Visits to Richmond and Roanoke are on the itinerary this month
Virginia is home to many recreational shooting sportsmen, but indoor shooting facilities are relatively few and far between. Our Undercover Shooter recently visited a pair of Commonwealth ranges, one a new facility in the state capital of Richmond, the other an older range in Roanoke.
A new range for both the public and members
Housed in a former furniture store near the heart of Richmond, this is a new range that offers both public shooting and memberships.
I arrived in the early afternoon on a spring Sunday. The facility was busy, but not inconveniently crowded.
Upon entering, I was greeted immediately by a friendly woman behind the front desk. She said, “Good afternoon,” but didn’t ask if I needed help, something I attribute to the fact that I probably appeared that I knew where I was going.
The lobby area is large and open, with shooting and firearms accessories, including ammo, brass and reloading supplies, available on display. Glass display cases are home to dozens of for-sale firearms, with long guns on racks on the walls behind the counters. Several staffers were working the firearms sales area.
There is even a small cafe’ on the main level, but it was closed on this day to make way for a concealed carry permit class that was in progress.
The counter for the actual ranges was in the back of the lounge. There are two lines: one for members and one for the general public. Members get priority assistance, on par with the deference shown first- or business-class airline travelers. While I waited, a man and his teen son arrived in the members’ line. They were quickly greeted, helped and assigned a lane.
Several membership levels are offered, including a discounted membership for military and law enforcement personnel. Among other benefits, members have access to special members-only range hours. High-level members get access to a special lounge area and a private range.
In short order I was being assisted by a friendly clerk who asked if I had been to the range previously. When I said, “No,” he handed me a registration sheet and told me I would need to watch a short safety video. The video area is adjacent to the check-in counter and features several benches and a large flat-panel screen. The 10-minute video shown was produced by the NSSF.
Several other new shooters were in my “class.” When the video was over we returned to the counter. The first thing I was asked was, “Please tell me three range safety rules.” After passing the “test” I was presented with a wallet-sized card, good for one year, stating that I had undergone safety training.
The range rental fee was $21.95, the weekend price. The weekday fee is $20 an hour. A second shooter costs an additional $10.
In addition to bringing my personal Ruger .22 pistol, I decided to rent a handgun. I deliberately asked many questions about the different firearms available, and the clerk patiently answered all of my questions without a hint of being condescending. They are clearly accustomed to dealing with novice shooters, and their approach was top-notch.
Although I brought my own .22 cartridges I asked if I could buy some additional .22 ammo. I was told the range had no .22 ammo in stock.
I ended up renting a Sig-Sauer P226 9 mm pistol for a fee $17 and bought a box of 50 rounds for $20.95. With the rental I was allowed one exchange for another 9mm pistol.
The facility has three separate public ranges, with maximum distances of either 20 or 25 yards. There is a tactical-specific range for which shooters must be holster-qualified and have completed a special safety class.
Rifles up to .30 caliber are allowed, but all centerfire rifles must be shot at the maximum target distance. All rifle ammunition must meet specific range requirements.
Shooters pass through two sets of doors to get into each range area, which greatly minimizes noise outside the ranges themselves.
Range policy is that at least one safety officer will be on all active ranges at all times. There were actually two safety officers in my range area most of the time. One was walking back and forth behind the shooters in constant observation. He occasionally would sweep up expended brass.
Another range employee was assisting the obviously novice shooters in the lane next to mine. He was patiently teaching the mixed group of men and women basic handgun shooting techniques, and the shooters were grateful for the help.
The target holders are digitally controlled, fast and quiet. Downrange lighting was good: not too bright and not too dim. A cardboard backer is on each target holder, and shooters are provided with a staple gun to attach their targets, of which the range sells several varieties for .75 cents.
After shooting through a few magazines with my .22 I switched to the rental handgun. The range safety officer immediately tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was allowed to have only one firearm at a time on the bench. Later, the same range officer noted my frustration when looking at a .22 group that was tight but well above the bull’s-eye. He suggested I relax my grip, which I did, and then shot a much better group with the next magazine.
My time on the line went quickly. When I checked out I was asked “How did it go?” As I left, the same woman who greeted me upon my arrival said, “Thanks for coming and enjoy the rest of the weekend.”
The Roanoke Valley’s only public indoor range
Located about three hours’ drive west of Richmond, Roanoke is far and away the largest city in western Virginia. Despite the Roanoke Valley being home to many recreational shooters, this is the valley’s only public indoor shooting range.
This range is in the heart of the city in a one-time industrial building. The facility has housed a shooting range for a couple of decades, but the business recently underwent a name change.
The range’s location is such that you have to be looking for it in order to find it. The business does have a modest website, which provides basic range information and includes a map and directions.
A friend and I arrived late on a Friday afternoon in early spring. No other customers were shooting when we walked in the door.
There was one employee working behind the counter. He greeted us immediately. An unseen stereo was playing rock music, but at a low level. The clerk was very friendly and helpful. He asked if we were first-time customers. When we answered in the affirmative he handed us a one-page list of range rules and asked us to read them and sign the form.
One of the rules was “No rapid fire.” My friend asked what that meant. The clerk explained that it referred to “shooting as fast as you can” and then gave us a vocal demonstration: “Like, bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” Then he “shot” with his voice more deliberately — “Bang…..bang…..bang….” — demonstrating the allowed method.
The range rental fee was $10, with a fee of $8 for a second shooter sharing the same lane. My friend and I each had brought a .22 pistol, along with one .22 rifle. The range has a couple dozen rental pistols available, and I opted for a Springfield XD Service model in 9 mm. The rental fee was $10, and a box of ammo cost $20.99. The clerk told us that we could trade out the rental pistol as many times as we wished for other 9mm pistols that were available.
I noticed several boxes of .22 Long rifle ammo behind the counter. We had brought our own, but it was encouraging to see that the range had some of the hard-to-find ammo in stock.
Customers are required to purchase at least one target “to help us keep range fees down,” we were told. We purchased three targets for $1 each.
The actual range is accessed through a single door. The equipment is dated, but the range was clean and well ventilated. It took us a few moments to figure out how to operate the mechanical target holder, but soon we had our first target downrange. As we started to shoot, more customers were arriving. They included a couple in their 30s and a group of three men in their 20s. Later, a man arrived with his teen-aged son.
After pulling our target back to inspect a group, I tried to send the target back downrange. The machine whirred, but the target stayed put. My friend went out to report the problem. After checking in some more customers the clerk hustled in, checked the problem and said it sometimes happens when the cable slips off the pulley mechanism at the far end of the range. He asked if we minded moving a lane over. We didn’t, but the move meant that our target would be right next to a brick support pillar at the 10-yard range. I wasn’t concerned about mistakenly shooting the pillar, but the pillar was somewhat distracting.
As we shot I noticed that one of the three young men was using his cell phone to take pictures of his friends shooting, a clear violation of one of range rules. Not only was the rule listed on the sheet we read before entering, but it was posted inside the range. It should be noted that at no point did we feel actual shooting conditions were unsafe.
We had our fill of shooting within an hour. After sweeping up our expended brass we packed up and went to check out. The clerk asked how we liked the Springfield rental pistol as he returned the firearm to its spot in the display case and returned my ID.
As we were checking out another shooter was checking in. The clerk asked if he had been to the range recently, to which the customer said, “Yes.” As we were finishing up the new customer was taking his spot in his lane and immediately started shooting his pistol as fast as he could pull the trigger.
The range worker shook his head.
“He said he had been here before, but that’s rapid fire,” he said. “I’m going to have to go talk with him. Thanks for coming in, guys. Have a good weekend.”
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
• Located on a busy main city street, with large sign
Layout and Setting: 5
• Sensible layout starts with a large, open entry way and retail area. Shooting ranges are on the periphery. Facility itself is conveniently located in the heart of a metro area of 1.2 million people.
Retail Product Availability: 4
• Firearms selection is good, with excellent inventory of shooting accessories and reloading supplies. Eye and ear protection available. However, absence of .22 ammo forced me to rent a 9mm.
Rental Availability: 5
• Excellent selection of rental firearms available, with eye and ear protection also on hand.
Staff Friendliness: 5
• All employees were friendly and helpful and were welcoming to shooters whether they were experts or first-timers.
• All shooters are required to watch a safety video upon their first visit to the range, while range safety officers are on hand for direct supervision of shooters.
• The entire facility, including restrooms, featured top-notch cleanliness.
• It is hard to find fault with this facility. If there had to be one complaint it would be that the range rental fees are pretty high. But, as with so many things, you get what you pay for, and those fees support not only a top-notch range facility, but also a robust and professional staff.
Range B Customer Satisfaction Rating
Signage and Visibility: 2
• The range is located in an industrial area, away from well-traveled city streets. A small sign on a nearby road points toward the range, but this is a facility that you won’t find unless you’re looking for it.
Layout and Setting: 4
• Small size helps with layout, which features one set of shooting lanes adjacent to the check-in counter. Although the facility is off the beaten path, the setting in the center of the Roanoke Valley is as convenient as it gets for the region’s many shooters.
Retail Product Availability: 1
• There are a few accessories for sale, but this is not a retail operation.
Rental Availability: 3
• The selection of rental pistols was fair, though several pistols were not available because they had recently been sent out for repair. Eye and ear protection are provided if needed.
Staff Friendliness: 5
• The only staffer on duty was very helpful and accommodating.
• Although all first-time visitors are required to read safety rules and sign an acknowledgement of such, the fact that only one staff member was on duty meant there could be no range safety officer on hand to help enforce rules. Shooters must self-police.
• Although it is an older facility, the range was quite clean.
• Inexpensive range and rental rates are the highlight of this small facility. With only one staffer on duty it is difficult to check shooters in and out while also ensuring safety precautions are being followed. At the very least, it would be simple and inexpensive to implement a safety system where all first-time customers watch a safety video prior to shooting.
Shooters of all disciplines and experience levels will be well served at this outstanding facility, where safety is a top priority and the friendly staff goes out of its way to ensure a pleasant, enjoyable range experience.
Colonial Shooting Academy
6220 W. Broad St. Richmond, Va. 23230
804-266-2666 • www.colonialshooting.com