A Range on the Homestead, by 3AD Scout

Practice makes perfect. And being able to safely practice firearms shooting could truly be a lifesaving skill.  I have been shooting since I was about four years old. Some of my earliest memories are walking out onto our back porch with the Remington .22 single shot rifle (that I still have to this day), that was longer than I was, with my dad and brothers just shooting into the backyard at tin cans.  As time went on, I joined various gun clubs and it was always disappointing that I spent more time waiting for others to go down range and back to check their shots.  I am all for post-shot analysis but doing it down range while others are waiting to shoot is rude.

I used to go to a local state game lands shooting range until some wanna-be gangsta’ showed up and had no clue about range etiquette let alone firearms safety. He loaded his .45 and started to walk back from the firing line. There were two other gentlemen shooting on the line besides my wife and I. I looked over at them and they looked at us. I just said: “Hey, guy you need to shoot from up here.” He was nice about it and came up to the line, turned the gun sideways and pulled the trigger several times. The rounds impacted only a few feet in front of the firing line and dirt rained down on us. I quickly made safe our pistols and put them in the case and beat feet back to the parking lot. That was the last time I used, and will ever use, a free and “open to the public” range.

Between risking my life at free ranges and spending a lot of time waiting to shoot, having a place to hone our skills stood high on our list of wants for our homestead/BOL. The other issue I have with public ranges and gun clubs is that their rules basically make it impossible to do drills such as moving, transitioning from carbine to pistol, and other tactical drills. Having your own range allows you the freedom to practice more than just shot placement from standing or sitting at a shooting bench.

Creating Our Range

We did not have a great backstop so one had to be made.  I have learned over the years that a little pre-planning and forethought go a long in way in helping ensure that time and money are not wasted. I scoured the Internet looking for examples of how other people made their home ranges. They were somewhat useful but I was looking for some specific information pertaining to stopping power of different types of media. Specifically, I was seeking what material had the “best” stopping power that I could afford. Was it dirt, rubber mulch, sand, or something else? Should I build a cement block wall to hold the stopping media or perhaps a log crib?

There is the “best” and then there is “what works.”  Often there is negligible difference between the two. And that is basically what my research concluded. I could have just used dirt and that would have worked fine but like a good prepper, I was thinking about a post-TEOTWAWKI future. I would ask myself “if I make the range using “X” is there any post-SHTF advantages or disadvantages?” Where was the safest and best place to build the range on our property? What type of design was I going to use? After all the pondering and reading, I decided on a location, building materials and design.

The location would be about the middle of our west property line. Our property is mostly hay field and the west property line is comprised of a tree line. There are no homes or other buildings nor any livestock behind it. We decided to use old railroad ties laid on top of one another.  I found a hardware store/lumber yard about 20 miles away that sold used 8-foot railroad ties for $28 each. I talked with the manager and told him how many I needed and asked if there was a discount to which he said “yes” so I ended up paying $24.50 each for 24 ties.

The ties weighed about 300 pounds apiece so I had to make several trips to get them all home in my pickup truck. For the back stop we stacked the ties 8 high to create the back stop.  Then along the sides we stacked 6 full length ties and then 2 railroad ties were cut and placed on the sides butting up against the back ties. We did this since the last 2 ties did not need to be as long as the others since the media filling the pit would not be piled as high in the front as it was in the back.  In the front we placed only one tie to keep the sand from leaving the confines of the pit.

To prevent the ties from moving out of their location, we hammered pipes and fence posts into the ground on the back sides of the ties.  We placed the railroad ties in the shape of a “u”. Since the ties weighed about 300 pounds each and I was basically working alone, I used gravity and physics to my advantage. I would push the first few out of the truck bed and move them in to place with the help of a “tanker’s bar” (pinch bar). I would use the edge of the truck tail gate (that was in the down position) as a fulcrum that allowed me to easily turn the ties. As the walls of the pit got higher, I would place the end of a tie on one of the sides then put the other end on the back wall or turn it around and put it on the side wall. By moving the ties this way, I did not have to lift the vast majority of them. For the last few, I did have a friend come over to help. The ties that were cut were easier to move and lift without assistance. Once the pit was formed, we filled it up with masonry sand. I can’t recall how many pickup loads of sand we shoveled into that pit but if I had to do it again, I would have just ordered and paid for a dump truck to haul it and dump it inside of the pit.

Why Sand?

I decided to use sand for a few reasons. One, is that I could sift the sand through a screen to extract the copper and lead from the bullets inside the pit. Even in a grid down scenario we could recycle the lead by melting it down and re-casting it into pistol rounds. While researching the design of the range I read a few articles on lead from shooting ranges contaminating well water. I don’t know how much I would need to shoot for our well water to be contaminated nor do I want to find out. So, using the sand and extracting the lead from the pit also helped ensure our well water remains safe. We also would have a supply of sand on hand to fill sand bags. The stopping power of sand was better than just dirt but trying to sift the dirt would be harder than the sand. As we started to fill the pit with sand, we noticed that sand was coming out of the cracks where the ties butted up against one another.  I had not considered this so after thinking about it for a day or two I decided to fill the cracks with spray expansion foam. That spray foam worked great.

After the ties were in place and the pit they made was filled with sand and the cracks sealed, I was ready to put up targets. I put in two stainless steel eye screws into the sides of the railroad ties across from one another in the front of the pit.  I cut a length of 1/8 diameter stainless steel cable that would span the distance between the eye screws and put a thimble and cable clamps on each end of the cable.  I then put a snap link through each thimble.  I hung the cable at a level that would allow the target to be in front of the bulk of the sand to ensure that the impacting rounds would strike in an area with the greatest stopping potential. I had a total of four AR 500 steel plate targets to hang on the cable.  Two of these were 4” targets and the other two were 10”.  I used cheap snap links to hang the steel plates from the cable anticipating that they would be hit by ricochets or rounds that missed their marks. After the first use of the range 6 of the 8 snaps had to be replaced. Although the snap links are cheap it seems foolish to keep having to pay to replace the snap links. I decided that I would use “S” hooks to replace the snap links.

When we had our addition and pole barn built, we had the excavated dirt taken out and put on the side of the pit for added safety. With the construction and remodel there was a lot of broken up concrete, some of it in very nice large slabs. I told the contractor that if he wanted to move the concrete out to behind the range, he was more than welcome to. Since removal of the demolition waste was in the contract, he was more than willing to move the concrete to the range. Since he was a shooter too, he knew exactly what I wanted and so now we have several inches of concrete behind the pit, as well.

Training & Tactical Versatility

Although the west side of our property has many acres of woods, there is a utility right-of-way and several ATV trails that could be used to approach our homestead when SHTF. Another advantage of having the range in the middle of the west property line is that it would make a great defensive “fighting” position, considering that for the most part it is surrounded by dirt and concrete. Another advantage that all of our buildings are immediately to the east of the range. Hence, we can have shooting drills from different buildings. We can even shoot from the hayloft if we wanted too, although I don’t know if the animals will like that.

It is nice to just walk out and shoot without having to load the truck up and plan for the whole day at the range. Shooting is not just about preparedness it also allows us time to spend together doing something we all like. My son recently shot an AR for the first time and really enjoyed it. So, I guess in that makes our range priceless.


    1. There’s a couple of ways to do movers. It’s partially range dependent, but the easiest is if you have a way to run cable/rope across the range, then to a screw eye in a 4×4 buried, to redirect the cable to the firing line, so you can have someone shooting pull the target perpendicular across the range for you.
      Building a mover target is pretty simple, build a small 2×4 platform with wheels at the corners, using small lawn mower wheels, and then you can build the target holder on the platform. Put a screw eye in the 2×4 platform and hook the cable to it.
      If you want to pull back and forth, it’s as simple as making perpendicular set ups.

    2. Well Michael last week when I was antelope hunting, while shooting at a standing buck Off-Hand at 150 yards looking through my scope, it sure seemed like a moving target. Trekker Out

    3. We built cables running diagonal.
      This way, we can rehearse for transverse as well as increasing distance, simulating a ‘must-stop’ such as a retreating bear or rabid skunk… or an attacking cougar.

      And we add stress with calisthenics and everybody shouting contradictory orders at the shooter:
      “Don’t hurt it!”
      “Kill it or you die!”
      “You have room to retreat! Back up! Back up!”
      “That’s my neighbors’ dog!”
      “You’re breaking TheLaw©!”
      “You’ll go to prison!”
      “Quit while you’re ahead!”
      “Switch mags!”
      “Aim to wound!”

      After one session at our place, a sixteen-year old girl was walking from her family farmhouse to the tractor in the field.
      Just before sunrise.
      She felt something watching her.
      She turned to see a cougar about forty paces away, and advancing.
      She pulled her FN 4.7 == just like she rehearsed == and emptied twenty shots into its face and near leg == just as she practiced.
      She inserted her spare mag, retreated to the far-side of the tractor, then scanned three-sixty including up into nearby trees.
      She made eighteen hits on a moving target.
      She rehearsed, she practiced, she is alive.

  1. Your comment of on public shooting areas is so true. Proper firearm handling and etiquette has been lost to a large number of today’s shooters.

    I am looking for a property in the Redoubt that will allow for a private shooting range.

  2. Trap/ clay bird shooting is great moving target practice. So you’re great with a 12 gauge? Move down to .410 and see how fast you can get on target while in range.

    Also, a circular piece of plywood screwed to an old car tire with a target stapled to it rolling down a gentle slope is a great simulator for a moving deer with a .22 rifle.
    But this should be done from an elevated position relative to the direction of fire to ensure you are shooting into the ground, for safety’s sake.

    1. I remember reading in one of Jeff Cooper’s stories about how some advanced students at Gunsite got good enough to regularly break doubles with a .308 bolt action rifle.
      There are probably not very many shotgun ranges in the world where it would be safe to practice that, but I don’t think anyone would argue that is superb rifle skill for moving targets.

  3. What kid doesn’t love ‘plinking’? We still enjoy it using pellet guns and tin cans to save .22 ammo. I think the instant feed-back adds a lot of fun to it.

  4. As a side note. I know prices vary greatly depending on location. But I was surprised at the price of cross ties ($28). In my part of the country the going rate is $10-12 from a retailer.

  5. If you go for cleaning your sand of metals, make sure you have a good face mask/filter and keep your clothes and skin covered, maybe with a painters disposable suit. Not all the copper/lead is in chunks, much of it is a dangerous powder that would do your lungs no good and possibly could be adsorbed by skin contact. Lead poisoning is no joke.

  6. Just purchased a twin shooter for our shotgun range at Cabelas. it will fling two clay pigeons out to 70 yards electronically at the push of a foot peddle. Just need the car battery to hook it up too. Use the least potent shot so your BBs don’t go out of range.

    Stay safe.

  7. A moving target doesn’t have to be fancy. We use an old washtub hung from a rope and pulled by a string fed through screw eyes. Rings like a gong when you hit it! You can tape a target onto the tub or use a small pot as you improve. My grand kids hit a 2′ tub at 300′ with a .22 pistol 50% of the time. And none of them have shot before this last summer. I might possibly be a little proud.

  8. I have a neighbor who likes to play with his heavy equipment and volunteered to build a berm for us. He’s building a large pond and needs to re locate a large quantity of dirt. I have a feeling that this is going to be a BIG berm. Not quite as sophisticated as 3AD scout’s approach, but effective and FREE.

  9. Made a similar backstop at our place using rr ties. I made the two back corners in log cabin overlap style and used galvanized spikes on each layer. Good idea on sand fill, we will need to replenish ours soon and I will consider that option. Great article.

  10. While I have never considered a shooting range as a priority, I also realized I have never lived in a rental house on a farm or owned a place that did not have a shooting range. So, just gave it as ‘a given’. Good article for discussion. I agree with Greg, most of my railroad ties lasted about 5 years, before I had to rebuild the range. Eventually I went to shooting stands like they use in IPSC matches, which allows the backstop a ‘non-concentrated’ hit on the railroad ties, rather that stapled your targets to the railroad ties. (which results with you shooting thru them!). I eventually graduated to steel, which would accommodate both rifle and pistol. I also had to hire a bulldozer to build up by now depleted railroad ties with earth to make a decent backstop. In retrospect, build an earth berm, then put up the railroad ties. My 2 cents.

  11. RE: JE’s comment on protection from lead dust. Disposable is the way to go. If you pick up too much dust, or too often, on your clothes, it’s a problem. You can bring it home and share it with kith and kin. And, when you wash those clothes, it can get retained in the machine and spread around to the rest of the load(s). A local laundromat had a nightmare when a house rehab crew washed their duds and contaminated the machines.

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