Ryan, who asked that the couple’s last name not be used, remembers a news story a few years ago about home invasion robbers breaking through front doors. Ryan, who grew up around guns, wanted his wife to learn to use firearms for self-defense.
They frequent Whistling Pines Gun Club, on the east edge of Colorado Springs, where Ryan is a member. They enjoy shooting as a sport and bring a .22 pistol to the range to “plink” at targets for fun. But they come mainly for self-defense and practice so they can be proficient in the use of the pistols they carry – Ryan’s 40-caliber Smith and Wesson and Brenda’s 9 mm.
“I have a gun in my purse at all times,” Brenda said. “I need to know that I know how to manage it, what to do with it, and that I feel comfortable shooting and that I’m accurate.”
Shooting ranges have been a fixture in the Pikes Peak region for decades.
But the growing popularity of gun ownership is driving the development of more facilities, whose owners say they’re catering to a demographic that increasingly includes young people, women and couples.
Whistling Pines, which opened in 2006 near U.S. 24 and Marksheffel Road, is adding a second indoor location in November on the Springs’ northwest side, off Garden of the Gods Road and near Elkton Drive. Magnum Shooting Center, another indoor range, also will open in November at the Copper Ridge retail complex southeast of Interstate 25 and North Gate Boulevard. Gold Camp Shooting Sports Center, an outdoor range, will open in August near Victor in Teller County.
Gun owners who have long enjoyed recreational shooting are being joined by those who carry firearms for self-defense – and want to become proficient at handling and shooting their guns.
“The trend has shifted to the largest segment of gun buyers, which is new shooters,” said Todd Lockburner, a partner and general manager of Magnum Shooting Center. “They’re looking for a place where they can shoot safely and get some good training for themselves and for their entire family.”
Males traditionally have been the largest gun owner demographic, Lockburner said. Now, he and other shooting range owners and industry experts say, they see a wider variety of owners. Women who want firearms for self-defense – including single moms – make up a growing segment of gun owners.
A 2003 profile of women participating in shooting sports showed that nearly 2.6 million women were involved in target shooting with handguns, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. That number rose to 4.5 million in 2012.
Bob Holmes, co-owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club, said self-defense increasingly is important for all demographic groups, but it’s especially true for women.
“When women come in here, that’s usually the major driver,” Holmes said. “They’re not coming in here for the most part just because they love shooting. Some of them do. But the idea is, ‘Hey, if I have to defend myself or my family, I want to know what I’m doing. I choose not to be a victim’.”
Some owners also no doubt buy firearms after mass slayings, such as the Aurora movie theater shooting two years ago, said Paul Paradis, owner of Paradis Sales Firearms on the Springs’ west side and president of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition.
“People have realized that, one, the police get there to draw the outline around your body and go look for the bad guy,” Paradis said. “And, two, to have any type of credible defense, you’ve got to do it yourself. And more people are aware of that fact.”
Background checks – an indicator of firearms sales – totaled about 514,000 last year in Colorado, double what they were in 1999, which was the first full year of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to FBI statistics. With more people owning firearms, the demand for venues where they can learn about guns and hone their skills has soared.
Informal shooting areas have been popular for years on public land in the Pikes Peak region, but some have been shuttered because of safety issues. Those facilities also were too far away for some gun owners who wanted to shoot over their lunch hour or after work, Paradis said.
New indoor facilities – like those in Colorado Springs – offer year-round shooting, safety features and modern amenities, said Mike Bazinet, public affairs director for the Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group.
They’re typically better lit with state-of-the-art ventilation systems, provide electric target returns for convenience and offer retail space, lounges and even restaurants, Bazinet said. Many people, especially younger shooters, expect clean, well-maintained facilities, he said.
Whistling Pines’ east-side location is a 12,500-square-foot, members-only club – a concept that offers greater protection because those who belong are apt to be more dedicated to firearms safety, said Holmes, who owns the facility with his wife, Joyce.
The club has several membership options: Individuals pay a one-time fee of $350, plus a monthly cost of $32.50, while families pay a one-time fee of $700 and a $65 monthly fee for up to four family members. Other memberships are available for couples, groups and corporations; memberships also are transferable.
Whistling Pines has two bays, or shooting areas; one bay has 10 shooting lanes, including two rated for rifles, while the second bay has eight pistol lanes and is used for tactical shooting scenarios. The facility also has a retail area with gun and ammo sales, training courses, gun smithing and a lounge.
Whistling Pines’ second location is under construction; its fees will be similar, although they’re available at a discount and members will be able to use both facilities. Some nearby residents opposed Whistling Pines’ second facility, saying they feared noise and declining property values; the project was OK’d by the City Council in April.
It’s also an indoor facility and will have 20,000 square feet, 14 pistol lanes and five rifle lanes. Holmes said the biggest concentration of members come from the Springs’ northwest side, and some said they didn’t like the cross-town drive to reach the east-side facility. Holmes and his wife talked for a year or two before deciding to expand, he said.
Lockburner, of Magnum Shooting Center, said many people on the city’s north side expressed an interest in an indoor facility.
Magnum will have 33,000 square feet, 24 indoor pistol/rifle lanes, six 100-yard indoor pistol/rifle lanes and two 50-yard indoor pistol/rifle lanes, as well as classrooms, gun smithing, a store and a lounge. Magnum also offers several membership options: Individuals will pay a one-time fee of $299 and $28.50 a month, while families will pay a $650 fee and $60 a month.
Unlike Whistling Pines, Magnum will be open to nonmembers, who will be charged $25 an hour for range shooting.
“We didn’t want to be a standard type club that’s just the same group of guys,” Lockburner said. “We want to be open to the general public and help grow the sport.”
Gold Camp Shooting Sports Center, the outdoor range in Teller County, will feature a 100-yard combined handgun and rifle range with 20 firing positions and a shotgun range for sporting clays.
Gold Camp was launched by the nonprofit Teller County Shooting Society, whose members and guests will use the range; a basic membership starts at $150 per year and covers spouses and children younger than 18. Over time, the Shooting Society hopes to expand the Gold Camp facility to 10 ranges.
Owners of indoor facilities market their facilities to shooters who don’t want to worry about wind, rain or other weather conditions.
“You’re not dealing with the elements,” Lockburner said.
At the same time, they’re marketed as community gathering places. They’re used for birthday parties, bachelor or bachelorette parties, corporate outings and even wedding receptions – especially as the interest in firearms crosses different demographics, industry experts said.
“Some people have suggested that shooting at a range has become what bowling used to be in terms of a community activity,” Bazinet said. “You go, and have your lane and can enjoy that activity with your friends.”
Because of the demand among firearms enthusiasts, the modern, amenities-filled shooting centers should do well financially, Bazinet said.
“It’s a very healthy time for the industry,” he said.
Still, the business has challenges.
Holmes declined to disclose membership numbers for Whistling Pines. But after a deadly 2007 shooting at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the club saw monthly memberships double, Joyce Holmes said. There also was a spike after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut five years later.
Whistling Pines had a good year in 2013, when the General Assembly tightened gun laws in Colorado and many people worried about losing their gun rights, Bob Holmes said. Retail sales were strong, and memberships “were going through the roof,” he said.
This year, however, business has slowed, he said. And after they open their second facility, the Holmeses expect to see a slowdown at their east-side range. They’re looking at ways to keep people coming through the door of that location, such as offering a discount program for active members of the military.
“You can make a living at it,” Bob Holmes said of shooting ranges, “but it’s not a business where you’re going to go out and make millions of dollars.”