Interview with Jim Uhlinger, Senior Range Engineer at MT2 Firing Range Services
Understanding the needs of your firing range and how to effectively plan a lead reclamation and maintenance schedule is very important. Considerations discussed in this interview include common questions surrounding lead reclaimed/recovered from outdoor ranges and the differences between reclaiming lead from rifle/pistol compared to shotgun ranges offering clay target sports.
Jim, would you give us an overview of determining the right time to reclaim lead from an outdoor firing range?
Jim Uhlinger (JU): First and foremost, safety issues must be considered. Physical safety for shooters by avoiding ricochets off impact areas for example. Lead can potentially travel offsite through ricochet skips, or other mechanisms because of the high content of lead in the berms. Ricochets can travel all the way back to the firing line from a fair distance (even 50 yards) or more. Therefore, it’s important that you carefully inspect your backstops and range areas on a regular basis to see where the lead is. Typically lead reclamation for understanding the difference between rifle and shotgun ranges or shot gun ranges should be considered or executed every 3-5 years based on usage and need. How often will really depend on the volume of activity your range experiences.
In addition to shooter-safety, ranges must also focus on the environment. A key factor in protecting the environment is by ensuring that lead bullets and lead shot are contained within the rifle/pistol berms and that shot fall zones are solely within the ranges property. It is critical that ranges formulate management practices to avoid offsite releases of lead. Developing site specific environmental stewardship plans for your range can help with your overall bullet containment and lead reclamation practices.
Are there additional things to consider for rifle/pistol and shotgun ranges?
Jim Uhlinger (JU): Yes. Consider that the range should do all it can to ensure that lead does not end up off the range property. This can be done by designing adequate safety danger zones for rifle/pistol ranges along with USEPA BMPs and ensuring range-user hygiene practices and shot fall zones to ensure lead stays within range property boundaries. At shotgun ranges, the range should evaluate shooting directions and shot fall zones against property boundaries. At either type of range, surface erosion conditions and drainages should be identified and addressed to reduce the potential for off-range lead migration. Lastly, at rifle/pistol ranges lead reclamation should be integrated into planning so to minimize the potential for ricochets which could result in physical hazards to shooters as discussed above and to prevent lead from escaping the range. We always recommend that periodic inspections of the down range areas be conducted to identify if lead is staying on the range or potentially getting off-site. This inspection can be included in an Environmental Stewardship Plan for the range. As soon as you start seeing lead in places where you don’t expect it to go, it’s time to start thinking about a containment and maintenance plan.
Jim, are there major differences in reclaiming lead from a pistol range as compared to a shotgun range?
Jim Uhlinger (JU): Yes, the concept is the same at either type of range; we go out, and find the soil that has the lead, separate and concentrate, recycle the lead and, if beneficial, treat and best-manage the soil by putting it back on the range for beneficial reuse. Typically bullet berms require less dirt to process than shotgun range shot fall zones. This allows the project time-frame to be condensed to an average of 1 week compared to 3-4 weeks for a shotgun range. While the general concept is the same, the tools and techniques are different. For instance, the typical size and shape of the lead obtained from rifle/pistol ranges and shotgun ranges may be significantly different and typically the soil matrix is different as well. Bullets and bullet fragments are expected to be around a half to a quarter inch or bigger. Lead shot can vary from 1.5mm to 2.0mm in diameter. On rifle and pistol ranges, the berm is designed to receive and concentrate the lead in areas behind targets. Bullets and bullet fragments may be found 1-2 feet below the surface of a rifle/pistol range soil backstop the berm which may consist of sandy to clay, whereas shot gun pellets typically are found with 1-4 inches of the surface in a shot gun range shot fall zone.
The key is to separate the lead from the soil and vegetative debris which can complicate the process. Based on our experience, the separation process should use a system capable of separating lead from soils based on size (using a screen) and based on density (using a finishing system) to obtain the highest quantity and quality of lead for recycling. Another difference is in the value of the lead. Bullets and bullet fragments are typically multiple sizes and aster or splatter and hold onto the soil. Lead shot has a more regular spherical shape. As such, the lead bullets and bullet fragments are considered scrap metal by the recycler and likely will be re-melted whereas the lead shot can be cleaned and reloaded and/or go to melt. Therefore, we typically see a better price from recyclers for lead shot.
When may there be a benefit for a shooting range / range owner to have MT2 come out to reclaim the lead?
Jim Uhlinger (JU): Many credible lead reclamation companies will share some of the proceeds generated from the recyclable lead recovered. However, many variables come into play when determining how much, if any a range will receive. These elements include the equipment and technologies being used, methods to maximize lead reclaimed from the range and any relationships the provider has established with top recyclers across the country. Through these relationships providers such as MT2 can help defray the cost of the entire project because they are able to get top dollar for all the reclaimed lead.
Because of the relationships we have with top recyclers across the country, we can help defray the cost of a lead reclamation project because we’re able to get top dollar for all the lead from the “fines”, the lead shot, and the lead bullets. We’ve been in the business since 2000, and we create a product that is valuable to them because we have invested millions of dollars into cutting-edge tools, techniques and methods to maximize lead reclaimed from a range. This benefits the range, because we obtain the highest possible lead proceeds in the industry, typically MT2 shares these proceeds with the range owner!
How much can a range get to go toward the cost of the project?
Jim Uhlinger (JU): Sure, lower-use bullet ranges can generate $30,000 like a DNR range we recently worked on in Iowa. If the training range sees heavy use, similar to a Law Enforcement Range in major Metropolitan range in Washington, we have generated $100,000 plus. Lead reclamation at a Rifle Pistol range typically will generate a significant off-set to the cost of performing lead reclamation and may even generate enough money to pay for the project with a small credit to the range. Shotgun ranges vary with usage and geometry, but a larger trap range may generate $200,000 or more every 5-10 years. Larger trap ranges typically are 5 or more heavily-used positions and would depend on usage and time since last cleaning. Typically, the project is performed when enough lead shot is available to cover the costs with a credit back to range of up to 50%. The key to maximizing reclaimed value is careful assessment of the usage and lead present followed by excavation, efficient separation, concentration equipment, and utilizing a firm with Nationwide lead recycler agreements to receive maximum National values, rather than local value for recycled lead.
MT2 Firing Range Services is a leading provider of indoor and outdoor firing range lead reclamation and maintenance contractor. Now in its 18th year, MT2 offers full-scale outdoor and indoor firing range environmental, maintenance and construction services at more 2,500 ranges nationwide, and for law enforcement, military and commercial ranges in all 50 states.