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As the bitter winter cold draws in, many of us will be looking for a warmer climate to migrate to, in order to continue doing what we love. The rainy weekend weather has prevented me from venturing out with the shooting gear in tow; until I was reminded of an indoor range within a reasonable driving distance of my home.
Having access to a few permissions and owning a sizable plot of land that includes woodland of my own, I find it hard to justify putting my hands in my pockets and paying someone else for the privilege to shoot, but needs must and I need to get out and pull the trigger a few times.
I packed up the Air Arms FTP900, and its favourite food, a sorted tin of JSB Exact .177 pellets and made sure I had a few quid for some chips if I stayed long enough to get hungry, then set off for the range.
Arriving into Atherton was easy, taking Junction 4 on the M6 and making my way another mile to a large old cotton mill via the A579 Bolton Road. Access to the mill was via the rear Bolton Old Road. As I drove down the road, I checked the opening times of The Valley Chippy, the chip shop is open during the week which was great for me, but sadly they’re closed on Sundays. Fear not, avid readers, the range also serves food all day.
I pulled into the large busy car park yet managed to find a nice spot to park in, the car park is secure with only one entry and exit point, and best of all it's free, to customers shopping or visiting the mill.
I grabbed my gear, and made my way to the mill, passing the ground floor furniture store, I made my way up the steel staircase onto the first floor, then past the Pole Dancing Fitness School and Atherton Escape Rooms and arrived at a large black steel door with a buzzer on it.
The Atherton Mill houses a number of businesses, these include and aren’t limited to a ground floor furniture retailer, the ground floor Atherton Roller Rink, yes you guessed it, it’s for ice skating and particularly caters for those interested in ice hockey. Around the side of the Mill the Players Lounge can be found, this is a licenced snooker and pool hall. The first floor houses a dance studio which specialises in Pole Dancing and Fitness and just before getting to the range you pass the Escape Rooms, but I wasn’t here for any of them, I wanted to get past the big black steel door and shoot.
Pressing the bell and looking into the camera, I heard the tone of the buzzer which in return warrants a heavy push on the door and then I stepped into the Magical Kingdom.
I was immediately greeted by a fellow shooter, someone I had met in the range before, we exchanged pleasantries and I plonked my gear on a bench at the side, before stepping up to the reception area to meet the lovely little lady who stands poised on her podium there. Becky asked that I read the updated range safety notes pinned to the side wall whilst she booked me into the range computer. I paid my fee and made my way to a gap in the bench. Offloading my rifle and pellets, I hung my bag on a hook just behind me and grabbed a bench rest sandbag whilst I was doing so; the bags and rests are free to use and supplied by the range.
The bench is very sturdy, built off a concrete platform and made with steel supports and a sturdy top finished in a comfortable felt covering, it’s almost like a black, mildly ribbed carpet.
The seats are independent swivel stools, with red comfortably padded tops and a nice foot rail. The stools can be moved and also adjusted which is nice for people of varying heights.
I had poised myself at the 42-yard first floor range and could see in front of me there was plenty to shoot at, the floor had been littered with spinners professionally set out at varying marked yard intervals. The back and the right-hand side walls are covered in steel sheet, forming a safe and sturdy back stop. The wall to the left and rear of me have windows allowing into the open space of the range plenty of natural light. The range is also well-lit with overhead fluorescent lighting. I could also feel the warmth of the infrared lamp radiating onto my back which would keep me warm on this wet British miserable winter's day.
The indoor range also houses 3 other separate ranges, they are:
The 75-yard Range: Situated on the second floor and accessed through the club via the rear star case. The range is spacious and warm. The sheer size of the range and the targets available to shoot can be a little overwhelming for the novice shooter. The 75-yard has been designed for sub 12ft/lbs and FAC air rifle use.
The 10m Pistol Range: The first floor also houses the 10-metre pistol range, which is accessed via a small staircase to the right of the reception. A private range WC can also be found on the stairs to the right of the reception.
The 25-yard Rimfire Range: This range was recently installed by the business owners to offer a live firing experience to its regular attendees. The 25-yard also has a comfortable covered steel bench and a fantastic electronic distance-controlled target facility to bring your target in and out when required.
When looking behind the reception, you can make out the large commercial kitchen - food and drink is available on request and the staff are always welcoming and friendly. The kitchen is gracefully accompanied by a comfortable dining area and shooting lounge, where visitors can take a rest from shooting and catch up on all kinds of shooting related banter.
On the 42-yard range I checked my rifle’s zero on a spinner at 30 yards and waited for Becky to ring the siren for a range line closure which would allow me to put up my Bull Run cards. The range runs an all year-round free Bull Run competition, cards are scored every day. The cards are set up at 30 yards and anyone can shoot the competition providing you are capable of holding and handling an air rifle. Bull Run Cards are available to purchase for a small fee at reception.
Safety at the range is paramount and all active shooters or observers are strictly monitored by the range staff. When the siren sounds, all rifles have to be discharged safely, break barrels are to be popped open ensuring they’re not cocked, and bolt action PCPs must have their bolts open, magazines removed and chambers emptied, before anyone is allowed to enter the firing range area to pick up or set up new shooting cards. Facilities are available to set up cards at any distances both in the 42 and 75-yard range. The Range Marshall also asks that everyone steps away from the bench to ensure safety before allowing anyone onto the range. The danger to anyone attending the range is completely minimised and I commend the range staff on the way they operate. I’ve taken my children to the range and endeavour to do so again in the near future.
I took my time to shoot four bull run cards and whilst I was satisfied with my results, I chose not to submit them. The best three scores win prizes at Christmas. I had a spot of lunch before making my way upstairs to the 75-yard range.
On the range, I gradually shot out to 75 yards, working out my hold over and hold under at different ranges. Before ploughing 100 or so pellets into ‘The Bucket’, a hole half way up the wall at 75 yards. Yes, it’s called ‘The Bucket’ because it takes most shooters a bucket load of pellets to ring the bell behind the hole. Confident that I had succeeded in proving I was the greatest shot on the range that day to myself, of course, I decided it was time to get home before the wife and kids sent out a search party to retrieve me, I was just having too much fun.
Four hours at the range seems a long time, but I have spent longer spells of time there, shooting and chatting with like-minded air gun enthusiasts. The range is a great place to make new friends, try other guns and see some rare oddities and collectors’ pieces. Most of all it’s just a great place to go when it’s cold, wet and windy outside, even if you just want a place to hang out.
As I made my way out saying good day to the regulars and hello to the new faces, I remembered the Gun Shop. Yes, the range has its own Gun Shop, and yes, they are Registered Firearms Dealers offering everything all good RFDs do. I asked Andrew, one of the owners, to allow me to take a look at some of the new airguns and some second-hand airguns they have in stock, hoping I wouldn’t find something I liked. Unfortunately, every airgun I touch or cast my eye on is something I want to take home with me, I just can’t get enough. Andrew the co-owner offered me a cup of tea and we chatted for a short period before I reluctantly forced myself to get on my way; I could be in the airgun heaven forever. A.I.R is a place you don’t want to leave and they don’t want you to go.
Whilst the range is open between Wednesday to Sunday, the lanes can get quite busy, the owners offer a telephone enquiry service for any non-member who would like to check on range availability before arriving. The range also offers a gun hiring facility for anyone new to the sport or for anyone who attends without an airgun (the staff also offer a coaching or mentoring facility). If anyone is planning on visiting the Atherton Indoor Range, I would suggest looking through their website and Facebook pages for full details, and hopefully one day I might see you there.
Friendly indoor atmosphere and a multitude of open ranges, for various disciplines.
No pressure environment, and no gun snobbery, turn up with anything and shoot with anything as long as it's safe and within the limits of the VCR Act and the range rules.
The range hosts a regular fun Sunday competition, offering regular Sunday fun shoot prizes.
All year-round Bull Run competition, free to enter at any time of the year.
Heated indoor ranges.
Restaurant with dining and lounge areas (offering burgers and all-day breakfast… yummy, as well as other things).
Free air gun refills for all shooters, the range also have a dive bottle filling service at a cost, please refer to their website for details. If you forget your fill probe the range staff will do their best to find you one to use.
An onsite RFD, to buy guns, shooting gear or ammunition.
An annual fun ‘BULL RUN’ competition that runs all year-round.
Other onsite Mill facilities offering great alternative activities for all walks of life.
Plenty to shoot at and plenty of like-minded individuals to share your hobby and interest with.
Impeccable range safety.
Free car park.
The range can be hired for private events, or team building excursions, please see their website for details.
Clean & tidy with friendly approachable range staff and owners.
Situated on the first and second floors of the Mill, that does not have a lift, so anyone who cannot climb the stairs may struggle to get up to the range.
It’s a long walk to get to the range from the car park, and would be very difficult for elderly or infirm people carrying heavy gear. I’d suggest asking someone to help, the range staff and members are always on hand.
No Pay by Card facility. Unfortunately, the range only accepts cash, but I have been told this will change, please refer to the website for further developments.
Membership isn’t offered to under 14s, this doesn’t however exclude them from shooting as a visitor at the range.
Atherton Indoor Range (A.I.R) sets the standard for indoor ranges in the UK.
I hope you enjoyed this review, as always ‘Shoot Safe & Shoot Straight’.