The ups and down of Airsoft ranges
In one of the fastest growing sports in the country, it can often be a challenge to find good fields to practice and compete. The tragic reality is that there just are not enough good airsoft facilities out there. Unlike neighborhood league softball and football teams where you can find a dozen fields in any small to medium sized towns to use, airsoft and milsim events are relegated to "get in where they fit in." This has meant that ranges have had to become largely subsidized by the airsoft community itself in an effort to make them available.
(Photo from Watertown Airsoft)
Shooting sports model
With "traditional" firearms based sports such as clays, 3-gun competitions, IPSC etc., there is often the fallback of financial support from Pittman-Robertson funds to help build and maintain ranges. Those funds, which have been authorized since the 1930s, are paid for by firearms and ammunition makers on the value of their products through an excise tax that is collected by the ATF. The ATF then turns those funds over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife that issues them to the state conservation agencies with strict end-use requirements that they be spent only on hunter's education, conservation efforts, and (wait for it) shooting ranges.
Now when you take into account that manufacturers send in 10 percent of every estimated sale to this fund, and then understand that gun sales have been through the roof in the past few years, you can see how high those Scrooge McDuck stacks of Pittman Robertson funds have grown.
In 2014, $760 million was apportioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Pittman Robertson funds. This money often goes to build a lot of nice (free to the) public shooting ranges. This is great for sports shooters to stay on top of their game but what about airsoft? Well, airsoft manufacturers don't chip in to Pittman Robertson so we don't get a chunk of those government-collected millions.
Pittman-Robertson was such a success that in the 1950s fishing lobbyists pushed for the Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act, which, under the horribly tragic name of the DingellJohnson Act, does the same thing with excise taxes on fishing equipment to improve habitat, and build and stock lakes, rivers and ponds across the country. It also pays for boating safety programs.
Should makers and lawmakers set that up in the future to help pay for airsoft safety programs and public fields? While it would surely increase end-costs of paintball equipment, as the tax would be passed along to the consumer as the price of doing business, it would allow for funds for public airsoft ranges and therefore help expand the sport. Although it could be argued that such public ranges would put private fields out of business, both public and private shooting ranges exist, often very close to each other.
Sure, there are public lands such as parks and recreation areas that are often open to airsofter's using them in small scale at least, but do you really want to dodge a family picnic while displacing under harsh 6mm incoming fire?
Would you pay an extra 10 percent on your BBs, eyepro, and guns if you knew it would go to grow the sport and set aside clean, safe ranges? Food for thought.
One popular method of setting up a local-use airsoft field is the club model. In this, its normally an informal agreement by a group of participants who have their own team in which member offers the use of their land or land they have access to (such as that of a friend or family member) for practice and small scale matches. From firsthand experience, this has pluses and minuses. Several years ago a team I was a member of set up a club range on ten acres of land I had purchased to build a house on. Well until I could save up the money for the house itself, it served as our "camp" and we often practiced shoot and move tactics and even invited over other local teams we were familiar with to scrimmage against. As a precaution whenever we were out in full battle rattle I would notify the local game warden and sheriff's office just in case a random driver passing on the road spotted Soviet Naval Infantry hugging the curvature of the earth in the pine trees and made a phone call.
This worked well until a visiting opposing team member slipped and fell down a ten-foot high ridge and banged himself up pretty good on the way down into the mud. Now I had the forethought to have everyone sign a liability waiver and had some basic property insurance, but noting worth a lot. He walked away and shrugged it off but standing on the top of that ridge looking at him splayed out below gave me a moment of ice-cold chills and immediate concerns about liability and if the waiver I had was worth the paper it was printed on. After consulting with a friend who happened to have a law degree from Ole Miss on the incident, I made the personal decision to halt use of my personal land.
The team started using a wooded area belonging to another member's grandmother but when he moved and left the group; our team fell apart largely due to being homeless.
Sadly, many small teams experience this problem in their growth. In many cases if they don't have good, designated areas to practice in, they can wind up being run off or worse, SWAT'd and charged with trespassing as with an incident earlier this year in Kentucky
Therefore, if there are few if any publicly funded fields out there for the near future, and personal fields rife with possible liability issues, this leaves the private paid fields. As most airsofters will agree, there just aren't enough of these out there. Some of us, of course, are luckier than others in the respect that they may have a nice field relatively local to them. However, even these luck individuals rarely have two nice fields to choose from.
Here at the forums we maintain a growing but incomplete list of fields which means if you know of one that we don't have listed, please add it, or if a field has closed or expanded, please update it.
These fields come and go as they have to pay for liability concerns (which means insurance and bonds), the lot and or building costs (which mean mortgages, lease fees, light bills et. al), employee costs, equipment (ever bought 50 airsoft guns all at once? Moreover, can you imagine how many are still running after six months of daily newbie use), netting to stop ricocheting BB's, so on and so forth. With all this in mind, think twice before criticizing token range fees. If you really think the fees are too high, do a profit and loss analysis of what you would like to see in your ideal field and go out to get the financing to make it a reality.
Sadly, this month we have lost the Citadel in Uxbridge Massachusetts, However in a counterbalance to this disturbance in the force, Watertown Airsoft just picked up a low-interest $32,000 loan from the local Center for Business and Industry to help grow that small business.
In short, watch out for liability on personal land, watch wandering around on land not your own or that you are allowed to use, support your local airsoft field as much as possible, and push for more public access in the interest of the sport.
The team you save could be your own.