Of the handful of gun ranges I’ve visited, I definitely spend most of my time at the Clackamas County Public Safety Training Center. While I’ve clocked a lot of hours training and practicing at the PSTC gun range, the lessons and discussions from last week’s PST 201 class prompted me to document a typical visit for an earlier version of myself minus some of the experiential accretion.
In order to use the PSTC range, one has to legally own a firearm, or one can be the guest of a legal gun owner, but neither of you need to be a member. As a facility of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, the range is a community resource, open to the public. I’m going to assume that one has purchased a pistol (after passing the mandatory background check, naturally), has read the manual, and is familiar with the operation of said handgun.
It’s also worth noting that the PSTC facility is an indoor range, which fundamentally differs from the outdoor variety by having walls and a roof around you (duh, really?). In practical terms, the noises from all the firearms being used tend to be louder and more percussive, and there’s constant ventilation and airflow to push fumes (and other particulates) downrange and out of the facility.
Making an Appointment
Pre-COVID, you could walk in and get on a range lane, but these days you need to make an appointment first. Fortunately you can do this online scheduler to make that appointment which are limited to one hour. Depending on demand, your desired date and time may not be available.
If this is your first time at PSTC, you’ll need to get there about 15 minutes before your appointment for orientation, pop quiz, and paperwork. Yes, I said pop quiz.
Things to Know Before You Go
As mentioned in a previous post, gun ownership requires a number of accessories, of which you’ll need a few in order to have a successful range visit.
- Ear muffs (I don’t think you can easily get away with just earplugs, as the staff won’t be able to easily tell that you’ve got hearing protection. I personally “double bag” with both plugs and muffs.)
- Safety glasses
- Gun case and lock
- Face mask (Rules being rules, masks are mandatory at PSTC.)
Additional items that are handy to have:
- Magazine loader
- Backpack or carrying bag
- Magic markers and/or pens
Note that ammo isn’t in either list. More on that momentarily.
Are We There, Yeti?
Okay, so you’ve made your appointment, got your kit together (gun unloaded and secured in that case with a lock), made your way to the PSTC, parked the car, put on your KN95 mask, and are heading into the building.
In Like Flynn
In the foyer, there’s some hand sanitizer and a stack of forms you need to fill out and sign attesting to a number of items relating to COVID. Take that form with you and head to the armory counter.
Note the roped off lanes and markers to enforce distancing, as well as the plexiglass barriers at the counter. Here, you’ll check in for your appointment, but they’ll have to take your temperature first. #BecauseCOVID
If this is your first time (even as a guest), there’s a safety video that you’ll need to watch, along with a quiz that you’ll need to score 100% on in order to proceed. It’s not that hard, just pay attention. You’ll also be completing a customer safety agreement which the staff will keep on record.
Almost There, Almost
Once you’ve checked in, you’ll be assigned a range lane, and the staff will hold on to your drivers license, kinda like how the bartender holds onto your credit card after opening a tab (although when was the last time I went to a bar?…).
You’ll need to purchase ammo and targets (it goes on your tab, to be settled when you’re done). Note that you’re permitted to shoot only the ammunition supplied by PSTC. There’s a number of reasons behind this rule, but at least there’s ammo to be had, even if you are limited to two boxes per visit. I shoot 9mm and .22LR, both of which are readily available at the armory. I’ve seen folks shoot .45, .40, and 10mm, so I would presume that those calibers are also available.
Next put on your “eyes and ears” and go through the “airlock” (an intermediary chamber to keep the noise and atmosphere separate between the range and the rest of the building) to get on the “Blue Deck,” which is the “public” portion of the gun range. A “Green Deck” is reserved for training classes, law enforcement use, and the occasional PST 102/103 graduate.
What’s on Deck
The Blue Deck has 10 lanes, of which typically only 8 are used. The two “endcap” lanes up against the wall are reserved for experienced shooters who won’t accidentally to shoot those walls. It should go without saying, but shooting the floor, ceiling, or the walls are a huge no-no that’ll get you kicked out and fined.
So you get to you assigned lane, which looks like this:
There’s bulletproof glass separating the lanes, as well as a bench on which you can lay out your equipment. This is a cardinal rule of the range which hopefully gets drilled into you during your safety orientation, but all guns are to remain in their cases until they’re at the lane bench. They also need to be pointing downrange at all times.
Fire When Ready, Gridley
Clip a target to the carrier and set it out to the desired distance (up to 25 yards) with the wall-mounted switch. Next uncase that gun, load your magazines, and pew pew. Make sure you’re following the safety rules, and make sure that gun is pointed downrange.
Everyone has a preferred target type and shooting distance as evidenced above. The overachiever with the 25 yard target is yours truly with a pistol caliber carbine (PSTC has “rifle nights” where you can bring your 5.56/.223, 7.62, .300 long arms, but that’s one night a week).
Shell Cases Fly When You’re Having Fun
As you chug through your allotted ammo, you’ll start accumulating cartridge cases. The Blue Deck has a number of squeegee “mops” that you can use to gather up those cases and push them onto the lanes. The PSTC staff take care of those later, so all you need to do is keep the deck floor clear.
As the Boy Scouts say, leave your campsite cleaner than how you found it. Once you’re done, sweep up the cases, dispose of the empty ammo boxes and the perforated targets (or take those with you as souvenirs), secure your handgun at the bench (keep that muzzle pointed downrange), and exit the deck through the airlock.
Settle Up and Head Out
Return to the armory counter and pay your bar tab (you’ll probably doff the muffs and goggles before you do that, otherwise you’ll yell a lot - which I’ve done before). Be sure to wash your hands before leaving, not just for COVID sake, but to remove the lead residue from your shooting session.
Y’all Come Back Now, Ya Hear?
The next time you visit the PSTC gun range, consider renting and trying out one of many firearms from the armory. While they may not have all the latest and greatest makes and models, there’s sufficient variety and representation to explore as well as to experience a particular handgun before getting the ball rolling with the FLGS (Fine Local Gun Shop) to augment (or start) your collection.
And that’s it! I’ve likely added more details than what’s absolutely necessary, but hopefully this is succinct enough. Or not.