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Essentials of an outdoor range

by B.B. Pelletier

This one is for JP. He wanted to know what’s important about an outdoor range. I’m using my experience setting up the sight-in range of DIFTA, the Izaak Walton League field target club in Maryland. This will apply to all outdoor airgun ranges, whether they’re private or public.

The land
Obviously, you need a safe area behind the targets. This is usually an earth berm, but sometimes it’s nothing more than distance across land that can’t be traversed by people. You need at least 300 yards. Though an airgun will shoot up to 500 yards, you aren’t going to elevate the muzzle on your range. A lake can be good, and so can the ocean, but you need to be aware that you’ll be shooting lead pellets into the water. While lead isn’t as toxic as people would have you believe, it’s poisonous to wildlife, so make your land choices accordingly. An earth berm is ideal.

What doesn’t work.
Trees are poor backstops because the pellets damage the tree and can kill it if it is small enough or already infested with insects. The sides of garages and houses are also bad. I used our garage wall as a backstop when I was a teenager and when I was done, the soft pine clapboards were riddled with pellets. Hit with a powerful rifle like a Condor, the pellet will go straight through the wall and damage whatever is inside.


The DIFTA sight-in airgun range serves hundreds of members. It has a covered shooting line and target frames marked with measured distances out to 50 yards. The berm is a former handgun range berm, so it’s overkill for airguns.

Shooting area
The shooting area is important for comfort and for measuring distances to all the targets. You will want to know exactly how far it is to each target frame so there’s never the need to guess. Once the shooting bench is spotted, it shouldn’t move. If it does, there needs to be a firing line on the range to keep things in order.

Target frames
Permanent target frames make your job so much easier and faster. Use cardboard or better yet some waterproof board on the target frames so you can just staple the targets to the frame. The target frame should be movable and made from 1″x3″ lumber. Encourage your friends to not shoot the frames! They can be cut in half with fewer than 20 shots, and you’ll have the expense and trouble of making them again.

Permanent targets
Metal spinners can be left on the range all the time and make great plinking targets when you don’t want to staple paper targets to the frames. Limit the targets to clean ones that don’t make a mess. Don’t shoot bottles on your range unless they are made of plastic and you can clean them after shooting. A range that looks like a dump quickly disrupts the domestic tranquility.

Where will the pellets that ricochet to the side eventually end up? They won’t go as far as pellets going downrange, but plan on a safety range of at least half as far as the downrange distance.

Plan the range around people. Don’t let people walk downrange without the firing line knowing it so they can call a cease-fire. At DIFTA, we had to build a fence on two sides of the range to keep people back from the targets out to 20 yards, and even then it has to be watched. Pellets are invisible and the guns make so little sound that shooters quickly become complacent about safety.

Define the side limits of the range with markers that are easy to identify. Make them visible from the firing line.

Well, those are some of the most important tips for outdoor ranges. There are others, like storage for targets and equipment, access for cars, electricity for test equipment and so on. If you have a favorite tip to add, please feel free.

author avatar
B.B. Pelletier
Tom Gaylord is known as The Godfather of Airguns™ and has been an airgunner for over a half-century, but it was the Beeman company in the 1970s that awoke a serious interest in airguns. Until then, all he knew were the inexpensive American airguns. Through the pages of the Beeman catalog, he learned about adult airguns for the first time. In 1994, Tom started The Airgun Letter with his wife, Edith. This monthly newsletter was designed to bring serious reports about airguns to the American public. The newsletter and Airgun Revue, a sister magazine about collectible airguns, was published from 1994 until 2002, when Tom started Airgun Illustrated -- the first American newsstand magazine about airguns. Tom worked for three years as technical director at AirForce Airguns, the makers of the Talon, Condor, and Escape precharged air rifles. Today, he writes about airguns and firearms for various publications and websites. He also makes videos, and you'll find short clips embedded in some of his artices on Pyramyd AIR's website. Tom is a consultant to Pyramyd AIR and writes under the name of B.B. Pelletier.

32 thoughts on “Essentials of an outdoor range”

  1. Just a general comment.
    I’ve recently returned to the world of airguns after a 15 year hiatus.
    The purchase of a Red Ryder for my 7 year old at Christmas has led to the purchase of a Beeman field gun and an Avanti 853 for myself.
    I found this blog after a google search and have found it to be an amazing wealth of information written in a highly entertaining (enjoyable to read) manner.
    Keep up the excellent work.

  2. Congratulations to anonymous on your purchase of the 853 which I’ve always admired as well as the Red Ryder. I’ve thought about getting the latter to practice instinct shooting with. For more information do a search for the blog on this topic and, if you can, read the Mike Jennings book recommended there. It lays out the seemingly miraculous technique in simple and convincing fashion.


  3. B.B.

    Regarding range tips, how about watching the kind of people you let on your range. I well remember the buffoon who was supposed to introduce me to high power rifle shooting when I was in junior high school. He said nothing about eye or ear protection so the first shot from a Winchester 94 caused my brother’s ears to ring for hours. This same guy took a break to shoot a .458 Winchester magnum at a rock on a hill outside the range telling us to keep quiet about it. At one point, he told me to run out and retrieve targets while some people were still shooting then blamed them for breaking the rules. And at some point, he took me aside to give me some background about modern weaponry. “Your M-16,” says he “is lethal because the bullet starts tumbling as soon as it exits the muzzle…Your M1 Garand, on the other hand, is a really terrible weapon that is completely inaccurate.”

    And he is not alone. While talking to my physicist friend about ballistics, he mentioned that his daughter had an episode where a spent bullet came crashing through a window. They traced it to some guys at a nearby rifle range who were firing their guns into the air, and the range was subsequently closed down. So, for your own sake and the sake of your range you want to watch who you let in.


  4. My bother-in-law and I (mostly him) built a 50 yard range. It’s not as nice as we would like it to be, but it works and we don’t have to pay range fees. We were smart enough to get it certified by local law enforcement. In many areas, if you don’t have your range certified, and the police find you shooting there, you could be charged with reckless use of a firearm and/or weapon. Here in Michigan, any air gun used in a crime is treated as a firearm, and target shooting with out a proper backstop for the type of gun used is a crime.


  5. Totally off subject; Has anyone tried using locktite on the dovetail rails on a one piece scope mount to secure it on an RWS 350 Magnum. Mine is finally starting to shear off the scope stop bolt head after 1500 or so shots. Just a thought for a possible simple cure.

  6. Hi B.B. I have a question about the benjamin sheridan super streak. I got mine in the mail yesterday, and I got to some test shooting. During the end of the cocking stroke, the gun makes some very loud clicking sounds as if something is dragging over the spring coils. Is this normal? What can I do to quiet it? Thank you.

  7. I forgot something. The breech seal of the gun looks very awkward. It is a brownish color and not symmetrical. It looks as if someone had just put a circle of superglue down without a mold and let it dry. Is this normal? Also, the saftey takes a lot of force for me to take it off compared to my gamo which has the same saftey, is that normal too? Thank you for your help.

  8. Thanks for the range advice. I needed a bit of what to expect on basics of an air range, since my usual plinking has been either short range indoors or just out in a patch of woods with nobody around. I remember some of what we used in the USMC, but my last range time was for Ma-Deuce and 40mm grenade (both very fun, but a bit more restricted than air rifles). Anyway, now I think I can layout a base for a gathering of plinkers. Thanks. JP

  9. dropdog2

    I have used loctite on a scope rail to stop the mount moving on a one piece air king scope mount, you still need the screws done tight, this is on a CFX.

    Using no scope stopper or retaining pin it holds, it used to move back with 20 odd shots previously, but still good now a couple hundred shots later.

    Best to apply to the scope mount tips rather than rails as it makes a mess.

  10. Josh in HI,,

    Your rifle sounds normal to me. The clicking noise is the mainspring being compressed. That’s normal. If you want to quiet it, your rifle will probably have to be tuned and a new spring guide fitted. No one tunes this rifle yet, but that will probably chance in six months.

    I had the same brown breech seal that you describe and my rifle performed very well. Don’t judge the rifle by appearances. Shoot it

    The trigger is rougher than a Gamo trigger because it is a Chinese copy. The internal parts are rougher. But a Charlie da Tuna GRT III trigger does fit and makes a big difference to the trigger pull.


  11. Thanks for the response B.B. It’s been raining for the past week so I haven’t been able to shoot the gun more than a dozen or so times. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to get some real shooting in.

  12. Josh, both the safety and the trigger will improve with use. As BB said, the final finishing of these parts isn’t quite up to Gamo standards, but by the time 1000 pellets got through it the trigger will probably feel like a different one altogether.

  13. Thanks for the article on setting up ranges. We have 6 acres and a wood products company, and we are thinking of setting up some shooting sheds with “blinder” sides and roof, to limit the field of target. Also, we want to collect the pellets in a large pellet trap with targets, some moving.

    Is it possible to melt down the pellets and mold them into round lead balls, that will shoot accurate? Do you know which equip. would be best for this project?

    Also we have bought almost all of the mendoza line of air rifles, and love them. We think the rm-600 is as good or better than the rws-34 or even the 350 mag. Please compare for us.
    I thought the review of the rm-200 and the rm-2000 were very helpful, but the avenger 1100 or the rm-600 (same rifle, right?) has not be reviewed yet. We think the mendoza with no plastic parts and more power than claimed, shoots as accurate, has less recoil, and is a better rifle than the twice as costly competitors. What do you think?

  14. Whacky Wayne,

    If you want to melt the lead from pellets into round balls, limit the amount of Crosman pellets you shoot, because they have antimony in them. You want pure lead for round balls.

    Yes, Mendoza rifles are a wonderful value. Not only do they have more metal parts, but they have good barrels and powerplants. Their peep sights are great values, also.


  15. Comment for Wacky Wayne:
    I’ve thought of re-casting my own ammo, and BB pointed out that round balls WOULD be the best use (since he also pointed out pellet manufacture is commonly not feasable by oneself). I don’t know of where to get equipment, but I do remember Dennis Quackenbush mentions on his site where to get casting equipment to match his rifles’ bullet preferences


    Perhaps his link can lead you to other equipment suppliers who can help you. Still, I myself will stick with purchasing, given the “…higher quality compared to the relatively low cost…” for pellets. On how much I shoot, stocking up is no problem. JP

  16. Hi BB

    My questions are off topic.

    On Jan 9, 2008 you said that you had ordered a BKL 260 scope mount to test. Have you got any idea when you will be doing this as I am keen on buying one if it works? If you were going to mount a BKL 260 onto a GAMO CFX would leave the aluminum scope rail or take it off?

    This probably sounds like a bit of a dumb question, but I am always nervous to take a shot at something when I can see blue sky behind it. What would the flight path of a pellet look like that has been fired at say 30 degrees? Would it come down with quite a bit of energy or would it loose velocity, start tumbling and fall out of the sky?

    Ken SA

  17. Thank you B.B. I didn’t mention that we plan on renting time and air rifles at the range, so we will have a lot of pellets to melt down and re sell as lead rounds. We will keep the crossman pellets out of the sales mix. They don’t seem to shoot as well as the H&N and Beeman pellets any way in our Mendoza rifles, which seem like the best to buy and rent out, don’t you think?

  18. Also, how much does time rent for at a nice range? How much should a mendoza air rifle rent for per hr.?

    Also, do you think there is a market for the 6’x12’x 6′ target sheds & the 6’x12’x7′-6″ high shooting sheds? We will be making them from very durable and rot resistant port orford cedar. They will come in pre-assembled panels that will assemble quickly.

    Any input on the detail of the inside shooting set-up would also be helpful.

    Thank you, I hope that it is ok to bring up such subjects.

  19. Wow, Thanks Joe in PA

    It turns out that corbins in only 20 miles from us here in southern oregon. What a world, can’t wait to go out there. Their site looks like it could be reasonable to make ones own pellets in a hand press. Or for $8,000 get into the business for real with an automatic no fumes or mess press.

    Wow again, and thanks for the blog too.

    Wayne, in Ashland, Or.

    Hope to have “Ashland Air Rifle Rental and Range” going soon.

  20. BB and Wacky Wayne,
    It appears to me that the pellets manufactured by the Corbins press will be more of a slug or hollow bullet, or at least similar to the older Sheridan Cylindrical pellets. Seems to my mind that they may not fly true from a regular air rifle without the tapered waist design, right? Obviously, each rifle has different tastes, but [BB] do you think they might work ok from a higher power rifle? JP

  21. Wacky Wayne,

    High power is a subjective term, so it evolves as technology changes.

    What is “fast” for a car? In 1920, it was 100 m.p.h. In 1950, it was 140 m.p.h. Today you can buy a street-legal car that can top 200 m.p.h.


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