New Shooter Series: How To Find a Great Range

Finding a range that can suit your needs can sometimes be difficult. I would encourage you to visit many to determine what will work best for you! I’ve visited a number of different ranges across the United States, and they can widely vary, from uber-modern to downright sketchy. Since I have my own outdoor range (living in the country has advantages!), I usually don’t seek out outdoor ranges unless I’m competing or training, but I’ve certainly visited many. Most of these observations are pertinent to both indoor and outdoor ranges. Here are a few things I like to consider when evaluating a range for membership or frequent visits.


Safety is paramount to any range facility. Quite frankly, I want to know that I and others will be safe, and will not leave with new holes or experience external circulation during the course of the visit.

Indicators that a range is engaged in more active safety practices can mean things like:

  • Posted range safety rules in a prominent location
  • Range officers available
  • New shooter orientation
  • Safe gun handling emphasized
  • Eye and ear protection are worn in the appropriate places at the range
  • Posted emergency response plan (e.g., what exact address or coordinates to provide to dispatch)
  • First Aid kit available, stocked, and replenished when necessary. Supplies should include a tourniquet at a minimum, and I appreciate seeing AEDs in the case of a cardiac event.
Women shooting at outdoor shooting range
A clean, well-maintained shooting facility, indoor or outdoor, makes for a pleasant experience!


When considering a range, pay attention to the facilities for a more pleasant shooting experience. There is no shame in the porta-potty game, but if there are appropriate facilities it just makes everything better. Are there restroom facilities available, and are they generally clean? Is there a place to wash your hands, especially after handling lead? Many ranges will make special soap available to you, which strips lead and other heavy metals off of your hands and I highly recommend washing up after shooting! Where do shooters gather before and after they shoot? Is this area able to handle the influx of shooters on a busy day? Are there observation areas where you can watch others shoot?


While I won’t turn my nose up at a range that has insufficient or poorly planned parking (hey, it happens sometimes), it likely means I may think twice before visiting again if there are other elements that make me hesitate. In general, parking should be easy to navigate, especially with larger vehicles. Outdoor ranges, especially, tend to attract a lot of trucks and large SUVs, usually due to the amount of equipment being transported. This can get clogged very quickly if the parking is insufficient.

Within reason, I think it’s usually a bit smarter to have a centrally-located parking area nearest the clubhouse/facility. That way, all the vehicles stay constrained to one area. The downside is, of course, you then transport your gear from bay to bay — which is usually why you will see a lot of carts at shooting events. The upside, though, is that any vehicular traffic around the bays is restricted to range officers in carts, ATVs/UTVs, which can make traveling around a bit safer for the pedestrian.

When visiting ranges with multiple bays which you can park at, make sure that you can get your vehicle parked in an accessible location, and that you do not create any hazards by parking where you really shouldn’t. Above all, though, the space should be able to accommodate guest and staff vehicles on a busy day in a safe manner. If you are regularly having to pull through muddy fields, park on severe terrain, or hope that the vehicles around you won’t block you from leaving, think twice. Allow yourself the option to leave quickly if needed. Sometimes it is more time-efficient to drive to a hospital than to wait on first responders in a remote area.

Couple in front of shooting facility
Unless you are shooting with night vision, it’s best to shoot when it is bright out, or when there is sufficient lighting available, such as the broad light sources pictured.


In an indoor facility, it is just not fun to shoot in a poorly-lit space. If the lighting isn’t great, there may be other things that are being skimped on as well — such as ventilation. At a minimum, you should be able to safely handle your firearm, load ammunition, and see fully down range and the space around you, as well as your target. Beyond that, if you are having to squint to see your target at a moderate
distance (say, 10 meters/30 feet), it may not be your need for prescription glasses — it may just be too dark to shoot comfortably. There is, of course, a difference between purposefully shooting in low-light conditions and just a poorly-lit range. Check out other facilities to compare.

In an outdoor facility, there are usually not too many lights available other than the standard clubhouse, road, and maybe some around bays. Most outdoor ranges will have open hours from sunrise to sunset, to keep patrons safe. Unless you are specifically training under low-light conditions or are purposefully shooting in the dark (e.g., infrared), avoid getting caught on the range after the sun goes down if the lighting does not support “night shooting.” Staying safe while shooting, and while around other shooters, is paramount.


This applies to indoor ranges, for obvious reasons. Ventilation via air handling systems is complex and expensive. A well-ventilated range is expensive to upkeep! Be thankful when you encounter these. Recognize that some of what you are paying for to shoot safely indoors is maintaining air that is safe to breathe! Without proper air handling, you will be inhaling materials that are toxic to your body.

If you are shooting by yourself or with others, and are regularly smelling or tasting gunpowder, feel the air is “thick,” it looks like a fog is in the air, or otherwise are finding it hard to breathe, seek fresh air — immediately! Even the best air handling systems have a bit of a hard time keeping up with rapid fire from multiple shooters at once but should dissipate fumes quite quickly.

Do not make it a habit of patronizing an indoor range if the ventilation is insufficient. Not only can it cause short-term negative effects, but the long-term effects can also have severe health consequences. It’s just not worth it!


Most ranges pride themselves on being clean and well-maintained. Even if the facilities are quite bare-bones, usually they will still be well-maintained. If you notice a lack of cleanliness, maintenance, or any other lack of attention to detail, take extra caution. This can be a sign that there may be less-apparent safety hazards around.

For instance, is there trash overflowing in trash bins — or even a lack of trash bins? Are the shooting bays littered with old equipment, rotting wood, or trip hazards? If there are sunshades, are they safe to stand underneath, or are there significant rust accumulation and holes where there shouldn’t be? Just like with anywhere, try to leave somewhere better than how you found it so that you don’t contribute to a worsening state — but remember to be safe.

The same goes for indoor ranges. If general maintenance and cleanliness aren’t maintained, there may be other things that are also overlooked. If you are the cause of damage, please do the range a favor and report it yourself so that they can make it safe for the next person. Sweep your brass. Take down your targets. Throw away your trash. Help the range out — but also make sure to choose ranges that are clean to begin with and help them keep it that way.

range officer and student preparing gear on table at outdoor shooting facility
Range officers and staff can be invaluable assets to a range.

Staff and Range Officers

Last, but definitely not least, are the staff and range officers that are employed or volunteer at the range. These individuals are so important to a facility that they can actually make or break a shooting experience! The staff is in charge of all of the elements above, and range officers (who may be staff) also contribute to maintaining a safe environment. They are there to ensure your safety, so please follow their guidance and any corrections they make with your firearms handling.

Most staff and range officers are extremely well-intentioned and are an asset to a range. But pay attention to their interactions with both you and others — are they politely and immediately correcting unsafe behavior? Do they identify risks and swiftly intervene when needed? Are they helpful and able to provide guidance about the range? Are they “patrolling” and keeping an eye on patrons? Perfect. But if you notice that their behavior is overly condescending, downright mean, aggressive, or flippant, think twice when patronizing that range. Everyone is entitled to a bad day. If you encounter unpleasant behavior, I have found it is best to be non-confrontational and do what they are asking (e.g., don’t load here, load over there — when I don’t see a safety difference). But if the behavior is rampant or fills you with dread, it’s not the range for you! Seek out a different place, whose staff will be more than happy to treat you with respect.

Not all ranges have range officers or even staff present. This may be especially true at secured outdoor ranges which may allow you on-site if you are a member. Usually, a safety orientation is required, but no staff may be present. In this case, it’s a good idea to have a friend with you. Also, let others know where you will be and at what time you expect to arrive home, just for safety!


I encourage you to try out indoor and outdoor ranges that suit your shooting needs. Every single range will have strengths and opportunities compared to others. Your goal is to find a safe, enjoyable destination to accommodate your shooting needs. If something isn’t working with a range you’ve chosen, check out others that may be in your nearby area. You never know when you might stumble across something great!

Known as “the eclectic one,” it’s probably easier to tell you what she hasn’t done. Meghan is an accomplished professional, consultant, wife, competitive shooter, researcher, writer, proud Army mother, and instructor. Her day job keeps her quite busy, but in the evenings and weekends, you are likely to find her outside on adventures with her horses, teaching a wide range of firearms classes, hosting shooting events, practicing fine art, and building a weird set of emergency skills that may or may not come in handy someday. There is no question she’s beneficial to have on a trivia team and is likely to be high up on anyone’s zombie survival lists. You can follow her on her Instagram account (@SmackRackandRoll) which is a play on words with firearms but also incorporates her former roller derby moniker from an internationally competitive team.

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