The Undercover Shooter — 01 May 2013


Capital Options

Convenience for travelers to the D.C.-Baltimore area

Business travel pays. It can also cost precious time away from the range. With a little planning, however, a business trip can offer new opportunities for shooting enthusiasts.

Such was the case on a recent business trip to Maryland. My experience with two local ranges began long before the wheels screeched onto the BWI tarmac. Two things made this possible. Both ranges had websites that were listed on WhereToShoot.org, an online tool that helps shooters find ranges to match their needs.

The site showed me several Baltimore-area options.  For my sneak-away shoot, convenience was key. I settled on two indoor handgun ranges that were within 15 miles of my downtown hotel, open to the public on Saturdays and offering handgun rentals.

Range A
No frills firing range 

The traffic carried me from the Interstate to the visitor’s gates of Fort Meade and nearly back again before I spotted the small range sign behind a Jiffy Lube. It was still 20 minutes before opening, yet a dozen men with small bags stood quietly at the door. The lock popped open, and the men checked in with the efficiency of Starbucks’ regulars.

“Rules are eyes and ears before you open this door,” said a staff member, pointing to the first of two doors between the retail area and the lanes. In a moment, handgun fire was audible. Several staff members filled gun display cases and others helped customers. All were respectful, reserved and focused on moving people along safely.

After a while, Matthew asked from the counter if he could help. I asked about a holster for my .357. He asked if I was carrying and explained that doing so in Maryland with an out-of-state CHL may be rewarded with a five-year stint. With that he directed me to a holster chart. I looked over the chart and returned for a lane.

Matthew asked me to read and sign the range rules. He then reviewed safety rules and protection for eyes and ears, and he explained their two-door “air-lock” system that was meant to reduce noise. He asked what I wanted to shoot and rattled a blur of options. I settled on a Sig Sauer P226 9mm. He asked about my experience and demonstrated the handgun’s features and operation.

The shooting position was roomy, well lit and recently renovated. Casings, though, remained from the previous day. The Sig was clean and in good condition and operated well. Several staff members patrolled and monitored through the plate glass separating the retail area and the lanes.

After a box of rounds, I returned the handgun and other gear. A woman behind the counter sent me on my way with a smile. And, I left content with the experience and the facility.

Range B
Learning and retail center

A hilltop range sign was clear from the busy intersection below and led me straight to the door. Handicapped parking spaces were reserved at the front. Two young women climbed the front steps.

“Good morning,” welcomed me at the door. All staff members were helping others, but they each greeted me. The retail space was large, well lit and laid out with an attention to detail. Guns, ammunition, apparel and other gear were there. Not a sound could be heard from the shooting range.

Billy came over and offered to help. I asked about a .357 holster. We spent 20 minutes discussing options and the strengths of each. Larry offered additional insight and a few funny stories and, upon request, pointed me down the hall to the firing range.

I passed classrooms and a community room before the range sounds rang. Jeanny greeted me at the range desk. She asked me to read and sign the safety rules and offered a modest selection of range guns. I chose the Walther P99 QA 9 mm. She gave me protective gear for my eyes and ears and pointed me to the lanes.

A range officer monitored shooters. On the wall of my shooting position hung range rules and a list of fundamentals: position, grip, sight alignment and so on. Casings rolled arches on the floor, so I swept them with away my boot.

While I loaded my magazine, an instructor’s voice rang from the next lane, “Rear sight blurry.  Front sight in focus. Get them level.” Others coached on safety, technical and tactical points. The Walther was clean and operated well; and I picked up a few pointers by listening between magazines. On my way out I studied the diagnostic targets that hung near the lane exit. I returned my gear to Jeanny and stopped in the retail shop to visit a while longer, already considering my next visit.

 
UNDERCOVER SHOOTER SCORECARD
Each category is rated on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest score.
Editor’s note: The Undercover Shooter is an experienced recreational shooter but is not trained in technical aspects of range design and operation.

Range A Customer Satisfaction Rating

Signage and Visibility 3 

  • The range has two signs, but they blend with those of surrounding businesses. The range is set at the back of a parking lot and is obscured by several roadside businesses.
  • It would be easy for a visitor to drive past the facility.

Layout and Setting 3.5

  • The range is located in a strip mall.
  • The facility is divided into a small store-front retail area and the 16 lanes, which are located at the back of the building.

Retail Product Availability 4  

  • The relatively small retail area is jam-packed with firearms and accessories. The facility is a stocking dealer for many long-gun and handgun manufacturers. Apparel and other accessories are perhaps underrepresented.

Rental Availability 5  

  • From .22 to .44 magnum, at least seven calibers of handguns, with several makes and models of each, were available for rent. They advertise more than 70 handguns for rent.

Staff Friendliness 3.5

  • The staff members were cordial and helpful, but busy.

Safety 4.5

  • Safety is emphasized on the website and in person. Staff gave a safety review, stressed the importance of safety equipment and safe shooting practices.
  • The casings on the floor posed a safety hazard.

Programs and Membership 4.0

  • A handgun safety course comes with all gun purchases, but the range offers no other courses.
  • An individual annual membership costs $200 and includes free range time, an invitation to a members-only sale, and priority shooting-lane access. Fees are discounted for families, members of the law enforcement and active-duty military communities and other renewing members.

Cleanliness 4

  • The storefront retail area, bathrooms and the range were clean but a bit worn.
  • The casings in the shooting positions were safety and cleanliness issues.

Comments/Impressions: 

  • The facility feels like a workshop, a place where people come to practice their trade.

 

Range B Customer Satisfaction Rating

Signage and Visibility 4

  • The facility is set on a hilltop and displays a large sign.
  • The range is highly visible to visitors.

Layout and Setting 4.5

  • The range is located alongside a Holiday Inn at a major intersection.
  • The facility is divided into five main areas: the storefront retail area, a community room and kitchen, classrooms, a range desk for registration, rentals, etc. and 14 shooting lanes.

Retail Product Availability 4.5 

  • The storefront retail area offered a range of firearms and accessories including ammunition, holsters, safes, shooting attire and other gear.
  • Retail products were presented well.
  • An online store is under construction.

Rental Availability 3.5

  • On the telephone, a representative advertised more than 150 handguns for rent; but when I visited the range, the staff offered only a modest selection. So, the selection is unclear.

Staff Friendliness 5

  • The staff was outgoing, exceptionally helpful and easy to talk to about matters related to gear, the range and almost anything else.

Safety 4.5

  • Safety information is presented on the website and in person. Staff gave a safety review wherein they stressed the importance safety equipment and safe shooting practices.
  • The casings on the floor posed a safety hazard.

Programs and Membership 4.5

  • Every month, male and female instructors offer NRA classes such as Basic Pistol, Personal Protection in the Home and an Instructors Class.
  • On Ladies Night from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Thursday, female shooters pay no range fees.
  • An individual, one-year “Congressional Membership” costs $250 and includes a safety briefing, overview for new shooters, five gun cleanings and unlimited shooting with no range fees. Family memberships are discounted.

Cleanliness 4.5

  • The storefront area and the classrooms were exceptionally clean and well lit.
  • The casings in the shooting positions were safety and cleanliness issues.

Comments/Impressions

  • The facility feels like a family-friendly learning and retail center that will be comfortable to a broad clientele from experts to new shooters and others who are not familiar with firearms and ranges. The website doesn’t do the place justice.
 

Preferred Range

The Undercover Shooter’s experiences led to endorsements for both ranges; but if a shooter wants a well-designed facility, thoughtful service and a focus on learning, the choice is:

Range B: Continental Arms: Indoor Pistol Range and Training Facility, 603 Deereco Road #500, Timonium, MD 21093, 410-560-3609 • www.ContinentalArms.comziggysh@continentalarms.com

All reports, comments, impressions, opinions or advice expressed in the Undercover Shooter column are solely those of independent, recreational shooting range consumers and do not necessarily represent those of the National Shooting Sports Foundation or its affiliates. Neither the NSSF nor its affiliates make any warranty or assume any liability with respect to the accuracy or reliability of any information provided by Undercover Shooter contributors. Readers are encouraged to and should perform their own investigation of the information provided herein.

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