Photos and Story by Delia Engstrom
Summer months can often cause local residents to daydream of a destination that doesn’t leave them covered in sweat and bug bites. Many find that travel options are limited, either by the desire to avoid congested highways or the price tag of some attractions. But for those looking to safely improve their proficiency with firearms, a reprieve from the humidity can be found at a place that is both affordable and a constant 71 degrees: Elite Shooting Sports in Gainesville.
Opened in November 2014 and billed as “the nation’s most advanced indoor shooting range,” Elite has quickly established itself as a popular and accessible Prince William destination. This 65,000-square-foot building near the intersection of Routes 234 and 66 has been a lifelong dream of owner Greg Wodack, a competitive shooter for the last 25 years and the former manager of the NRA Headquarters Range in Fairfax.
Also a professional range consultant, Wodack designed the facility from the ground up, rather than retrofitting an existing building. This allowed for engineered safety features and sealed substructures, or as Wodack calls it, “a concrete bunker in a concrete building.” However, you’d be hard pressed to find anything reminiscent of a bunker when you enter this state-of-the-art structure.
Visitors to Elite Shooting Sports are struck by the expansive, well-lit feel of the interior. An abundance of leather sofas and chairs in the “club room,” as well as flat screen TVs, lend a comfortable yet upscale vibe. An admitted pet peeve of Wodack’s is the harsh feel of some gun shops and ranges, so he hopes to allay any fears first-time visitors might have. “I want everyone to feel welcome, people from all walks of life and all mindsets,” he said. “It’s also important to me that women and children feel safe and comfortable in my facility.”
In addition to the filtration and cooling system that keeps interior air a comfortable temperature and free of gun smoke, a major factor in making visitors feel comfortable is the customer service. The nearly 50 employees have varying degrees of backgrounds with firearms, with many hired for their ability to provide a great experience to clients, said Wodack. Selected in large part for their dispositions, you might not realize which employees are military vets, lifelong shooters or college students. All have the same welcoming and professional demeanor.
In fact, if it weren’t for the firearm accessories available in the retail shop, you might forget you were even inside one of the largest indoor shooting ranges in the country. Rob Tucker, a resident of Montclair, who was visiting for the first time with his 17-year-old son Hayden, said, “Elite is even bigger than we imagined. It’s a spacious, but yet very welcoming environment.”
Upon arrival, first-time visitors like the Tuckers check in at the registration desk in the lobby. Adults 18 and over will need to present a valid ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. Children ages 7-17 are allowed to shoot with adult supervision, and must be with a parent or legal guardian at the time of registration. Subsequent visits for a child can be with any adult. Each new patron is also required to pay a one-time $10 registration fee and fill out the necessary personal information on an iPad.
Next, new customers are required to watch a 9-minute orientation video describing the range’s rules and regulations, proper firearm handling techniques and target usage. “The video was very informative and specific to this particular range. We feel well-prepared to spend time shooting here,” said Tucker.
Range Safety Officers are available at a separate counter to assist with lane rentals as well as target or ammunition purchases. Elite has two 25-yard ranges and a 50-yard range available for $20 an hour for one shooter; it’s $25 an hour for the 100-yard range. Each additional adult on a lane is $10 and children always shoot for free. Memberships are available for $34.95 a month, with a discount available for military, law enforcement and firefighters. Protective gear for eyes and ears is available at no extra charge. Visitors must bring their own firearms.
If you’re interested in getting involved in shooting, but don’t know where to begin, Elite offers a variety of co-ed instructional classes, as well as the popular “Ladies Only” class. Held on alternating Wednesday nights and consistently sold-out in advance, an all-female instructional staff provides women with the opportunity to become familiar with different firearms. A 2:1 student/teacher ratio ensures that attendees receive the attention and level of training that Elite prides itself on.
Once inside the ranges, customers will notice the wide shooting lanes and a state-of-the-art target retrieval system. Range Safety Officers are a constant, yet quiet presence, and are readily available if needed. A Ti Training™ simulator room “provides literally thousands of decision-making scenarios for both law enforcement and civilian” training on lasers or with live-fire, according to Elite’s website. The room also has an evaluation platform. A two-story “shoot house” will also open soon, catering to training for law enforcement agencies.
When lane time has expired, there’s no need to leave to unwind. Breakfast, lunch and dinner items are available daily in their café, along with complimentary Wi-Fi. Even at its busiest, Elite never feels crowded and you never feel rushed. While resting in the lounge area after shooting his .22 rifle, Hayden remarked, “I could stay here all day. I can’t wait for my sister to come back with us!” Elite Shooting Sports is located at 7751 Doane Drive, Manassas, and is open daily from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Learn more at eliteshootingsports.com.
Delia Engstrom is a freelance event photographer currently residing in Montclair. Originally from New York, she has been actively involved in photography for nearly 30 years. She has lived all over the country and enjoys exploring new locales and being active in her community in every place she has called home. She can be reached at [email protected]