Steel bullet traps have been used for over 90 years in commercial and law enforcement/military ranges, however, rubber, particularly granulated rubber, has seen tremendous growth over the last twenty years and has become the most preferred for commercial and law enforcement traps. Advantages to rubber bullet traps are that they tend to be much quieter as the rubber acts as a sound absorber and much cleaner as the rubber encapsulates shot rounds in whole. Moreover, the cleaner air generated by the rubber type bullet traps is much less taxing on ventilation systems resulting in longer life spans for ventilation filters. Rubber type bullet traps are preferred for up and close training as the angle of shots entering the rubber does not create any type of ricochet hazard. Last, rubber type bullet traps tend to cost a fraction of the price per linear feet of steel traps and, in most cases, take up a fraction of the space required of steel bullet traps.
Granulated rubber berm type traps should be scheduled for lead reclamation servicing around the 75,000-round count per lane. This maintenance can be completed by the range owner (using the correct safety equipment and procedures for handling lead) or contracted with a professional lead reclamation company. 12 to 18 months between lead reclamation services is a good average to expect. As settling occurs (at initial filling and at lead reclamation) additional rubber may need to be added to replenish optimum levels. Rubber block type traps generally will take up to 5,000 rounds per block before needing to be replaced.
Granulated rubber berm type traps will generally handle all calibers up to 3500 fps. This also includes shotgun rounds. For .50 caliber BMG and large calibers being fired rapidly, extra depth of the rubber medium is prescribed in order to dissipate the higher energy of the rounds. For rubber block type traps, there are different size blocks for rifle rated versus pistol rated traps.
While rubber is a petroleum-based product, modern rubber type bullet traps are extremely safe and pose no danger when used in the manner for which it is designed. Tracer rounds or any type of incendiary rounds (while not commonly available to the public) should never be used in an indoor range at any time. While rubber berm type bullet traps will handle in excess of the 75,000-round count per lane, this number is the industry standard recommendation to schedule lead reclamation for your range.
All rubber type bullet traps are designed to be placed against the back wall and require no reason to access them from behind. All maintenance and replenishment are conducted from the front of the trap. Rubber berm type traps generally require a depth of 15’-17’ (depending on the depth of rubber due to higher calibers (i.e. .50 cal. BMG)). Other designs such as GRC’s Ballistic Block Trap requires approximately 1 foot while the Step Trap and Rubber Berm (Hybrid) Trap require as little as 7 feet of space in depth from the back wall. General height for all GRC rubber type bullet traps is 8 feet.
Steel Bullet Traps
Steel bullet traps should be considered for ranges that may experience a higher volume of shooting due to increased levels of training or extremely high traffic commercial ranges (those ranges that would exceed the round count and time limits listed for rubber type bullet traps). When the volume of use creates enough lead that capturing the lead for scheduled resell is profitable enough to overcome the initial cost difference of steel over rubber and the additional costs of ventilation filters and general range cleaning.
Serious consideration must be given to the calibers, type firearms and ammunition to be used on steel bullet traps. For example, ¼” AR500 steel is suitable for most pistol calibers but is considered too thin for rifle calibers and will be damaged from the higher velocities. For rifle rated ranges, 3/8” AR500 steel should be used and up to ½” AR500 steel for .50 caliber ammunition.
Steel bullet traps do require scheduled cleaning as rounds hitting steel create lead and dust deposits that are not as prevalent on rubber type bullet traps. Access space behind steel bullet traps is required in order to remove collected lead deposits or allow for a lead removal system to operate. On very high-volume ranges, additional dust collection systems (in addition to standard range ventilation) may be required. Periodic inspection of the steel plates and round deacceleration chambers must be checked for wear and any type of deformation. Ammunition inspection procedures at range check-in must be put in to place to ensure accepted calibers are used and armor piercing rounds are not present.
Steel bullet traps are generally larger in size than their rubber trap counterparts in order to accommodate proper angles to slow down fired rounds and avoid ricochets. Average length of GRC’s steel trap is 20 feet plus the range should allow for an additional 4 feet behind the trap for access to conduct maintenance and lead removal. For pistol rated (only) ranges GRC has a steel trap design that requires only 7 feet of depth and does not require a space for rear entry. General height for all GRC steel type bullet traps is 8 feet.
Target Retriever Systems
There does seem to be a lot of choices and the right choice can be overwhelming and expensive. However, it really comes down to how you envision your range being used, your business model and Return-On-Investment (ROI), and, ultimately, your budget. There are basically three types of target retriever systems being used on the majority of indoor shooting ranges – Trolley (cable), Railed (cable), Railed (Wireless). All have in common that they have a drive motor and a carriage system for hanging and transporting the target down and back to a desired distance.
First is costs and then simplicity of use. A “trolley” type system uses a cable and wire (or cord) to support the retriever and operate the carriage down the range and back. The motor housing to run this system is generally located in the shooting stall over the shooters head and is operated by a simple switch. The pros to this type system are simplicity of use, easy maintenance, longevity, and cost effective. Cons include replacing cord and/or cable if accidentally shot, and lack of any technology such as preset distances, etc.
What are the real differences? The second system to consider is a “railed” target retriever where the carriage actually travels on a steel rail mounted overhead rather than a cable. Pros include ease of maintenance as the carriage drive cable is generally protected from fire by the rail itself, and you can add touch screen pads with multiple pre-set distances for shooters to choose by simply pressing the appropriate button. Cons include higher price tag per unit depending on capabilities desired (i.e. programmed preset distance capability), electronics in addition to mechanical components to maintain.
The third system is the wireless, programmable, turning retriever systems where the drive motor is generally located with the carriage and makes up one complete unit. This allows the system to operate wirelessly via a dedicated WIFI network without the need for a long drive cable to move the carriage down range and back. Shooters operate the system via a touchpad controller, usually with preset distances programmed in and the ability for the shooter to program their own course of fire (i.e. move to distance, turn (friend/foe), turn, move, lights flash, etc.) and, often, save the program for a return visit to the range. Because these type retriever systems are computer driven, the range owner can also write and save various courses of fire to share with shooters and/or use for competition and training. Newer versions of these type retrievers are offering video projection on to targets for gaming and marksmanship training. Pros for these type systems include high technology, fast down and back operation, offer options for shooters, great for extended distance ranges where the distance will not allow cable driven carriages to reliably operate. Training capabilities for law enforcement and advanced classes. Cons include costs per unit which can run as much as 5 times the cost of a trolley system and up to 4 times the costs of a standard railed system. ROI per unit as most shooters do not engage the programming capabilities and merely want to move their target down range and shoot. Increased upkeep and costs of electronics, as well as typical mechanical maintenance from commercial use.
Other considerations for wireless target retriever systems, which may be a pro or con – you decide.
- Digital systems incorporated into these type retrievers is very new and still being considered and tested. Stand-alone systems designed specifically for digital may prove to still be a better choice.
- Programming ease and use – how often will this capability be used by shooters? Will you as the range owner offer programmed courses of fire and to what level of shooters?
- Can you charge more to use this type retriever system; what is the ROI versus other systems and how much can you charge for lane time?
- Are other options available that offer technology on just a few lanes versus my entire range, thus saving me money?
Range Room Design & Considerations
Indoor ranges come in different sizes, lengths and can be designed for multiple purposes. While 25 yards has become the standard distance for indoor ranges, there are many successful businesses with shorter distances such as 15 yards with no ill effects or complaints from the shooters who frequent them. In recent years, longer distance, rifle rated ranges out to 50, 75 and even 100 yards have proven to be successful in larger markets due to the popularity of mid-caliber rifles such as the AR15 and AK47, as well as hunters and precision shooters. The size and design of your range should take into account the population of your expected market, availability and types of shooting areas near you (including competitor ranges and free outdoor ranges), geographical weather, if classes will be offered and what types, local politics, ordinances and general acceptance of a range business.
The standard has become 25 yards shooting distance but is, by no means, required. As a matter of fact, if a pistol rated (only) range is planned, a 15-yard shooting distance may prove to be the best option. The majority of pistol shooters, or rather the majority of shooting done in an indoor pistol range is at a distance much shorter than 25 yards (or 75 feet). In this case a 15-yard (or 45 feet) shooting distance is more than adequate and the savings of building a shorter range can be used toward equipment upgrades, retail inventory, or technology such as a few digital equipped lanes. If a 25-yard range is desired, the majority tend to be rifle rated in order to accommodate both pistol and rifle calibers.
The number of lanes you should consider having depends on your market, your opportunity, and budget. Small ranges tend to be 4-6 lanes and medium size businesses have between 6-12 lanes. At 10+ lanes we recommend dividing up into two separate bays with separate operations and ventilation systems. This allows for better overall range management. On slower days one bay can be in operation while the other is dormant, thus saving on power. Two bays allow one to be dedicated to scheduled classes while not interfering with normal shooter traffic in the other bay. It also allows for shooting to continue during maintenance or cleaning of the range as the entire range will not have to shut down. Last, it provides an opportunity to separate pistol shooters from the louder report of rifle fire.
Yes. This will require a “Tactical” application be added to the design of the range in order to accommodate safe operations for shooters beyond the traditional firing line. On a traditional, “Fixed” firing line range, shooters are static meaning they stay in one location (shooting stall) and actuate their target distances by use of a target retriever system. The overhead baffle system is designed for any high shots to be ultimately directed downrange and into the bullet trap. A range that has a “Tactical” application added allows shooters to move freely within the “tactically” treated area to engage targets. A tactical range will have continuous overhead baffle coverage to encapsulate any high or errant shots from coming back down on shooters while engaged in shooting maneuvers down range. Various sidewall treatments are also added for safety from errant shots or over-shots due to training maneuvers. Various wall treatments can range from capturing errant shots to occasional planned shots to the walls, and finally to continuously planned shots to the walls. This last design creates a 180-degree range and should be used for advanced training and experienced shooters only.
For a 25-yard range using the GRC Rubber Berm Bullet Trap, the optimum length of the room will be 106’. This allows 15’ for the bullet trap + 75’ shooting distance + 4’ for the shooting stall depth + 12’ behind the shooting stall to the front wall for entry, shooting bags, and allows for optimum air flow for range ventilation. For shorter or longer shooting distances, add or subtract from the 75’. Standard lane size is 48” on-center of the shooting stalls. For example, an eight-lane bay will need to be 32’ wide from wall-to-wall. Lanes can certainly be larger or smaller depending on need and desires. When available, range owners may consider making at least one lane 60” wide to accommodate handicapped shooters who may require assistance. While 36” is the legal requirement for ADA regulations, 60” wide lanes have proven to better facilitate wheelchair bound shooters while maintaining a safe environment in which to handle and maneuver firearms.
Standard 4-inch poured concrete flooring is really all that is required for an indoor range. Some range owners choose to finish the floor out with a gloss coating or paint. While this does look nice and adds a completed look to the room, just know that within a short time the floor will become scarred from low shots, especially downrange near the bullet trap.
For walls there are really three options. First is poured concrete walls; 8” for rifle rated ranges and 6” for pistol rated. Second is CMU or concrete block walls that are completely filled with grout or concrete. 12” blocks for rifle rated ranges an 8” blocks for pistol rated ranges. Walls should be 13’4” in height. This height allows the perfect amount of room to hang bar joist for baffle and target retriever connections and allows room for lighting and ventilation ducting. Of course, existing buildings being converted into ranges with higher or lower ceilings can be used with slight modifications made to accommodate for the space available. Third is to apply steel plating or panels over existing walls that may not be thick enough. This mostly applies to existing structures when a new wall with the above specifications cannot be constructed.
The ceiling can be made of just about any material desired as the baffle system ultimately keeps high and errant shots within the range and directed to the bullet trap. Our recommendation is generally a corrugated steel roof with insulation for maintaining conditioned air and aiding in sound abatement.
Most any commercial lighting will work; however, we find that modern LED lights or LED light strips placed above and behind overhead baffles provide the most affective light and are cost efficient to operate. Dimmable lights and/or colored lighting may be added for training purposes such as low light/no light and/or law enforcement training.
Commercial HVAC is provided and installed by a licensed and certified HVAC specialist and designed to pump conditioned air into a large area with a return to exhaust air out. The same holds true for a shooting range but with some very large exceptions. During the shooting of a firearm, lead, dust and various chemicals are released. Coupled with numerous firearms being discharged at the same time over long periods, this can create quite a toxic environment, as well as smoky and hard to see. Standards require that air flow at 50-75 feet-per-minute (fpm) downrange away from shooters and be exhausted with the ability to filter the heavier particulates from the air. To create laminar airflow that evenly moves air from the back of the shooting range to exhaust systems down range takes unique engineering and equipment, as well as design of the range room itself. Unlike general commercial HVAC, proper range ventilation requires that a negative pressure environment be maintained at all times in order for the bad air to be properly moved and exhausted.
The size and power of the equipment is determined by the size of the range room with specific concern given to width and height. This helps determine the cubic feet per minute (CFM) or volume of air that has be provided in order to properly operate within the given space.
Yes. There are primarily three main ventilation systems available for indoor ranges. All three will have a unit supplying fresh air and a unit to exhaust/filter the bad air. All three can provide heat and A/C and all three can (in most cases) be roof mounted or ground mounted on a concrete pad.
- Recirculation System.
This system provides fresh air in and moves it down range where it is exhausted and rerouted back through a series of pre-filters then HEPA filters before mixing back in with fresh air coming through the supply unit. Pros: The system saves costs on continuously conditioning fresh air (heating or cooling) as it retains the current conditioned air, cleans it and recirculates it back through the system. Cons: The equipment is generally much larger and more expensive to move such a large volume of air through multiple filter banks. Moreover, HEPA filters which have to changed up to twice a year (average) can be very expensive. For roof mounted systems, due to the size and weight of the equipment, special consideration and modifications may be required to the building to support the equipment.
- Purge System.
This system has a unit providing fresh air, air is moved down range to a second system to exhaust the air while filtering out heavy particulates before releasing into the atmosphere. This is considered a “straight through” type system where none of the exhausted air is collected, conditioned and reused. Pros: Smaller equipment is allowed as air is not having to be pushed through large banks of filters thus saving in the initial cost of the equipment. Energy costs may be lower to operate due to the smaller equipment and power requirements. Expensive HEPA filters are not required. Cons: There is a loss of all conditioned air as it is merely passed through and exhausted. Systems installed in extremely warm or cold environments may find conditioning the air through alternative sources to be a losing battle against the laminar air flow of the range system. As a result, energy cost can be higher if heat and/or air conditioning is necessary.
- Energy Recovery Ventilation System.
This system is a hybrid between the recirculation system and the purge system but with a few major differences. Air is supplied and moved down range where the bad air is filtered and exhausted, much like a purge system, but a large portion of the energy from the heated or cooled air is routed back through a coil system and used to help condition fresh air coming in. This is a savings since the system does not have to condition 100% of the fresh air coming in (similar to benefits of a recirculation system) and does so without ever mixing the bad air with the fresh air. Pros: Generally, requires smaller equipment than a recirculation system, thus saving on initial equipment cost and overall power requirements to operate. Does not require expensive HEPA filters as the bad air is never used for human consumption. Smaller equipment requirements mean less weight on buildings for roof mounted systems. Cons: Not a true recirculation system as it does not capture as high of a percentage of the conditioned air energy.
Sound Management & Abatement
While shooting firearms is loud, there are building methods and concepts to consider for managing the sound and numerous materials on the market designed to aid in sound abatement.
- Building Construction.
The vast majority of range rooms are going to be a separate room built within the existing building (a room within a room idea). The wall of the range room should be either poured concrete at the appropriate thickness for pistol or rifle ratings, or cement block (CMU) with concrete or grout filling. The construction of the range walls should leave a gap between it and the outer wall of the main building. This helps break the sound waves and denies the full use of the building to be used as a conduit for sound
- Inside the Range.
On the inside of the range walls, baffles, and ceilings numerous materials can be applied to help dampen sound. Ballistic rubber panels absorb well and are used, not only to abate sound but help encapsulate errant shots. Foam sound proofing material, as used in recording studios, does a great job at helping to dampen the report of gun fire but is not very sturdy to commercial traffic and can tend to capture lead, dust and chemicals being expelled from firearms over time. For extreme sound dampening requirements, cement fiber board with wool backing (various thicknesses available) has proven to do an exceptional job and holds up to long-term use.