Two facilities in or near Birmingham
In Alabama we love many things, and guns would rank closely behind God and college football. This Undercover Shooter visited a couple of commercial indoor ranges so that I could report back to you on my experiences. Seeing the impressions of a range through the eyes of a first-timer to the facility might help you think about how your range measures up to these two ranges in this edition’s goldfish bowl.
Revitalized grocery store
This range has been open for a couple of years, but in a former life it was a large grocery store. This particular chain of stores went out of business in the Birmingham area more than a decade ago, and the range owners bought this facility and turned it into a one-stop shop for all your pistol and tactical needs. The range is located south of downtown Birmingham in a nice suburban area.
Walking in, you enter a large showroom that is abundantly stocked with modern sporting rifles (MSRs), tactical shotguns, handguns, ammo, holsters, slings, gun cases, lasers, optics, MSR-accessories galore, suppressors, tactical lights and much more. It has its own in-house gunsmith, too.
To the left of the showroom floor is a large entrance to the range portion of the building. Gun blasts weren’t noticeable from the showroom floor, but once I passed through a solid set of glass doors the muffled bangs from the range became audible. This is where you notice another unique attribute of this particular range — a full-service deli that serves lunch every day.
As I exited the cafeteria I noted a prominent sign pointing down to a table on which there was paper work that first-time shooters must fill out. Once up to the counter I bought two chest-and-head-style targets ($.35 per) and paid my $12.50 range fee for the day. It’s normally $19.95 for a lane, but a midday discount saved me money. The range fee includes hearing protection and shooting glasses, which are mandatory to enter the range. I handed the man my license and paperwork, and he placed them in a secured cubbyhole and handed me a corresponding numbered tag that I wore around my neck.
All the rules were clearly marked on large white signs with red lettering at each entrance door — one for the rifle range (50 yards) and one for the pistol range (12 lanes). I entered a door, which took me into a small room, where the first door must shut before the door into the range opens. Range-stall walls were covered in diamond-plated metal, and station floors were fairly clean of brass. Shooters secure a target to a cardboard backing on the target-retrieval system. My target-retrieval unit was fast and responsive. I fired about 75 rounds from my M&P Shield 9mm while at the range.
The range officer was sweeping brass throughout my entire session. He kept a very clean range.
I felt this was a very inviting and active range where shooters come back over and over again. I noted a few women on lunch break who were shooting.
The next range led me on a trip to an old industrial portion of Birmingham that lies just east of downtown. It’s a rough area with lots of loading docks and incoming/outgoing shipping. In the middle of this industrial section sits the range. I drove by it at first and then noticed a faded sign indicating I was in the right spot. The small gravel parking lot sits behind a closeable fence and offers room for about 10 vehicles. As soon as I exited my car I heard loud gun blasts. There wasn’t much effort to dampen the noise to the outside. Then again, this isn’t a residential section of town.
Entering the aged building I was greeted by a long, dusty hallway. Walking down it I saw a room on the right with a storefront in it. It was a small room with a couple of dozen or so firearms available for purchase; a few accessories and some ammo, too, but not much. I entered, and a man behind the counter handed me some paperwork that I filled out. After paying my $18 I grabbed some eye and ear protection and one target (all of which is included in price).
To access the range I went back into the hallway and entered a door across from me. This took me into another empty room before entering the range itself. I quickly saw that there was no range officer working the range while shooters were active. Though there were only five lanes of fire, they all needed a good sweeping. Down range, a half-dozen five gallon buckets were scattered about catching water that was leaking from the ceiling. I chose an open lane and quickly discovered the target-delivery system was inoperable. I went to another available lane and tested the delivery system; it worked. The target hanger had a zip-tie securing a clip on one end and had a zip-tie but no clip on the other side. I fashioned a knot with the rubber cord attached to a set of earplugs to hold my target to the hanger. I shot about 50 rounds while there and left. While the range was functional, I was not impressed with the facilities, safety or the storefront. There was a printed piece of paper on the wall that said “under construction,” but I didn’t have a chance to ask the man at the counter what the plans were, because he was helping a customer, but I couldn’t see any signs of progress.
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 the technical aspects of range design and operation.
Range A Customer Satisfaction Rating
Signage and Visibility: 5
• The range sits on a major U.S. highway, and the large building is clearly visible from the road. It has a large, lit sign attached to the building that is easily seen from the highway.
Layout and Setting: 5
• The large storefront is spacious and big. The building is designed where the storefront sits separately from the range. You don’t feel like you’re at a shooting range while in the storefront. Gun blasts weren’t detectable while I was looking at merchandise.
• The deli is an excellent touch. It’s very spacious, with plenty of seating and is a full-service deli. This keeps people coming into the range and hanging around, too.
• The actual shooting range was well lit and very clean. There were plenty of shooting lanes, and all the equipment worked flawlessly. The entire building maintained its new feel. The restrooms were very clean, too.
Retail Product Availability: 5
• They carry one of, if not the largest, selection of MSR and tactical firearms in the Birmingham area. There are literally hundreds of top-of-the-line firearms (shotguns and hundreds of pistols, too) clearly on display along the 100 feet or so of shelf and glass-case space. This includes more than 140 MSRs and tactical shotguns hanging from the wall behind the counter.
Rental Availability: 4
• There were a number of rifles and handguns for rent at the range, including fully-auto AKs and M16s ($30 rental). You could also test-drive any pistol you were interested in buying. It cost $12 and included 10 rounds of ammo. If you purchased the gun, the $12 would be rolled into the price of it.
Staff Friendliness: 5
• The range staff was very friendly and helpful. They answered any questions and made sure I was aware of the rules.
• The sales staff was very friendly and helpful, too. One employee helped me locate a small part I needed for my MSR, and he knew exactly what I was looking for.
• All employees had on shirts and attire with the store name and logo on them so it was clear they worked there.
• I had to read and sign a range-rule sheet before paying for range time. There were many large easy-to-read signs with rules at every entrance to the range. Hearing and eye protection were required before entering, and a range master was always visible and active on the firing line.
Programs and Memberships: 5
• Team and league ads were plastered prominently at the checkout and near the range so newcomers could easily join up. There are also signs for special shoots for prizes (open to the public).
• The entire store, deli and range were extremely clean. No dust and damp feel in the range itself, and all employees were professional and looked professional, too. The place had really maintained the new look even after being open for a couple of years.
• This is a top-notch facility with very careful detail and planning that went into all aspects of its design. The owners were very creative in revitalizing a shutdown grocery store and turning it into one of the top indoor shooting facilities in not only Birmingham, but also the entire region.
Range B Customer Satisfaction Rating
Signage and Visibility: 2
• Being located in a large industrial section of town, many of the buildings were warehouses, including the shooting range, so nothing stood out about this place. A very faded sign in a small, off-the-road gravel parking lot and some firearm manufacturer signs on the building were the only telltale signs of a range.
Layout and Setting: 2
• Once you enter the building you find yourself staring down a long, dim hallway with no easy-to-see signage of where to go. The storefront is located down the hall in a room to the right, and the range is behind a one of several doors on the left. The showroom had old carpet in it and maintained the dim and dusty feel of the rest of the building.
Retail Product Availability: 2
• A small selection of firearms was available (a few dozen, including shotguns, rifles and handguns). There were only a handful of accessories and holsters, too, as well as some ammo.
Rental Availability: 0
• There were no rentals that I saw, and I didn’t see a sign saying otherwise. I went to the website to find rental info and found nothing there saying the range offered rentals.
Staff Friendliness: 4
• The person behind the counter was courteous and assisted me with what I needed. He wasn’t dressed in any particular attire setting him apart as an employee. I thought it a bit unprofessional, too, when he inhaled a drag off of his e-cigarette while I was paying for range time.
• There were no range officers in the small range while customers were shooting; only a security TV that the employee at the counter could view from the storefront.
• The range was very unsafe upon entry. The windowless door opened into the range where you were looking directly into a shooting stall wall. You could literally walk down range, as there was no barricade to keep you from doing otherwise. This was a bit bothersome from a safety standpoint. Rules were posted on the door before entering the range, and eye and ear protection were required and included with your range rental.
Programs and Memberships: 4
• There are weekly training programs and shooting events held at the range. The website has much of this info on it.
• The entire place had a dusty, dirty and dilapidated feel about it. The range was dirty with five or six buckets collecting rainwater sitting in the middle of the range floor. Walls were dirty and hadn’t been painted in a long time.
• Old and outdated were the main impressions I got from this facility. Safety seemed to be taken for granted instead of being closely monitored, and the area of town was definitely not a place in which I would spend much time.
The cleanliness, professionalism, inventory of firearms, ammo and accessories, and state-of-the-art facilities are the reasons I favor:
Hoover Tactical Firearms
1561 Montgomery Hwy. S , Birmingham, AL 35216 205-822-3600 • www.hoovertacticalfirearms.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.