Your Own Private Shooting Range: How We Set Up Our Range


We Built a Backyard Shooting Range! x
We Built a Backyard Shooting Range!

We chose the house we live in now because it had two shooting ranges. That came in handy when we decided to open a business centered around firearms education.

We have upgraded the pistol range to make it suitable for Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) classes. The rifle range will be next.

To make our range compliant and suitable for outdoor shooting in inclement weather, we did the following

  • Increased the length of the range to 25 yards
  • Added a loading bench for preparing to shoot
  • Bought 20 tons of dirt
  • Made a path through the woods from the dirt pile to the berm
  • Used a tractor to deliver the dirt one scoop at a time
  • Made sure the berm was tall enough to accommodate a stray upward shot
  • Made sure the berm was wide enough to accommodate a shot that veers left or right
  • Ensured that the berm was made of clean dirt, without rocks or other materials that would cause the bullet to ricochet toward the shooter
  • Cut down trees to make the shooting area wider
  • Cut down trees that were threatening to fall onto the range
  • Placed colored rocks at the edge of the range to signal target locations for the yardage specified in the CWP qualification rules
  • Graded the range for safe walking and accurate shooting
  • Bought a bench for those who are waiting for their turn
  • Erected a canopy over the shooting area to cut down on the effects of rain, wind, and temperature fluctuations
  • Made a custom moving target stand

Considerations For Your Outdoor Shooting Range

When you are in the planning phase, consider the following:

  • Are you inside city limits? Your city may not allow a shooting range because of the noise
  • Have you looked up your county’s ordinances?
  • Check for restrictions on your deed
  • How close are you to your neighbors? A suburban neighborhood with houses in close proximity may not be safe for shooting
  • How far is the closest obstacle? We looked at our plot map and pulled up Google Earth to see if any houses or buildings were in the direct path of the shooting range. It was about a mile to the nearest building
  • What will you use for a berm? Do you have easy access to your backyard for a truckload of dirt?
  • Figure up the cost before you start. As with all projects, add twenty percent for surprises.
  • If you know someone with a backyard shooting range, make a visit and see what obstacles the homeowner encountered in building the range

Pros and Cons of Your Own Range

The advantages to having your own range include convenience, free access, and a fun place to assemble your friends and family.

The disadvantages including the time and initial expense, the research involved, and the possibility of annoying your neighbors.

Take your time and plan your range before you start. If a range is worth building, it’s worth planning. Do it in stages if expense is a consideration.

The Preparation Phase

We used a few resources to make decisions about the range. I found this NRA website dedicated to shooting ranges.

You can buy a book from the NRA for $74.50 for  “basic and advanced guidance in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of shooting range facilities.”

The website also offers range insurance, assistance with planning your range, and even grants for organizations that want to establish shooting ranges and meet certain criteria. You can find a link to the ranges within fifty miles of your location as well.

But I wanted specifics, so I kept digging. I found this NRA post which lists the laws regarding shooting range protection in each state. South Carolina defines a shooting ranges as follows:

(1) “shooting range” or “range” means an area that is:

(a) designated, utilized, and operated by a person for the firing of firearms; where

(b) the firing of firearms is the usual, regular, and primary activity occurring in the area; and where

(c) the improvements, size, geography, and vegetation of the area are such that a projectile discharged from a firearm at a target would not reasonably be expected to escape its boundaries by virtue of the trajectory of the projectile, or by virtue of a backstop, berm, bullet trap, impact barrier, or similar device designed to prevent the escape of such projectiles.

Indoor Versus Outdoor Range

The indoor range range is prohibitively expense for most homeowners. It is inside a building and must meet very strict rules concerning ventilation and safety requirements.

The outdoor range has been constructed so that no shot can reasonably be expected to leave the shooting area. This is what you want.

Supertargetsystems.com lists the following dangers related to outdoor ranges:

a) Bullets missing the stop butt and leaving the range.

b) Bullets striking some part of the range other than the stop butt and ricocheting so as to miss the stop butt, and thus leaving the range.

c) Splashback of particles from target frames, bullet trap or stop butt.
d) Noise from the discharge of the firearm damaging shooters’ hearing.
e) Ejected cartridge cases or gas and propellant particles striking an adjacent shooter.

f) Glare from the sun affecting the shooter’s ability to see clearly the sights and targets.

g) People entering the danger area, or into the range itself.
h) Incorrect usage of the range.
i) Any extraordinary hazards e.g. low flying aircraft from a nearby airfield.

The Berm

Your outdoor range needs a stop butt. This is a barrier sufficient to stop a speeding bullet going in the intended direction. Ours is a big dirt berm. You want to the bullets to stop, not bounce back.

We started with a small berm suitable for one person to shoot at a time. We had a pile of dirt from other improvements we made on the property, and Chris used a tractor to move the dirt from the front of the property to the shooting range, but it wasn’t enough.

The work of moving the dirt was out of proportion to the benefit, so we paid a dump truck operator to bring us twenty tons of dirt. That’s not as big a pile as you might imagine.

In order to decrease the amount of time it took to move the dirt all the way to the back of the property, we cut a more direct path through the woods. This required using a chainsaw on a few skinny trees and then moving the stumps with the tractor.

Increasing the berm required more height and more width in order to accommodate three shooters at a time. We left enough room to the side of the berm to give the tractor access to the path for future needs.

The Length of the Range

The original length of the range was 20 yards. Moving the shooting bench back 5 yards increased the length of the range without causing a traffic problem.

The Shooting Bench

When we bought the house, two pieces of 2 x 8 were balanced on two sawhorses. This provided enough room for one or two shooters, but we needed enough room for a class of six students.

Chris made a simple wooden bench in the shape of a table, eight feet wide by thirty inches deep with a height of three feet. This gave us a stable, safe place to set guns and ammunition as well as cases and range bags without bumping elbows.

The Trees

The most immediate obstacle to lining up three shooters at a time was the width of the range. Trees on either side limited the width of the range to two shooters. We used a chainsaw to remove several small trees on the side of the range.

There were also bigger trees that threatened the stability of the range because they were hollow and had begun to angle toward the ground. A friend with tree cutting skills came and cut the bigger trees safely.

Watch the accompanying video to see him fell the biggest tree, which was about 70 feet high.

Maintenance of the forest will continue to be a part of keeping the range safe and functional. Trees age and can be attacked by such predators as boring beetles, making them prone to falling.

Pine trees are quick growing and shallow rooted, so watch them closely if they are a feature of your back yard. Hardwoods are more stable, but will have a bigger impact if they fall on your range.

You may occasionally need the services of an arborist, so find a phone number for one and keep it handy.

Keep the brush in the area of your range to a minimum and clear the leaves. Shooting is not likely to cause a fire on your range, but too much brush in your forest may be a fire hazard.

The Markers

With CWP classes you have to meet specific requirements, so we set up markers at the specified distances. This was accomplished quickly and easily by spray painting large rocks in different colors.

The Surface of the Range

When we started our CWP classes, we had students walking on the range and the target in one fixed spot. We had to grade the surface of the range to keep it from being a trip hazard.

We have a moving target now (see below), but we still have to keep the surface clear to facilitate easy movement of the wheels.

We have a dirt floor at present and we rake the leaves as needed. Later we may add fine gravel to keep the floor from becoming muddy when it rains heavily. Other possibilities include ground asphalt and mulch made from old tires.

A Place to Sit

Qualifying six people can take a while because they have to shoot 50 rounds each, reloading frequently. Those who are not currently shooting appreciate having a place to sit, so we bought a decorative bench to leave on the range. We move additional chairs from the front porch as needed.

Shade

The weather is the factor most likely to interfere with shooting outdoors. We schedule our CWP classes for every other Saturday and then deal with whatever the weather brings. In rainy weather, that meant timing the shooting for a clear moment.

To decrease the likelihood of getting wet, we ordered a 12 x 20 foot canopy designed to shelter a vehicle. We assembled it but left the fabric off the sides and back preserve visibility.

The canopy affords shelter from light rain and wind. It is white, so it disperses the heat and keeps the sun out of our eyes without darkening the range.

Moving Targets

The last improvement we made was the most complicated and the most useful for our purposes. When we bought the house we had stationary targets set up along the range. That was not practical for CWP qualifications.

Initially we constructed a simple target stand from length of pipe set in a configuration like a swing set, held together by connectors. We suspended the targets from the horizontal pipe by clips hung directly on hooks.

This worked, but the shooters had to keep moving to the next distance. Reloading took too long because the shooters had to go back to the bench each time.

We set half barrels upside down in the middle of the range as reloading stands, which improved the timing but was still awkward.

We decided it would be nice to have a mobile shooting stand, so we started with an eight foot 4×4 under each pair of legs and adding castors to roll the stand. This was extremely difficult to push because the two sides moved independently.

Next we added 10 foot 4 x 4s at the front and back to make the whole assembly work together. We traded the castors for six larger pairs of wheels placed at front, center, and back of the original 4 x 4s.

This greatly improved the rolling, and bracing the structure with diagonal pieces at the corners minimized its flexibility. We further stabilized the connections at the top with pieces of wood that sandwiched the connections.

The extra height made the targets too tall, so we suspended the cardboard backing for the targets from hooks attached to paracord. We used plastic clothespins to attach the targets to the cardboard, but we will be upgrading to metal clips designed to hold large amounts of paper together.

One further improvement was needed: a handle. We attached connectors at the front rail and connected three pieces of pipe in an inverted “U” shape. Now we can push and pull the frame easily.

We had our first class with the new canopy in place and the new rolling stand. The day was cool and pleasant, so we didn’t need the rain cover, but it dispersed the sunlight nicely.

The students were able to load their handguns at the shooting bench and then stand in one place for shooting. We rolled the target stand to each specified location while the students reloaded for the next round of shots.

We spent a lot of time and about a thousand dollars getting our range ready for our classes. Watch our YouTube Video to see how we did, and then think about whether to try it in your back yard.

Double Eagle Gunworks LLC hosts onsite Concealed Weapons Permit classes. See our schedule or contact us for an appointment. Join our newsletter to keep up with our events. Watch our YouTube videos for more helpful information about shooting. Keep reading our blog.

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Carla Pittman

Carla is a Speech Pathologist working in Home Health by day and a blogger by night. She married Chris in 2008 and is working to help him unite his love of guns with his passion for teaching others to carry safely. Her other impetus for blogging is to make Americans aware of their Constitutional rights, which are at risk in the current political environment.

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