Building a Simple Outdoor Shooting Range

4 Steps to Building a Shooting Range

There are 4 key components to constructing your own outdoor shooting range. While the details of each will depend on your location and the type of equipment you’re using, here’s the basics of construction for planning purposes.

There are 4 key components to constructing your own outdoor shooting range. While the details of each will depend on your location and the type of equipment you’re using, here’s the basics of construction for planning purposes.

  1. Legalities

Shooting can be controversial in the best of circumstances. Noise, particularly in the case of an outdoor range, is definitely an issue. Safety is an important concern as well. But the perception of safety in an outdoor setting has lead to many a public outcry. It’s important to take the time to review all public ordinances that pertain to your property regarding outdoor shooting before investing any time in design, and follow all regulations. It’s also a good idea to discuss your plans with your neighbors. You might find support for your idea, identify simple accommodations you can make to avoid complaints (such as no shooting on Sundays), or at least identify your opposition in case of future conflicts.

Common restrictions found in municipal ordinances include time limits and restrictions on days of use; minimum construction standards for safety; setback distances from neighboring properties and property lines; and restrictions on caliber size.

  1. Length

While length is not more important than safety for your new range, it does have to be determined before you can develop your safe construction design. And to determine length, you have to have an idea of what type of firearm you will be using.

Handgun ranges typically go from 5 yards (25 feet) to 25 yards (75 feet). For personal protection practice, most experts agree that the key range for incidents is under 5 yards and recommend regular target practice in the 7-15 foot range. Some sports-shooting competition practices go up to 50 yards for handgun range, with large-caliber firearms. 25 yards is usually suitable for any airgun equipment as well, and 50 yards is usually the average for small-bore rifles and shotgun.

Rifles over .22 caliber usually require a minimum of 100 yards for practical use. An average commercial rifle range is usually about 300-500 yards, with the standard military rifle range being at least 550 yards, and sport-shooting ranges being anywhere from 300-2,000 yards for particular events.

lenawee conservation league range

  1. Safety

Safety of users and surrounding properties is a key component in shooting range design. Safety is compromised of seeing and stopping.

You need to be able to clearly see down the range to your target, with no obstructions to deflect shots from the designed target area. You’ll also want to design clear sight-paths around the shooting range to be sure any approaching visitors are spotted in a timely manner, or restrict access range firing lanes so that no one can accidentally walk up on the live fire area.

And you’ll need to be able to erect effective barriers at all key points on the range to stop all ammunition in a safe manner. The most common method for outdoor shooting ranges is earthen berms—basically a big pile of dirt. Placed behind the target area, the dirt acts as a solid backstop to capture rounds that go through or past the target. Side berms perpendicular to the backstop or external to the defined shooting lanes help manage wild release and ricochet rounds.

The NRA recommends a philosophy of “if it’s shot here, keep it here” to permeate all design. Backstops should be solid fill with little to no rock, a minimum of 12 foot to a maximum recommendation of 20 foot high, and reaching at least twice the width of your target to each side. Berms require regular review and maintenance. Erosion can lower berm height and high usage can cause the berm to fill with shot-scrap, which will cause ricochet rather than round absorption.

  1. Comfort

Depending on the amount of use intended at your range, a simple outbuilding and bench on the firing line will come to be a valuable up-front investment, providing:

  • A steadying firing surface.
  • A clean place to spread out arms and ammunition.
  • Protection from sun, wind, shadow and rain.
  • Storage of gun racks, sand bags, targets, target stands and trash barrels.
  • Sound abatement, through installation of partial back and side panels.
  • Eliminating “blue sky” above the shooter’s vision of the bullet backstop.

wo bench shooting shed

Remember, the up-front effort to research you local requirements and safe design will save you a lot of headache—or even being shut down—in the long run. And planning for a little comfort and convenience will mean less time chasing after supplies or worrying about dust and rain when you’re out building

For more information on simple range design, see:

Outdoor Shooting Range Best Practices by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (link:

Outdoor Range Design by National Shooting Sports Foundation (link:

The Range Source Book by the National Rifle Association (link:


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