Training Wheels: The Rise of Mobile Shooting Ranges

The next indoor shooting range you use may come to you. Thanks to one of my BBTI buddies who is on the police force for the city of Bettendorf, Iowa, I had a chance to shoot at a mobile range recently, and found it to be surprisingly enjoyable, incredibly efficient and very educational.

It’s one of those ideas that just seems to whack you over the head with the obvious: a mobile shooting range, inside a tractor-trailer that can be moved from location to location. Like from one police department to another. Or from one precinct house to another. Or from the sheriff’s department in this county to the one in the next county. You get the idea.

There are currently several companies that make and operate such portable shooting ranges (and you can visit them here and here) and these fully functional mobile training facilities seem like a very good choice for any organization that needs to ensure regular firearm practice and training but may be limited by range availability, geography, nosey neighbors, etc. These trailers can be set up to function as primary shooting facilities or be arranged for supplemental training in special situations. On their face, though, what these mobile ranges mean is a lot less expense on wallets and the land (no construction or maintenance) and increased flexibility and convenience in range availability.

And here’s how they work; the different mobile range companies offer different set-ups, but, as with most niche industries, the execution is all basically the same:

1.Take a semi-trailer.
2.Harden it ballistically, so nothing can penetrate going out (most are rated for guns up to .223 rifles).
3.Build a suitable bullet trap at one end.
4.Install the necessary OSHA-compliant air filtration and heating/cooling systems to protect users inside from exposure to gunpowder smoke as well as lead particles.
5.Insulate the hell out of it for soundproofing.
6.Install one or more range bays (shooting positions) with standard run-out targets, lighting, et cetera.
7.Build a small office/control area at the entrance (also behind ballistic protection).
8.Park where needed.

Some are just a dedicated size (say 11 yards effective shooting distance). Others are modular, allowing you to put two of the units end-to-end. And some others extend out to effectively double the range distance.  The one I was in was only 11 yards from the shooting position to the furthest range of the target, but combined with reduced-size targets you can fairly well simulate the experience of shooting out to 25 yards. And a lot of the shooting I did was in front of the actual bays, doing different tactical situations (lighting, barriers, that sort of thing) at just 7 yards.

It is surprisingly easy to lose track of the fact that you’re in a trailer and given the complete control over the lighting, you can create simulations which mimic what it is like to be shooting in low light conditions (say at a traffic stop at night), or even use a system to project images onto a paper screen for live shoot-or-no-shoot scenarios (at about 2:50 on the video).

The soundproofing was also quite good. We were shooting inside the trailer during a pretty good thunderstorm, and you couldn’t hear the storm at all. More importantly, I went outside the trailer to listen while others were shooting inside, and the most you could hear was a dull ‘thump’ sound even when you were just feet away from the trailer. If you were in a nearby car or building, you probably wouldn’t be able to hear anything at all.

What sort of sold me on the set-up though was that there are outfits that will come and rehab the bullet trap (changing out the ground rubber filler and recovering spent bullets for the lead & copper in them). Believe it or not, because that recovered metal is fairly valuable, it is used to offset the cost of the servicing.

In addition to companies that provide these trailers for law enforcement and military use, there are some companies, namely Arms To Bear, who have started to offer access to these mobile ranges for civilian shooters. This can be done as part of a corporate training event, for groups who wish to have concealed-carry training, and for temporary sport shooting locations. The ability to pick up and relocate the actual range with minimal set-up time makes such use practical and profitable.

So, don’t be surprised if sometime down the line someone offers to “bring the range to you.” It’s not going to fill in for a good outdoor range, but it may well offer you some training opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise, and at a pretty reasonable cost.