RSO’s vests. This is a perfect example of adding cleaning that’s important to the safety of our employees and our clients,” she said.

Claxton added that keeping the facility clean to the eye and nose are key to increased business from families, women and first-time shooters.

“Bright, clean working and retail environments are features first-time shooters want, even if it’s subconscious. It’s a big part of making them feel comfortable and invited. We make it a priority,” she said.

Shooting With a Purpose

On Target Range - Behind the Firing line
The women’s programs at On Target are extremely popular.

OnTarget has tried and tested numerous events. With recent weather turning northern Illinois into a virtual skating rink, the holidays signal the beginning of its strongest six months.

Events create a prime opportunity to convert new shooters. While most of the women’s events are popular and growing, it’s actually the family and couples’ events that have spawned the most new business.

One of the growing winter events has been a couples’ night called “Bullets and Bourbon.” The evening focuses on training and range time. Afterwards, the class meets for dinner at a local, high-end restaurant that features wild game.

“We wrap up the evening off-site at the bar sampling some of the finest bourbons in the world. The evening includes a game menu for dinner. Our clients really love it. We charge $85 for this event, which includes a safety review, instruction, range time followed by bourbon sampling and a full dinner. The restaurant has enjoyed the exposure to our clientele,” said Dorsch.

On Target Range - Behind the Firing line
On Target’s Tot Shots program teaches younger kids to shoot with single-shot .22 LR Chipmunk rifles. Sessions are kept short to match the attention span of the youngsters.

A popular youth event for seven- to 12-year-olds (with a responsible adult) is “Tot Shots.” To hold the kids’ attention and interest, this program includes 45 minutes in the classroom after which participants shoot .22 Chipmunk rifles for up to 45 minutes. Over time, some young shooters move up to Ruger 10/22s.

At Christmas, at the “Ugly Ornament Shoot,” patrons fire upon less-than-desirable aging Christmas ornaments, while the “Grinch” event uses a target with the unsavory green character gripping an ornament in his gnarly hand. If a shooter hits three rounds in the ornament, a gift is given to charity. “We tie many events to charitable causes. We’ve found that has a notably positive impact on participation,” said Claxton.

One of the growing custom classes attracts families for private sessions.

“There has been significant growth for a shooting experience where an instructor puts a plan together for a private family group. These are often scheduled with up to five participants. During the booking, goals are established. Then a specific focus is set to reach those goals. For example, it might be rifle proficiency or home-defense handgun training,” said Dorsch.

Dorsch added that setting proficiency goals are important. Not only do family members gain confidence and marksmanship skills, the focus on achieving goals prompts the families to book more lessons.

One impactful draw to the private classes is the VirTra big-screen firearms training simulator. The interactive, high adrenalin, video-based scenarios challenge trainees to make reasoned “shoot/don’t shoot” decisions.

“This is the same system police use for training. It’s super-realistic, and we are the only range in Illinois to have one,” said Dorsch.

A Reason to Return

Claxton pointed out that an alliance of engaged, happy employees is one of the range’s great attributes and a key to its growing success.

“I have a background in psychology. Tom’s extensive firearms and field experience in the military and with the U.S. Department of State Anti-Terrorism Program creates a dependable vetting for new hires. We can teach them about guns, safety and our way of training, but what we can’t teach them is how to be friendly, engaging, and sincere,” said Claxton.

Whether it’s a customer who brings new friends or family members or someone who wants to see their shot-up ornament on the store display tree, this company understands repeat business.

“It may seem over-simplified,” said Strom, “but giving a customer a reason to return to the range is critical to our success. At OnTarget, that translates to clients who are always having fun and feeling valued.”

You may also be interested in: Behind the Firing Line: Shooters World

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