Thursday, November 4, 2010

Local range brings frustration

In my last blog, I talked about taking leave (aka vacation), and while it was definitely nice, it was also not without frustration. In this blog, I’d like to talk a little about the source of that frustration – McMiller Sports Center, the only public outdoor shooting range in Southeastern Wisconsin.

First, the good

Aside from the fact that it’s the ONLY public range in SE Wisconsin where you can shoot a rifle, McMiller Sports Center has an assortment of ranges from 25 to 300 yards. For $15, you can shoot all day long on pistol and rifle ranges up to 100 yards; for another $7, you can shoot all day long up to 300 yards. Considering most indoor ranges in the area charge about $15 per hour to shoot pistol calibers only at ranges up to 25 yards, McMiller offers quite a bargain for someone who wants to put some rounds down range.

A Marine’s point of view

Annually, every Marine is required to qualify on the rifle range, and staff non-commissioned officers and officers must additionally qualify on the pistol range. So as a Marine, I’ve been on my fair share of live-fire ranges (known distance, unknown distance, and otherwise), and I have to say I was disappointed with the only public outdoor range in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Is it unfair to compare the way a Marine Corps range is run with the way a public civilian range is run? I don’t think so. Every other public civilian range I’ve been on (and I’ve been on ranges in four different states) somewhat mirrored that of the Marine Corps and were head and shoulders above McMiller in both policies and the staff’s safety awareness.

Infantile policies

Here’s the sad part: if you look solely at the posted policies and procedures, it would appear as though they run a very safe range.

They certainly have overly cautious policies. For instance, they forbid “rapid fire”, which they define as any string of fire faster than one round per second. I guess that’s fine if all you’re doing is confirming your deer rifle is still shooting where it’s supposed to, but it completely rules out any other form of shooting practice including a follow-up shot on a deer. Frankly, it’s ludicrous to think firing two rounds per second (or God forbid three rounds per second) is somehow unsafe. Don’t hamstring those of us who know how to shoot safely just because one person at one time didn’t know what they were doing.

Here’s another of their overly cautious policies. During a cease fire, not only does every uncased weapon have to be unloaded and placed on the bench with the action open, but they also have to have a chamber flag triply showing they’re unloaded and safe. I heard one staff member say their insurance policy requires the chamber flags, which I find hard to believe. If your range safety officers are doing their job and checking every weapon to ensure it’s unloaded AND the weapon’s action is open AND shooters are barred from handling weapons during a cease fire, THEN the chamber flag is nothing more than an annoyance and another way to make a little extra money.

Speaking of RSO’s, the second time I was out there, one of them didn’t like the fact I was bringing four cased firearms to the firing bench. “I only like you to have two guns out at a time,” he says to me. REALLY?! It’s beyond me how either of those two “extra” firearms I wanted to bring out was supposed to jump out of the case, load rounds into a magazine, seat the magazine, chamber a round, remove the safety, and manipulate the trigger in order to discharge a round ALL BY THEMSELF! It’s not like I was trying to fire two firearms at a time, let alone four at a time, but I certainly was trying to save myself the hassle of lugging cased firearms back and forth more than I had to. Oh, and this was his personal policy not the range’s … must be nice to just make stuff up as you go.

Lowest common denominator

Do I hear you saying, “Staff Sgt. Thomas, those sound like perfectly reasonable and safe requirements.”? The problem as I see it isn’t in the details of the policies; the problem is, by instituting such infantile safety measures, the range is doing a disservice to the shooters in removing the shooter’s responsibility to be safe.

Rather than “dumbing” everything down to the “lowest common denominator” (an idea I find disgusting and potentially harmful in its own right), the range should INCREASE their safety standards to make each and every shooter responsible for their own safety at the range. By setting low standards, all you get is low performance; conversely, setting high standards results in high performance. Applied here, that means making every shooter personally responsible for their own safety which allows the RSO’s to supervise rather than bearing the brunt of the safety responsibility.

In this case, those high standards MUST start with the so-called “range safety officers”. While most of the guys who work there as RSO’s are nice enough, all the ones I’ve met are retired from professions which have absolutely NOTHING to do with the safe handling of firearms, and quite frankly, most of them only qualify as RSO’s because of some time they spent in a classroom back who knows how long ago.


The first thing management needs to do is get more RSO’s. I’m afraid one per firing line is just not enough when that firing line has more than a couple people on it. I’d suggest one RSO per a maximum of seven firing positions. That is NOT per seven shooters since a firing line with only seven shooters is likely to have the shooters spread out from one end to the other, and therefore, the RSO would have to divide his attention along the whole firing line rather than concentrating it in a seven-position block.

Management needs to spell out in detail a set of standard operating procedures which will be followed by every RSO on every firing line. They then need to find someone with some experience safely running a range who can train the RSO’s. Then, those RSO’s need to undergo recurrent training on established operating procedures. In the end, every firing line needs to be run in exactly the same safe and orderly manner no matter who’s running it.

Once the RSO’s are trained, I suggest mandating a period of instruction for EVERY shooter who wants to shoot on the range. This period of instruction would cover, among other things, firearms safety rules and range procedures, and this period of instruction would need to be completed every year before the shooter would be allowed to shoot.

I won’t go so far as to say McMiller is completely unsafe. However, I did see some unsafet acts by shooters and a pretty lackadaisical attitude on the part of the RSO’s. Following this simple training plan, the range could really increase the safety of each and every shooter AND provide valuable safety training which those shooters (and RSO’s) can use every time they handle a firearm.


  1. Wow. I am blessed or lucky to have a very nice outdoor range nearby. It's free too. You pay a $3 park fee. It has covered cabanas, new benches, a 200 yd. rifle range, and a sidewalk staggered movement lane for pistol shooting.

    Best part is that very few people know about it, and there are ZERO full-time facility staff. There is just a grounds guy that keeps everything up and makes sure nobody is throwing dynamite or anything.

  2. @Kevin That is awesome! I've noticed the South has ranges like that while the midwest seems to have expensive rifle and gun clubs.

    I really miss being able to do draw-and-fire drills and rifle-to-pistol transitions.


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