With the nation’s ever-growing number of gun owners, and self-defense training of paramount importance, shooting ranges are busier than ever before. So busy, many shooters are now avoiding the crowds by building their own backyard and do-it-yourself shooting ranges.

And tactical shooters lead the way, creating their own shooting venues for sighting-in, general practice and run-and-gun drills.

Which means that you, the tactical retailer, have a chance to score some added profits servicing this growing number of range-hungry shooters — at a higher profit margin than you will usually make on new firearms.

Ping, Ping!

“We’ve seen real growth in the market for steel targets and moving targets,” says Miles Hall, co-owner of H&H Shooting Sports in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “Really, any kind of target that makes noise or moves when you hit it. Shooter just love that loud ‘ping!’ ”

Hall says the increase in sales of these kind of targets has tracked the increase in younger and first-time shooters the industry has seen enter the shooting sports market the last few years. Whereas the traditional target shooters were all about a shooting bench and punching paper targets, these new shooters, Hall notes, want action.

“They grew up with video games,” Hall says. “They want stuff that moves. Plus, they like AR-platform rifles and many, many of them practice concealed carry. This last group, especially, doesn’t want to just practice marksmanship. They want to train, in real-life kinds of scenarios.”

In other words, tactical shooters.

For these shooters, steel targets are preferred, for several reasons. They make noise when a bullet impacts them, they can move, and they are durable enough to last through several years of shooting. The durability factor is very important, Hall adds, as these people tend to be volume shooters. They use 20- and 30-round magazines in the ARs and high-capacity handgun mags, and they go to a shooting venue with the express intent of putting many, many rounds downrange. So they need targets that can withstand hundreds of hits and years of use — and keep preforming.

For more than two decades, MGM Targets have been a staple on competitive shooting circuits around the nation. Recently, MGM Targets unveiled its new and competitively priced line, The Sportsman Target Series. Reliable and easily portable, American-made MGM targets are made from top-quality, 500 brinnel steel, and that includes the entire Sportsman series. From the Plate Rack to a variety of different-sized gongs, to various targets that can be set up on posts and with rebars, the Sportsman Series are a natural choice for the backyard and DIY range builders.

A new company on the steel target scene is Hill & Mac Gunworks out of Alpharetta, Georgia. The company uses AR 500 steel targets in a variety of shapes attached to an innovative steel base that angles the target toward the ground, funneling bullet spall down and away from shooters.

Each target is attached to a reactive spring that allows the target to fall slightly backwards and then pop right back up. The spring can be removed if customers want the target to stay down, and there are different accessory springs with lighter tension to suit any shooter’s needs. The targets fold down on their base for easy transport and are secured by an included cam strap.

Smaller And Bouncing

Hall recommends stocking a selection of the smaller reactive targets, too, the kind that usually sit on the ground and roll and bounce when hit.

“Flipping, moving, popping up — younger shooters really love that,” says Hall. “And they really love using these kinds of targets when they are shooting AR-15 platform rifles and other semi-automatic long guns and handguns.”

Compared to the larger steel-gong-type targets, these smaller “bouncers” and “poppers” have the advantage of taking up a good deal less counter and shelf space.

Benches And Sleds

But even for the most die-hard tactical shooters, do-it-yourself or backyard ranges are not all about movement. Long guns and handguns still need to be sighted-in, and that means a bench or stable rest of some sort, paper targets, and some sort of target frame to hold the paper. Most gun shops already stock the paper targets. The tactical retailer might want to consider some of the other more tactical accessories, too.

Tactical and 3-gun shooters are a big part of the customer base at Gamaliel Shooting Supply, Gamaliel, Kentucky, and many of these shooters have their properties tricked out for some serious shooting.

“We sell a lot of bags and rests to these customers,” says Grayson Pare, gun department buyer for Gamaliel. “But for the tactical market specifically, the Caldwell Lead Sled Solo Rifle Shooting Rest is the most popular. It has an offset frame that allows you to use it with AR-15s and other semi-auto rifles with 30-round magazines. Many of the other rests do not have enough clearance for the higher-capacity magazines.”

Caldwell and other manufacturers also offer shooting bags made to accommodate the AR-15 platform rifles.

Displays And Space

Most of these range-type products do require a good amount of shelf and/or floor space.

“We had some concerns about that space requirement,” says Pare. “But we discovered that these products tend to be packaged pretty efficiently for their size. It helps if you can keep one or two out of the box and assembled for customers to look at. We have a couple of shelves dedicated to steel targets and poppers, too.”

Hall admits that as he and his staff were selling more of this DIY range merchandise, and they felt the pressure to display more, they did have concerns about the added shelf and floor space.

“But what we found was, as we devoted more space to these items, we moved more and more of them,” says Hall. “In general, they do take up more retail space then say, firearms or ammunition. But we’ve found that the space devoted to these items pays off very well — at the register!”

Another advantage of stocking these kinds of products: “They tend to sell themselves,” Hall says. “Now, customers are always going to have questions, and we need to be ready to answer those questions. But a steel target that pops up when you hit it? A spinner target? A shooting bench? Those are pretty self-explanatory.”

And while they are not gaudy, profit margins on targets and related accessories are solid. Kevin Murphy, marketing manager for MGM Targets, notes that most of their retail partners earn from 17 to 20 percent profits on MGM products — or a good 5 to 8 percent above the margin most retailers make on new firearms.

When you add it all up, the customer looking to build or maintain his or her own shooting range can be a valuable addition to your business plan.