How to Own and Operate a Commercial Shooting Range

Controversy aside, gun ranges are growing in popularity, and many remain profitable businesses. This guide is intended for individuals who are considering opening a shooting range and learning about the pros and cons of indoor shooting ranges versus outdoor shooting ranges.

Besides the information presented in this guide, if you have additional questions that pertain to becoming licensed, creating a business plan, funding, or discussing the rules and regulations of owning and operating a shooting range, we kindly ask you contact your city or state’s enforcement or governing agency.

WeatherPort Shelter Systems (WeatherPort®) custom designs and manufactures high-quality outdoor structures and engineered fabric buildings used for outdoor shooting ranges. If you would like to discuss the many benefits of using a tensioned fabric structure, send us an inquiry using our contact form or call us at +1-970-399-5909.

Profitability and Market Outlook for Gun Ranges

In 2015, Research and Markets released a market forecast to 2020, which projects that the gun range market will reach $1.08 billion over that span. 8.35% is the annual growth rate projection, so there is plenty of opportunity for gun range businesses to make gains.

According to reports, Europe will dominate the indoor range market, while North America will maintain control over the outdoor market. In addition, with increased defense spending, the military will share 59.81% of the total market. These trends may help you decide on what sort of range you would like to open.

As with any other business, if you have a lot of sales/customers and operational costs are low, you will see a hefty profit. This sample income statement of an indoor range shows how profitable this type of business can be. For example, their operational costs were $900,582.66 while they made $1,628,219.05 in revenue. Their profit for that period was $727,636.39, with the most profit made from accessory sales. This spreadsheet gives an idea of operational costs and what venues to focus on (the most profitable parts of a gun range business).

As a market that is proven to be growing, gun ranges offer a significant opportunity for profit, which is something that business owners and/or investors in any industry may want to consider, especially if you are comparing industries in which to invest.

First Steps to Opening a Shooting Range

To be a shooting range owner, you’ll want to check with the gun control laws of your local municipality, county, or state. At the federal level, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for enforcing the legal use, possession, and safety of firearms. For local enforcement agencies, we recommend doing a quick internet search for your area, or contact your local law enforcement’s non-emergency number and inquire about the rules and regulations for opening a shooting range.

Like any other small business, you should be knowledgeable and have an interest in guns and shooting, an entrepreneurial spirit, establish funding, and create a business plan for opening a shooting range.

After you’ve acquired the funding and/or financing you need to open your gun range business venture, the next thing you should consider as you create your business plan is the type of range you wish to open. There are three types of ranges, outdoor, indoor, and hybrid. All have their own set of challenges and benefits. This article will focus on opening an outdoor shooting range and the benefits, drawbacks, zoning requirements, and start-up costs for this type of range.

sound decibel level graphic

Outdoor Gun Ranges

The Benefits of Outdoor Ranges

Outdoor ranges can be set in a variety of open-air (covered or uncovered) natural settings, which some shooters prefer due to the more realistic environment and more abundant grounds.

The benefits of outdoor ranges are:

  • More mobility
  • Multiple stations
  • Realistic scenarios
  • Reduced cost to build

Outdoor ranges provide more versatility than indoor ranges. Since the shooting range isn’t contained to a single building, shooters can move more freely between different areas of the shooting course.

With increased space, outdoor ranges can have multiple stations. In this way, shooters aren’t limited to shooting in a line and have more variety. Gun range owners can get more creative with the different shooting stations, with fun themes and decorations to enhance the experience. An outdoor range can take the simple hobby of shooting from a line or offer something far more engaging, creating a golf course style, gun range or even something as elaborate as an adventure park-style gun range.

Outdoor ranges are also capable of presenting more realistic scenarios to their guests. Targets can be placed in areas covering the span of the shooting range, at varying distances to bring more of a challenge. Additionally, vehicles can go from station to station, a tactic used in military training.

Finally, outdoor ranges are typically less expensive to build. The construction of an indoor shooting range is costly, requiring a lot of time, money, and materials to address the unique needs of indoor ranges.

Though outdoor shooting ranges do not require a building (nor costly HVAC systems and filters), a covered shooting bench protects guests from the elements so they can enjoy shooting year-round. “Shooting Sheds” are an excellent solution for outdoor shooting ranges. If you happen to have intermediate to expert-level carpentry skills, you can build a shooting shed using conventional construction materials (wood, metal, and concrete) in a matter of a couple of weeks to a month depending on the size and scope of the shooting shed.

For those without construction backgrounds and wishing to find a building solution that can be assembled in a matter of minutes to hours and installed onto virtually any level surface (including dirt or gravel) should consider a custom-designed outdoor structure from WeatherPort.

WeatherPort offers a large selection of building models to choose from. Individual or personal shooting sheds can quickly be set up with a heavy-duty outdoor canopy from WeatherPort. A WeatherPort canopy structure provides many benefits including large side openings, can be equipped with optional roll-up, roll-down or removable sides, is easily disassembled for seasonal use or quickly moved to different locations. Or simply set up your WeatherPort structure and leave it in place for decades of use!

For commercial shooting ranges, with many lanes, WeatherPort can design and custom-build structures that meet your needs.

For more information about using a WeatherPort structure for your shooting range, please contact us using our online form, or calling us at +1-970-399-5909 to discuss your building needs!

Weatherport shooting bay in a field.

Environmental and Safety Concerns with Outdoor Ranges

While outdoor ranges offer flexibility and variety, they do present some environmental and safety challenges.

An outdoor range’s greatest safety challenge is noise. Since the range is out in the open, it is more difficult to control the loud sounds from gunshots. People outside of the range can get irritated from the sound of gunshots if they are in hearing range. If an outdoor range is too close to a residential area, they may get a lot of noise/nuisance complaints from residents. Outdoor ranges typically can only be open from sunrise to sunset, under USDA regulation.

Other factors besides noise, can hurt non-shooters. Most importantly, lead contamination is the primary environmental threat with outdoor ranges. Lead is not water-soluble and can pollute water if the two elements come into contact. It can reach water in the form of rain runoff and contaminate soil, so outdoor ranges must be located far from water sources. Lead contamination impacts wildlife, too; animals can get sick from eating contaminated grasses.

Without proper care to contain lead particles from fired bullets, there is a serious risk of damage to the environment and natural ecosystems of wildlife. The possible consequences on the community and wildlife can make outdoor ranges less environmentally friendly and therefore, less optimal in some cases.

Drawbacks to Outdoor Ranges

shooting range problem with outdoor shooting range graphic

The disadvantages of outdoor ranges are:

  • Greater difficulty of bullet containment
  • Soil/water lead contamination
  • Remote/rural location requirement
  • Less convenient location for shooters

Since outdoor ranges often cover huge plots of land, there’s more ground to cover for cleanup of used bullets. Shooters can also use multiple stations, and even sometimes shoot from moving vehicles as part of tactical training. These combined factors make bullet containment difficult for an outdoor gun range. However, the appropriate recovery and disposal of used bullets is incredibly important, due to the presence of lead dust and residue that will contaminate the soil and water if left behind.

Soil and water contamination is a serious issue, and a disadvantage for outdoor ranges. These ranges must follow the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) laws, under which lead is considered hazardous waste.

Gun ranges have to register as generators of hazardous waste, but they are under contract. Owners are responsible for the safe and correct disposal of lead, including the use of lead reclamation services. These services allow owners to safely store lead until pick-up. Gun ranges must keep records of pick up and storage of spent lead bullets.

Outdoor ranges near bodies of water must follow RCRA as well as the Clean Water Act. To avoid violations, ranges can operate away from water or make sure it’s not near the line of fire.

If an outdoor range becomes more of a threat to the community and environment for failing to follow RCRA and CWA regulations, the EPA, government, or citizens can sue. Gun ranges can face a lawsuit whether they are open for business or not, so owners must be careful.

A business obstacle of outdoor gun ranges is the requirement that they be remote. Since they are outside and require a lot of space for loud activities, they must be located away from towns and cities. Outdoor gun ranges are almost always in rural and remote locations in order to follow the laws for noise. Unfortunately for gun range owners, this may create a barrier for some customers who are unable to travel outside of their town or city to go shooting. The remoteness of outdoor ranges limits their customer base. Shooters have to travel longer and to further distances, which may be less appealing.

State Requirements for Gun Ranges

Currently there are no special state license requirements to open a gun range, beyond those of opening any other business. Any issues with your state will likely be with zoning, and these laws vary from state to state. Cities will even have different requirements than others located in the same state.

Zoning Laws

There are no federal zoning laws restricting the development of gun ranges. Generally, gun ranges can only be on commercial property, but there can be special limitations depending on the state.

For example, in Washington state, the cities and towns determine zoning requirements. The state requires businesses selling firearms to be at least 500 feet away from schools.

In Illinois, some cities have more restrictions. In Evanston for example, gun ranges are “special use” and can only be located in industrial zones. In addition, gun sales can only happen at a store inside the range. Gun shops are not allowed.

When planning the location for your range, it’s best to work with the city in which you plan to be located in order to best decide where to open up shop. There is too much variance in zoning laws to plan this aspect without professional help. It’s better to work with city officials than to plan a range that you’ll end up having to move or stop building because it’s in a prohibitive zone.

Federal Firearms Licensing

While there is no special license necessary to own and operate a gun range, if you wish to rent or sell firearms or firearm accessories, you must have Federal Firearms Licensing (FLL).

Federal Firearms Licenses require fees based on manufacture, sale or import of firearms. For your gun range business you would need an 01/02 License to rent and/or sell firearms. If you choose to house collectables and 03 license as well.

Having FLL will increase the profitability of your business, since you can legally sell firearms to shooters. This will make you the most money after you open your business, until you have made a name for your range.

The license is more expensive when you first get it. You can renew your license every 3 years at a cheaper cost.

Gun Range Start-Up Costs

Start-Up Costs Associated with Outdoor Ranges

Outdoor ranges require less equipment, and equipment that is typically much cheaper than indoor range equipment. You can even make some of the equipment and structures yourself at a low cost. Outdoor ranges also don’t need a building, which cuts down on costs as well.

The bulk of the start up cost will come from materials to build barriers, bullet catchers, etc. You would also need to plan for labor costs to build these items if you can’t build them yourself. Finally, you will need to pay for a plot of land large enough to have a range. To give you an idea of potential costs, check out this article about Liberty University’s outdoor range. They plan to build on a 500 acre plot and it will cost $3 million.

Business Planning for Gun Ranges

Pricing Services at Your Gun Range

When determining pricing for customers to use your gun range, the key is in keeping it affordable, while having a surplus to make a profit. Gun ranges often have membership fees, lane fees and/or hourly rates. You’ll have to determine what members get (hourly rate discounts, free bullets, free training, etc.) to find the right price for return customers.The Range Report released a price sampling of range fees you may want to reference when setting prices.

You also need to price any additional services or products you plan to offer. These may include personal training, classes, rentable rooms in your building. You’ll want to compare your rates with ranges of equal weight in your area.

Securing Funding for Your Range

After following the earlier tips and information listed in this guide, you should have a complete business plan and idea of the sort of range you want to build. You also should have your range location approved by the city or town you’re located in, to ensure it’s allowed for this kind of use before you apply for any loans, grants, or investment.

Since you need a large sum of money, you will probably need to get funds from multiple sources. Potential sources for funds:

  • Personal savings
  • Community investment
  • Friends
  • Grants
  • Investors
  • Loans

A good place to start is with your own personal savings, since this may be the most quickly available money and it is interest-free. See what you can afford to put into your range. Personally investing in your gun range also shows potential investors and bankers you believe in your business.

The community and personal friends are great sources as well. One idea is to start two separate GoFundMe accounts, one for the community and one for friends.

For the friend account, be sure to talk about what the range means to you. Talk about other sources of funding you are working on and share your business plan. Show them you are starting a legitimate business and you may get their support.

On your community page, you should focus on people who live in the neighborhoods around your range site. Not only will this produce potential customers, it will show the demand for a range in that area. Investors and bankers will be more willing to loan if you can show there’s a demand.

Grant applications can take time, but it’s worth it if you win! This is one of the best options because you get a decent sum of money that you won’t have to repay. The NRA site has a list of grants you can check out and apply for if you are eligible.

The appeal of having an investor is that you can get whatever sum they are willing to put into your range. You could get thousands you don’t have to pay back, if you give up a piece of the business in exchange. The drawback of course is that you have to share a stake in your business. If you don’t mind sharing the profits, though, this is another good option.

Applying for a loan should be the last option you choose for financing your gun range. Some banks may require a collateral or charge higher rates for small businesses, so that’s something you should prepare for.

Building Your Outdoor Range

An outdoor range doesn’t require any extra construction or special equipment, so you can set up fairly quickly after you purchase the land.

Vegetation can also lower setup costs. You will need a backstop berm, and it can be man-made or out of vegetation. Keep in mind that vegetation requires more upkeep. Sandbags or cement blocks can secure backstops.

A bullet box is an alternative to a backstop berm. An option for a low cost bullet box is a tree butt and three-sided box lined with industrial belting and filled with sand. Chicken wire can hold up targets.

An exterior berm prevents bullets from leaving the range. It must be 12ft tall with sidewall slopes, and can be made from vegetation or other materials. An interior berm keeps bullets from leaving the bay. It must be a minimum of 8ft tall with a slope and flat top that is 4ft wide.

You may also want a firing line bench rest with a seat and platform for shooters to aim shots. A firing line enclosure sits behind shooters and stops fired bullets. It sits over the firing line, and also helps prevent blue-sky.

Bullet catchers are required, and are installed perpendicular to the backstop berm. This device makes bullets come back down on the range so that you can effectively collect them and dispose of them appropriately. Baffles are optional. They sit above the firing line to catch bullets and trap some sound. You should note that, while very useful and effective, they are expensive to install.

Vegetation can also block sound. Grass and shrubs, depending on height and thickness, can reduce 5 to 50 decibels in a 300ft area. Trees can reduce sound by 3 to 23 decibels in a 300ft area.

Though outdoor shooting ranges don’t require a building, a covered shooting bench protects guests from the elements so they can enjoy shooting year-round. “Shooting bays” are an excellent solution for outdoor shooting ranges.

WeatherPort provides multiple building solutions that are ideally suited to serve as both temporary and permanent shooting stations, including the Canopy Series for one to two lanes and the Jubilee Series for multi-lane outdoor shooting ranges. Both of these building solutions include architectural membranes that can endure prolonged exposure to high solar (UV) loads, hot and cold temperatures, strong winds, rain, and heavy snow to create a weatherproof shooting structure that will last decades — no matter the weather. See Weatherport’s shooting bay structures.

Some final tips:

  • If possible, gate your range to keep out non-shooters/wildlife
  • There must be a driveway leading to your range
  • You can also control noise with an elevated or depressed range

Launching Your Gun Range

This is the point where you are preparing to open your range and want to attract shooters (finally)! Initial safety should be your number-one priority, but you should also plan branding and promotion – they are key in attracting potential customers to your new gun range and business.

How to Keep Your Gun Range Safe

You want shooters to have an enjoyable experience so they will want to come again or become members. Part of giving shooters a great experience is having a safe range. In addition to the information provided earlier in this guide about controlling sound, have ear plugs available for shooters. You could also make ear protection mandatory at your range.

Check air filters and HVAC systems frequently to make sure they are working properly. Also never allow shooters to eat on the firing line. This will help limit lead exposure from shooters.

If you will be hiring employees, make sure you are aware of OSHA guidelines. Failure to protect employees can lead to closure and costly fines. Be sure to give employees protective clothing and gear for lead exposure. You should also train them on lead safety, and encourage them to change clothes upon leaving the range.

As the business owner, you should be very knowledgeable about gun safety to prevent any accidents on the range. Post appropriate signs about gun safety throughout your range to remind shooters of any potential risks or dangers. Also include signs about range safety with rules for the range.

Branding Your Range

The first step in branding is knowing your customer. Unless you have targeted your range to a niche group, you should brand your gun range to appeal to anyone from police officers to first-time shooters. Make sure your brand attracts the kinds of shooters you want in your range.

Before you can brand your range, you must know your purpose and what makes you special. Do you want your range to be more social or used for training purposes? What do you offer that makes differentiates you from other gun ranges in the area?

Next, develop a look and style for all of your documents and promotional materials such as business cards, signage, and merchandise. Think of a logo that is easily identifiable. You will be using it for any advertisements, building designs, and swag so it must be appropriate for all platforms.

Finally, set up a website and get active on social media platforms. After potential customers see your logo or advertisement, they will look for more information and it must be available.

Advertising and Promotions

Aside from word-of-mouth, advertising is the way to get more people to come and use your gun range. Before you open your doors for the first time, get a plan in place to promote your gun range in local newspapers as well as using digital marketing methods.

Your advertisements should include any promotions offered at your range. Think about giving special discounts or reduced membership fees when you first open. Opening day is a good day for promotion as well. You can give out free swag with your logo, which customers can wear and promote your gun range whenever they wear it. T-shirts and hats are especially good because customers can wear them at any time, as opposed to branded gun accessories that they may only use at the range.

Advertising isn’t just for promotion; it can help minimize questions from potential customers. If you wish to cater to a wide demographic, you must prepare for questions. Answer common questions within your advertisements to do the work for the customer and make it easier for them to simply jump in the car and head to your gun range.

For example, first-time shooters may not know that they don’t need a gun permit to shoot. So your advertisements can include statements like, “no permits necessary, come learn from an experienced instructor.” In that way, you draw in a customer you may not have had the opportunity to reach otherwise.

Consider NSSF Star Rating Status

Reviews and ratings are another great way to pull customers in. It shows them you are credible and offer quality, safe services.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation has a star rating system to award quality ranges. Ratings range from 3 to 5 stars. The NSSF site provides a rubric with the criteria to get a star rating. Once you are ready, you can apply directly on the NSSF site.

Requirements include offering services to help your community. You can impact your community by lecturing schools on gun safety, offering classes and letting officers train at your range.

We are excited to hear from you and learn about your building project! Please send an email inquiry using the form below!