Thursday, February 16, 2023

Home Shooting Range

For many years, one of my dreams was to have a shooting range on my property. When my wife and I moved to rural Tennessee in 2017, I was able to start working to realize that dream. The back third of our property slopes up from the basement door on the side of the house all the way to the property line, which is fairly heavy woods, making it an ideal location for a range.

Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn't do much more than clear the area and mark the boundaries of the space. Then 2020 happened, and fairly early in that year my father died. I needed an emotional outlet, but I wanted it to be something constructive, so I grabbed a shovel and a wheelbarrow and started digging. Our soil is mainly clay, which can be easy to dig... unless it's too dry, in which case it's like rock... or it's too wet, in which case it's heavy and slippery.

By the time I was done a few months later, I'd excavated a six foot wide by eight foot deep bay in the slope outside the garage. At the rear, it's about five feet high, but the hillside slopes up another twelve feet or so. By very rough estimate, I moved over two tons of dirt.

cannot recommend taking on a project of this scale with hand tools! Rent a bobcat or hire someone who does excavation work; the savings in time and effort, not to mention physical pain, will be worth the financial expense.

I'm fairly happy with how mine turned out. At least so far. I plan to expand both its depth and width, as well as putting supports on the sides and the back to help with erosion control. Most likely I'll use old railroad ties for this purpose; unless large sections of armor plate are available, railroad ties are one of the more cost-effective options for home range backing.

When planning your range, there are several things to keep in mind. I'll be focusing on considerations for an outdoor range, as it's what I built, but many of these points (as well as others) will apply to an indoor range as well.
  • Legality. In locations where what's commonly called "sport shooting" is legal, people can shoot on their own property as long as they follow some basic guidelines such as not endangering their neighbors, not shooting too early in the morning, and not shooting too late at night -- in other words, by not being a jerk. Before I started my project, I talked to local law enforcement and checked the county regulations. As I live in an unincorporated area, that's as far as I needed to go. 
  • Property layout and shooting direction. It's essential that any shooting is constrained to a safe direction. My property is a relatively long and narrow plot, but if things were laid out differently, I might not have been able to orient my range optimally. I'm fortunate that my property slopes up in the right direction, otherwise I would have had to build a large enough berm to make sure fired rounds didn't escape the property. The minimum recommended height for a backstop is 10 to 12 feet, though higher is better.
  • Runoff and erosion. An outdoor range will be at the mercy of the elements. The last thing I wanted was for the shooting bay to become a duck pond after a heavy rain, so I made sure that the bottom sloped down as it approached the entrance. That didn't keep the back and sides from eroding from rain and runoff, though, which is why I'm planning to add supports as the project progresses. As I mentioned earlier, railroad ties are my first choice for this purpose.
  • Targets. Paper and cardboard targets are both safe and readily available. Steel targets are fun, but need to be set up and shot responsibly, whereas Tannerite can be extremely dangerous, even deadly, if used without proper care. Listen to my segment in Assorted Calibers Podcast #190 for more information. 
While there are additional considerations when designing and building a home shooting range, these are some of the more important ones in my opinion. For any of our readers who are considering a home shooting range, take your time and plan first.

Have fun, and safe shooting.



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