Indoor ranges are a change of pace for this 'outside' shooter
As a matter of full disclosure, I do not frequent indoor ranges. I am FBI-trained to teach pistol and shotgun combat tactics; my personal focus is on several rifle competition disciplines and action pistol, all of which I do outdoors. During the winter I head down the mountain to shoot in the warmer desert ranges in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. My friend Ken accompanied me to help keep my opinions grounded; Ken is an Arizona Ranger, a range safety officer (RSO) and an avid shooter.
Range A opened just seven months before this first visit from me. It calls itself a gun “club,” but it is actually a privately owned business – the word is strictly a marketing tool. Located on a busy, four-lane, small city street two miles from my house, the stone-like brick building matches its commercial surroundings. There are 13 parking spaces, one marked for handicapped.
Upon entry the customer is directly in front of the sales counter. Karen, the lone salesperson, welcomed us with a smile as soon as we stepped inside. She was very forthcoming about discounts. As retired military I received a discount on my non-member range fee from $20 to $13. With no other customers to serve, Karen seemed happy to chat with us for as long as we liked.
She said the benefit to $20/month members is a waiver of the $20 per visit range fee charged to non-members, except for Fridays and weekends, during which members must pay $10/hour. The discount for active duty and retired police and military reduces monthly fees to $16, waives Friday/weekend fees and waives the initial $40 “Administration Fee” all others must pay when first enrolling.
Range A caters to “tactical” rifle, carbine and shotgun shooting as well as pistol shooting and hosts 3-Gun competitions. The single range has eight lanes, each with a folding shooting table and allowing for prone shooting. The rubber bullet traps reduce the potential for ricochet, and the side walls between lanes are hardened against bullet penetration. The target carriers, operated by touch-screen controllers, are modern. The controllers have about 20 programs for shooting through different qualification courses and games. Shooters staple paper targets to cardboard backers attached to the carriers.
On the range the RSO, John, patiently showed us how to operate the computerized target controllers. He stayed on the range while Ken and I and two others shot, but he remained unobtrusive. As we shot semiautomatic pistols, John used a broom to push ejected empties up to our range bags sitting on the floor. At the end I deliberately tested his patience a bit by playing with the target controller and asking more questions, and he remained very patient and informative.
The retail space is quite small. The displays are not large, but they include everything needed for shooting on the indoor range – ammo, eye and ear protection, targets etc. – as well as accessories, cleaning supplies and knives. Also available are the stun guns and pepper sprays needed for the “non-lethal” classes offered here.
The rental guns were not immediately identifiable, and I had to ask to see them. Karen pointed to the guns hanging on the white wall behind her and at the small 5×8-inch white paper sign amidst them reading “Rental Guns.” I counted 23 semiauto handguns, five revolvers and six long guns for rent. Most were recent models and in new condition except a vintage Walther P-08.
This range offers a “Volunteer Program” to members “with significant firearms experience.” In exchange for eight hours of work per month, volunteers receive free range time when lanes are open and five percent discount on retail items.
Among the 26 training courses offered are NRA basic courses, a hand-loading class, CCW classes, Juniors basic rifle shooting, “non-lethal” weapons instruction, classes in fundamentals as well as advanced tactics with pistol, rifle and shotgun and certification courses for armed security guards.
Online introduction gave bad first impression
I found Range B via a web search. The website lists rental and membership prices, hours of operation, contact info and the range’s location. The upcoming “Events” are from last year. The “Photos” page is a collection of uncaptioned and completely uninteresting snapshots of unknown people and a rifle pointed at the viewer. “Videos” is a lone, anti-climactic 21-second clip of a teenager receiving instruction from an employee on shooting a Valmet rifle. Though the website boasts “a wide variety of firearms and bows for rent,” there is no list of what those are, except for the Valmet rifle.
Range B is 45 miles away off a two-lane blacktop between two small communities. Opened only two years ago, though the new construction and signage on the building are very prominent, the property lacks access from the highway, requiring guesswork on a series of turns to enter the parking lot. There are spaces for about 28 vehicles.
Entry is into a retail area of log and glass construction; the shooting ranges have block exterior walls. Floor space is ample and uncrowded, as is counter space for filling out paperwork.
A scruffy looking middle-age man in a camo Henley shirt and dirty cap greeted us at the counter; he was friendly enough but unsmiling at first, and he gave us paperwork to fill out at the counter. We had to sign a wordy, detailed waiver, including checking questions found on the federal Form 4473, and read a list of 27 safety rules before shooting on the range. LouAnn, a co-owner, wearing a smart khaki “safari” embroidered with the business logo, took over as the man left to conduct Range Safety Officer duty. She was friendly, smiling, answered my questions and, after Ken and I shot pistols, gave us a personal tour of the rifle range. She was agreeable to chatting and before leaving asked us to submit suggestions for shooting competitions we might like to conduct ourselves on the range.
Another staffer wearing an identical khaki shirt, and a fourth staffer wearing a faded business logo T-shirt, both engaged in other tasks, ignored me after unsmiling eye contact.
In addition to six 25-yard shooting lanes, Range B includes indoor shooting out to 100 yards, as well as a 50-yard indoor archery range. Range B appears to be 25-30 percent devoted to archery. The separate rifle range has four lanes, with portable shooting benches and “Lead Sled” rifle rests, and permits prone shooting with calibers through .338 Lapua Magnum. Both rifle and pistol lanes are generously wide. Controllers, lane partitions and bullets traps are the same as at Range A. The pistol range has a countertop on the wall behind the shooters to hold range bags and gear. Lighting was slightly dim, ventilation quiet.
The RSO showed us how to operate the controllers and hang the targets, told us to sweep our brass against the wall to prevent slippage, then left the range. We shot for only 15 minutes and upon payment I waited to see if the RSO/now cashier would offer us a discount, but he charged the full hour for two lanes at $12 each.
Range B had a happy surprise: a fair selection of powders and primers for reloading, at reasonable prices by today’s standards. They also have a good supply of ammunition, including “range ammo” discounted because the buyer leaves the brass after firing. Four double-sided hook-and-rack displays held essentially the same kinds of products as Range A. Handguns in countertop-style displays would have benefitted from lighting.
As a curiosity, this range rents the M78 Valmet select-fire assault rifle (they call it a “machine gun”) they claim Patrick Swazey used in the movie, “Red Dawn.” Also available are 10 long guns, 12 semiauto pistols and four revolvers, all contemporary and in excellent condition.
Range B offers a CCW class and an advanced handgun tactics training class. Memberships are complex “packages” requiring annual, rather than monthly, payments. Packages are for only firearms, for only archery or for both; for an individual, those annual fees are $295, $235 and $475, respectively. These annual membership packages increase in rate for Couples, Family and Corporate levels, topping out at $2,354 for the latter. Membership benefits include bringing a free guest, reserving a lane by phone, unlimited range time without additional fees, $2 discounts on rental arms and one free target and use of ear and eye protection per 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.
Customer satisfaction rating
Signage and visibility: 5
● The business sign is an interior-lighted, two-sided plastic affair, about 8×8 feet and mounted on a pole about 12 or 15 feet high about 10 feet back from the curb.
● Very comprehensive, intuitive and informative, it included brief instructor bios and listed classes, services, membership costs, range fees, retail items, safety rules and contact information. It also clearly stated that when the range is very busy, shooting may be limited to 30 minutes, even for members. The website, however, does not identify what firearms they have for rent.
Layout and setting: 4
● All requisite paperwork is done at the sales counter, which can only accommodate two or three customers at a time. The narrow shooting lanes are somewhat cramped. The range lighting seemed a bit dim, but the ventilation is quiet.
Retail product availability: 4
● Limited, but adequate to the indoor venue
Rental availability: 5
● Great selection, and the P-08 makes a nice curiosity.
Staff friendliness: 5
● Smiles are important, and even the serious-duty RSO gave us a Mona Lisa.
● Rules do not allow drawing and firing from the holster unless the RSO thinks you are competent to do so. The RSO stays inside the range, behind the shooters, whenever the range is in use. It’s as safe as an indoor range gets.
Programs and memberships: 5
● The most training courses of the greatest variety I’ve ever seen offered at a range facility, and the classroom can comfortably seat 16 students. And who doesn’t like membership discounts?
● Shooters must police their brass behind the firing line. Range A was absolutely immaculate throughout, including the restrooms.
Proximity, easy monthly fees, discounts and friendly, well groomed staffers all influence me to return during the winter months.
Signage and visibility: 5
● It’s hard to miss, set on a small hilltop with no other structures nearby, even though the only signage is on the building itself.
● Overall, the website gives the impression of unprofessionalism and neglect.
Layout and setting: 5
● Range B’s separate rifle and pistol ranges, and the comfortable lane widths, make them preferable to Range A’s. I did not see a classroom.
Retail product availability: 4
● Limited but adequate for its own needs.
Rental availability: 5
● Very good, but a pro should know the difference between an assault rifle and a machine gun.
Staff friendliness: 5
● The RSO warmed up after a few pleasant and joking exchanges, but my first impression of his demeanor and dress was negative.
● Adequate enough to get no negative marks.
Programs and memberships: 2
● The lump sum annual membership fee is disconcerting. Archery hunting is popular here, but perhaps shooting programs (only two courses offered) suffer for its inclusion.
● The comments of Range A apply here, and Range B has the added convenience of two tables in the men’s restroom for placing your range bag and carry pistol while using the toilet.
The cost to shoot the Valmet as a simple novelty – $40 rental plus $70 for two full 30-round mags – is prohibitive. Had it been a flat $15 plus 40 rounds of ammo for 15 minutes, I would have split the cost with Ken. The single annual-membership payment and the fact that others can preempt or limit my shooting time with reservations are deal-killers for my Range B membership.
Prescott Gun Club
1200 Iron Springs Road
Prescott, AZ 86305