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October 24, 2018

Outdoor Range Lead Reclamation — A Process That Can Pay Dividends

By Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Shooting Range Services

Understanding the needs of your firing range and how to effectively plan a lead reclamation and maintenance schedule is very important, but those needs and plans will differ between indoor and outdoor ranges. We’ve talked before about reclaiming lead from indoor ranges, so for this column I spoke with Jim Uhlinger, Senior Range Engineer with MT2 firing range services, to discuss some of the common questions surrounding lead reclaimed/recovered from outdoor ranges, both rifle and pistol ranges and shotgun ranges offering clay target sports.

Zach Snow (ZS): Jim, would you give us an overview of determining the right time to reclaim lead from an outdoor firing range?

Jim Uhlinger (JU): Typically, lead reclamation for either rifle and pistol ranges or shotgun ranges should be carried out every three to five years, depending on the volume of activity your range experiences. Developing site-specific environmental stewardship plans for your range can help with your overall bullet containment and lead reclamation practices. That said, safety for your range’s shooters and staff must be considered first and foremost. Physical safety for shooters by avoiding ricochets off impact areas, for example, is one an outdoor range manager might not think about. But lead particles from ricochet can travel up to 50 yards or more, so it’s important that you carefully and regularly inspect backstops and the overall range to see where the lead is.

ZS: What other factors need to be taken into account?

JU: In addition to shooter safety, ranges must also focus on the environment. It is critical that ranges formulate management practices to avoid offsite releases of lead. A key factor in protecting the environment is verifying that lead bullets and shot are contained within the berms and property lines. This can be done by:

  1. Designing adequate danger zones for rifle/pistol ranges along with EPA best management practices (BMPs).
  2. Ensuring shotgun range shot fall zones are completely within the range’s property boundaries.
  3. Regularly evaluating surface erosion conditions and drainages to reduce the potential for off-range lead migration.

We always recommend that periodic inspections of the downrange areas be conducted to confirm whether lead is staying on the range or potentially getting off-site. This inspection can be included in your environmental stewardship plan for the range. As soon as you start seeing lead in places you don’t expect it to be, it’s time to start thinking about containment and maintenance remedies.

Lead Reclamation

ZS:  Jim, are there major differences in reclaiming lead from outdoor ranges designed for rifle/pistol shooting compared to shotgun ranges offering clay target sports?

JU: Yes, but the concept is the same at either type of range: Find the soil that has the lead, separate and concentrate the lead, recycle the lead and, if beneficial, treat and best-manage the soil by putting it back on the range. That said, the tools and techniques used for lead reclamation on a rifle/pistol range are different from those used on shotgun ranges. There are two reasons for this.

The first is because the typical size and shape of lead obtained from rifle/pistol ranges and shotgun ranges may be significantly different (the soil matrix is usually different as well). Bullets and bullet fragments are expected to be around a quarter- to a half-inch or bigger (6.35mm to 12.7mm or larger). Lead shot can vary from 1.5mm to 2.0mm in diameter.

The second reason has to do with lead impact on the soil. On rifle and pistol ranges, berms are designed to receive and concentrate lead in areas behind targets. Bullets and bullet fragments may be found one to two feet below the surface of a rifle/pistol range soil backstop where the berm may consist of sand or clay. Shotgun pellets, though, are typically found within one to four inches of the surface in a shot fall zone.

The key to lead reclamation on either type of range is to separate the lead from the soil and any vegetative debris. Based on our experience, the separation must be done by a system capable of separating lead from soils based on the lead size (using a screen) and on lead density (using a finishing system) to obtain the highest quantity and quality of lead for recycling.

One other thing to consider is that there’s a difference in the value of the lead between these two range types. Bullets and bullet fragments are typically multiple sizes and will splatter and hold onto the soil. Lead shot, of course, has a more regular spherical shape. As such, lead bullets and bullet fragments are considered scrap metal by the recycler and likely will be re-melted, whereas lead shot can be cleaned and reloaded and/or go to melt. Therefore, we typically see a better price from recyclers for lead shot.

ZS: Is there a benefit for a shooting range to have MT2 or other service providers come out to reclaim the lead?

JU: Yes. Many credible lead reclamation companies will share some of the proceeds generated from the recyclable lead recovered. However, many variables come into play when determining how much, if any, a range will receive. These elements include the equipment and technologies being used, methods to maximize the lead reclaimed from the range and any relationships the provider has established with top recyclers across the country. The relationships providers have established, can help defray the cost of your lead reclamation project because they are able to get top dollar for all the reclaimed lead, both lead shot and lead bullets. We’ve been in the business since 2000, and we create a product that is valuable to these recyclers, because we have invested millions of dollars into cutting-edge tools, techniques and methods to maximize lead reclaimed from a range. Because we obtain the highest possible lead proceeds, MT2 generally shares these proceeds with the range owner.

Outdoor range Lead reclamation

ZS: What kind of dollar amount from recycling can a range expect to receive and offset some of the cost of the reclamation project?

JU: Lower-use rifle/pistol ranges can generate up to $30,000. That happened with a DNR range we recently worked on in Iowa. If, on the other hand, the range sees heavy use, such as a law enforcement range in a major metropolitan area of Washington we worked with, that total can be much higher. That Washington range generated more than $100,000 in recycling proceeds. Bottom line, though, is that lead reclamation at a rifle/pistol range typically will generate a significant offset to the cost of performing lead reclamation, and it may even generate enough money to pay for the project and have some left over.

Shotgun ranges vary with usage and geometry, but a larger trap range, one with five or more heavily used fields, may generate $200,000 or more every five to 10 years. As a rule of thumb, though, shotgun range reclamation is typically performed when enough lead shot is available to cover the costs with a credit back to the range of up to 50 percent.

In either range scenario, the key to maximizing reclaimed value is careful assessment of the usage and lead present, followed by excavation, efficient separation, concentration equipment and utilizing a firm that has nationwide lead recycler agreements to receive maximum values, rather than local value for recycled lead.


Have questions about your range and range management program? NSSF encourages you to work with one of our Range Action Specialists, who can provide onsite consultations. For more information, contact Zach Snow, NSSF Director, Shooting Range Services, at

About MT2
MT2 Firing Range Services is a leading provider of indoor and outdoor firing range lead reclamation and maintenance. Now in its 18th year, MT2 offers full-scale outdoor and indoor firing range environmental, maintenance and construction services at more 2,000 ranges nationwide and for law enforcement, military and commercial ranges in all 50 states.

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