New shooting range increases competition in Charlotte

Driven by recreational shooters and concealed-carry permit-holders, four new public shooting ranges in the Charlotte area have appeared in the past year, including one that is set to open in October just outside uptown.

The new range, Blackstone Shooting Sports, will be the second to open inside Charlotte’s city limits since zoning rules changed in July 2012.

Blackstone, under construction in the 2000 block of Wilkinson Boulevard, will have 26 shooting lanes and a 6,000-square-foot gun shop. It’s expected to open one year after the first Charlotte range, Carolina Sporting Arms, opened in October 2013.

In addition to Blackstone, ranges in Lancaster County, S.C., east Lincoln County and Matthews are under construction or recently opened.

David Drummond, owner of Carolina Sporting Arms, located on South Boulevard near Interstate 485, said business has been going well since his range opened, with about 50 nonmember shooters each weekday and 100 each weekend day. But he said he is worried about the number and speed of ranges popping up near Charlotte.

“You go from zero to four in the immediate area,” he said. “That keeps me up at night. I don’t know what the right number is, but I wish it was just one.”

Other gun shop owners in Charlotte welcome the nearby ranges because they can help sales.

“We’re really excited about Blackstone Sports because we need a range close to our store,” said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns, just down the street from Blackstone. “That’s going to be a wonderful thing. And it should help our store as well as our customers, so it’s a win-win for us.”

Charlotte is new territory

The shooting range business has boomed just outside Charlotte in the past few years. And since the city zoning law changed, Charlotte is new territory for business owners to bring their services closer to customers.

“We did not have any indoor shooting and training facilities in the city limits because current zoning said they had to be in industrial areas,” said Drummond, who pushed for the zoning change. “But you have to be in a retail environment for people to come.”

Hyatt said the two main reasons for the rise in facilities are linked to an increase in their customers.

“The No. 1 driver is the concealed-carry permit,” he said. To get the permit, gun carriers need to qualify and show they can properly use their weapon. That’s a service shooting ranges offer. There are 24,700 valid concealed permits in Mecklenburg County, according to the sheriff’s office.

“And then you have the recreational shooter,” Hyatt said. “Once they get introduced to it, a percentage of the people go on to sports shooting and enjoy shooting.”

Customers may choose a range based on its proximity or services, Drummond said. “I think it’s much like retail stores. It’s a combination of those factors,” he said.

Costs of using the ranges vary from $20 a day to $20 an hour, depending on the facility, usually with additional fees for more than one shooter.

Taylor Hayden, owner of Blackstone, got into the business after helping a friend open a range in Nashville. Hayden already had two businesses: Boost Business and Legal Advisory Services and WineShark, which sells a red wine hyperaerator he invented. (The device agitates wine in a glass to incorporate oxygen and make it taste better, according to promotional materials.)

Hayden said he didn’t have much firearms experience before working with his friend, but he said he’s good with business and has had a chance to shoot after touring about 40 facilities across the country.

The saturated market is prompting more specialized services at ranges such as Blackstone. Hayden said he is designing his gun store to be more approachable.

“We’ve focused on trying to get away from the traditional design, which tends to be darker and intimidating,” he said. “One way we’ve done this is we’ve eliminated the gun counters.”

The new range will also have bays where shooters can move up and down to set up obstacles, offering a place for tactical training.

Drummond said his business has a free orientation class for first-time shooters. Customers can rent up to 100 different guns at the range.

“I think there’s a lot of things we range owners can do to make the experience as best it can be for folks,” Drummond said.

Outdoor range needed

Though indoor ranges are spreading fast, outdoor shooting ranges haven’t been built yet inside Mecklenburg. Hyatt said there is a need for an outdoor range, which can have shooting distances of 200 to 300 yards compared with indoor range distances of 25 to 50 yards.

“People don’t have a place to practice to get their hunter safety licenses,” Hyatt said. “Also, there’s a possible use for law enforcement because the ranges that they use are overcapacity, and the National Guard needs a range.”

He said there is a possibility of a public outdoor location near Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where there are large tracts of land and noise isn’t a concern.

“There’s a big need, and I think if everybody came together, we’ve got funding available, we’ve got a suitable area, and it would be a logical thing to do,” he said.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has money set aside from the excise tax on gun and ammunition sales to build 10 outdoor ranges in the state, Hyatt said. The National Rifle Association also gave the fund money to build ranges. Two have been built already, one in nearby Cleveland County, and Hyatt said the next step is a metropolitan area.

“The most need is in urban areas,” Hyatt said. “Hopefully we can get some political powers behind this. What we’re worried about is that Raleigh, Greensboro or Durham will get all the money.”

An outdoor facility could bring tourism by hosting competitions and drawing out-of-town shooters, who are often high spenders, Hyatt said.

One hurdle to getting an outdoor range on airport land is waiting for the battle over control of the airport to get worked out, he said. The city of Charlotte is involved in a long-running legal dispute over the state legislature’s efforts to change airport oversight from the city to an independent commission.