Would you like a cappuccino after shooting a fully automatic M249 SAW in 5.56mm NATO like the kind our soldiers use? Perhaps something in an aged Nicaraguan leaf wrap in the cigar lounge? How about a martini?
The latest trend in shooting ranges is a smart approach—something of a cross between a posh country club and a retail experience that rivals high-end stores like Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. You could even call these new shooting ranges “guntry” clubs if you want.
With these newer gun clubs you can bring your own gear or immerse yourself in a package experience where you can fire some of the latest military hardware as well as some classics, including fully automatic MP5, M4 and M249 SAW weapons. Ammunition is included, and the targets are complimentary. For gamers, these experiences rival those in Doom, Call of Duty and even Halo.
These shooting ranges offer more. You can take a concealed-carry course, learn how to disassemble a 1911 and not have any parts left over, browse the selection of firearms and accessories, or maybe just kick back in the lounge or bar after you have finished shooting. Some of these gun clubs even have restaurants on site that would make Zagat’s blush. The shooting range has evolved into an experiential event that includes shooting, shopping and dining.
In the Southwest, New England and, naturally, Texas, new-age shooting ranges offer memberships to suit princes and us paupers. These ranges offer opportunities for gun enthusiasts of all backgrounds to burn some powder in a clean, safe environment. If you desire, some clubs have high initiation fees that grant members access to VIP lounges. Such memberships are similar to country club prices, but these ranges also cater to folks who just want to make some noise and have fun in a safe environment. Without further ado, here’s a look at some trendy gun clubs you have to shoot to experience.
The Range at Austin
The Range at Austin is a new, state-of-the-art facility that is scheduled to open in late 2016. When it’s finished, it will be one of the larger gun clubs in the country with more than 52,000 square feet, including over 6,500 square feet of retail space. “The Range at Austin will be the largest gun store and range facility in the state of Texas, if not the country,” said Amy Pevear, The Range’s vice president of marketing.
The Range will be equipped with innovative targeting systems, including video capture of targets and shooters so people can review their accuracy. The Range is also developing proprietary software that will let shooters upload their experience to social media platforms to share with family and friends. “Technology will set The Range apart from our competitors,” Pevear said.
It’s an all-indoor facility within the city limits of Austin and will feature over thirty 25-yard ranges outfitted with Action targets, plus five 100-yard lanes. “We want the facility to be service-
oriented for those who hunt, target shoot, are into tactical shooting and who want to defend themselves,” Pevear said.
The Range will offer three tiers of membership, from the high-roller VIP membership with private lane access and the posh amenities of a country club, to a general membership where members receive priority reservations and no hourly lane rental fees. The third tier is an hourly lane rental for folks who just want to throw some lead once in a while. There’s a lot packed into whatever tier you join. (therangeaustin.com; 512-650-2734)
Scottsdale Gun Club
The Scottsdale Gun Club was one of the country’s first mega ranges and has operated for more than 12 years. It caters to people looking for defensive guns and firearms for shooting sports. It also has a law enforcement section. Plus, the club carries a lot of the newest, coolest stuff before any big box stores have it.
“We have range officers and in-structors at the range to help novice shooters,” Rob Kennedy, the club’s general manager, said. “We have a gunsmith department on the premises to service firearms as well as customize and build complete firearms.”
The club offers numerous classes for those who want to obtain a concealed-carry permit, as well as women-specific courses. In fact, the range has seen a 20-percent increase in female shooters during the past year. It also offers a free family firearm safety class every month to teach children and parents firearms safety. The club’s training classroom holds 60 people.
The club’s full-auto rentals are also a big attraction. “We have people from all over the country, and the world for that matter, who have seen these guns on TV and in movies but have never had the opportunity or can’t experience full-auto firearms,” Kennedy said. An agent stays with each full-auto rental and the user to ensure the experience is safe and that users follow proper safety protocol.
The club’s Titanium Lounge requires VIP standing. The initial fee is $5,000, plus $200 per month, which gives members access to private, air-conditioned, state-of-the-art shooting lanes. Plus, it features showers, locker rooms, a Titanium Lounge attendant, a complimentary quick cleaning for firearms used at the range and a free machine gun rental on your birthday. Who doesn’t want to shoot an Uzi on their birthday? (scottsdalegunclub.com; 480-348-1111)
Lock & Load Miami
Located in Miami’s Wynwood district, Lock & Load can fill your need for full-auto fun with more than 25 types of exotic fully automatic machine guns available in various package experiences with themes ranging from “007,” “Eastern Bloc,” “Automatic Gratification,” “Scarface” (it is Miami, after all) and more. From classics such as the Thompson to extremely rare machine guns such as the HK MP7, firing these exotics will jolt your system with a rush of adrenaline.
“Our visitors get the opportunity shoot an extensive collection of exotic fully automatic firearms under the direct supervision of our firearms specialists, who are former military,” said Franklin Rosario, Loack & Load Miami’s general manager. “We explain what makes each firearm different, ensure proper gun safety and provide the best overall shooting experience.
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“The appeal of Lock & Load Miami for locals is it provides a safe, clean and modern environment for shooters to use their own firearms,” Rosario said. “We’re set up as a gun club, so if you want to bring your own firearms, you have to enroll as a club member.” New members are required to undergo a background check, complete safety orientation training and pay an annual fee of $500 for a gold membership or $750 for a platinum membership.
Lock & Load Miami uses frangible, lead-free ammunition that’s safer and does not ricochet, which lets members shoot at reactive steel targets. You have to love the sound of fast lead hitting standing steel. Additionally, the club always has an armorer on hand to clean firearms and address gun issues.
Would it be fair to say Lock & Load Miami is like any hot, trendy restaurant? Yes. “In terms of being up to date in style and influence, we are absolutely trendy and have had several celebrities and athletes visit us to validate this fact,” Rosario said. “But a fad we are not, since there is such a large group of shooters in southern Florida who appreciate the safe and fun environment that we provide. We would compare ourselves to an established restaurant that is trendy and timeless by consistently providing outstanding customer service. Check out our reviews on TripAdvisor to see the positive feedback.” (305-424-8999; lockandloadmiami.com)
Elite Shooting Sports
Elite Shooting Sports (ESS) in Prince William County, Virginia, was built to be a state-of-the-art shooting facility with 25-, 50- and 100-yard indoor ranges that are safe and clean, and that suck fumes out fast and dampen gunshots. You can sit in the lounge and watch a football game without knowing you’re at an active shooting range. It’s 65,000 square feet of pure shooting opportunity, plus it houses five classrooms and simulator training. A two-level, 1,600-square-foot, live-fire shoothouse is scheduled to open in 2016. A full-time gunsmith is on staff, and the club has retail space with firearms and accessories. It also has a cafe, two lounges and a dojo for martial arts training. Since ESS opened in November of 2014, more than 50,000 shooters have used the facility, including some from government agencies who train there.
ESS was the brainchild of Greg Wodack, who owns and operates the facility. Wodack has more than 30 years of experience managing, running and consulting with shooting facilities. In fact, he ran the NRA Headquarters Range and had the opportunity to use and see all sorts of range facility equipment. When Wodack decide to build ESS, he incorporated state-of-the-art technology, such as TargetWorx range equipment, which uses a touchscreen user interface. All of the ranges are rifle rated and can handle calibers up to but excluding the .50 BMG.
Womack doesn’t like the term “guntry club” because he wants ESS to be accessible to everyone. “We try to be a full-service facility by creating an environment that is welcoming to new shooters, experienced shooters, families and women,” he said.
ESS offers annual memberships and hourly rates, which make the facility accessible to almost all shooters. (703-335-2750; eliteshootingsports.com)
The Range 702
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and that’s probably a good thing. I’m not sure if you’d be able to get that empty brass through airport security anyway.
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The Range 702 offers the sex appeal for which Vegas is infamous and combines it with experiences named “Femme Fatale,” “Area 51,” “Black Ops,” “Zombie Hunt” and more. Although the facility offers a full array of exotic full-auto rentals, it also caters to corporate events, bachelor parties or people celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. Its VIP experience takes shooting to the next level and includes a bar, a restaurant, LCD TVs, a pool table, a private hostess and more. Plus, you can enter through a separate entrance.
I attended a private event at The Range 702 and can attest to the safe, well-lit shooting lanes for handguns and rifles. The service was outstanding, and the food and drinks perfectly made for a memorable experience.
For locals, The Range 702 offers classes and memberships with services such as guest passes, discounts on training courses, unlimited use of the shooting range, priority placement on the range and free machine gun rentals on your birthday. (therange702.com; 702-761-3677)
Blackstone Shooting Sports
If you’re looking for a premier shooting sports destination in Charlotte, North Carolina, Blackstone Shooting Sports fits the bill with entertainment, education and customer service. Blackstone’s facility was designed to provide new shooters with a safe, comfortable, welcoming atmosphere while offering experienced shooting enthusiasts the challenge and amenities they expect.
Taylor Hayden opened Blackstone in December of 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. He saw a need for an indoor shooting range and firearms store that did business a bit differently than others—a facility that was inclusive, not exclusive. That means Blackstone caters to people who want the VIP treatment, with private lanes and a private lounge, while also offering plenty for folks who just want to shoot in a safe, modern facility with high-tech training classrooms and an up-to-date retail space with an extensive stock of firearms, ammunition, apparel and accessories.
“Blackstone eliminated firearm counters completely and displays its retail firearms in custom-built upright cases,” Hayden said. “This allows our guests to browse much more freely and empowers our sales team to develop a more natural relationship with our guests. This is especially important to our visitors who are new to the industry, because entering a firearms store for the first time can be an extremely intimidating and daunting experience.” (704-414-6020; blackstoneshooting.com)