100 Acres Of
Shooting Paradise

“5-STAR Okeechobee Shooting Sports
Is The Consummate Destination Range.”
0

Five-star ranges are the gold standard for the recreational shooting sports market. The ranges that have earned this designation from NSSF have demonstrated a high level of excellence in four categories: appearance, management, shooting sports development and amenities. As of October 2020, only 45 indoor ranges, 11 outdoor ranges and one combination range have achieved 5-star status.

Okeechobee Shooting Sports in Okeechobee, Fla., is one of the 11 outdoor 5-star ranges. The facility sprawls over almost 100 acres, and includes clays shooting, a number of ranges, a full-service gun shop and even a campground (coming soon).

Jeff Wait is one of the owners and the general manager of Okeechobee Shooting Sports. His family has been involved in the shooting sports in one way or another since before he was born.

“We’ve owned multiple ranges and a gunsmith shop, and I’ve been involved with several companies,” Wait shared. “We had the first indoor shooting range in West Palm Beach, Fla. Then we built the Bonnette Hunt Club range in the Jupiter, Fla., area before it got sold for development. We had gunsmith shops inside of Palm Beach Shooting Center and Gator Guns.”

Designed From A Shooter’s POV

In 2011, Wait decided to open an outdoor range in southeast Florida. He tried in three coastal counties, Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie. All three refused him permission to build an outdoor range. So, he looked inland for a location that would still be accessible to the urban sprawl of the Palm beaches.

“We had no local option for an outdoor range other than Okeechobee,” Wait recalled. Ironically, a few years later, Palm Beach County gave the go-ahead to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to build an outdoor range close to where Wait originally asked to build one. It opened mid-2020.

“Just because we’ve reached this status doesn’t mean it’s our stopping point.”

Jeff Wait, Co-Owner Okeechobee Shooting Sports

“We were curious about how much that range would hurt us, since it’s an hour closer to most of our customers,” Wait said. A few months in, the opening of the closer range hasn’t affected Okeechobee Shooting Sports much, if at all.

Wait and several other family members are competitive shooters, and they took their combined experience into consideration when they started designing Okeechobee Shooting Sports.

“We’ve shot in every shooting discipline there is,” he declared. “We looked at the design of the facility from a shooter’s point of view. We asked what would make us happy when we were shooting and that’s how we designed it.”

The Okeechobee team prepped for how the flow would work, and what they needed to have in each location on the ranges.

Top: Visitors to Okeechobee Shooting Sports can participate in a variety of disciplines — from a 24-lane,
200-yard rifle range to a 25-lane, 5–50 yard handgun range and more. Bottom: Florida Firearms Training
hosts several classes at Okeechobee Shooting Sports each week. Classes run the gamut: Intro To Handgun,
Defensive Carbine, Advanced Defensive Handgun, Bullets & Cars (for vehicle defense) and point-shooting clinics.

Everything Under The Sun

When it comes to outdoor ranges, Okeechobee Shooting Sports has just about everything. Besides 100-yard and 200-yard rifle ranges, the facility is getting ready to put in a 600-yard rifle range. Only paper targets are allowed on these ranges, and they’re exclusively slow-fire. Okeechobee Shooting Sports also has standard ranges for rifle and pistol that are very similar to those most outdoor ranges have.

“We also have what we call ‘gallery ranges’ with interactive steel targets on them,” Wait added. “You can do rapid fire there — as long as you control your fire. It’s not spray and pray, it’s controlled rapid fire. We don’t have a problem with people hitting the target as fast as they can.”

Wait noted they have a different range for every style of shooting.

“It’s not like a range where ‘no, you can’t do that here,’” he said. “We say, ‘You can do it over there on the other range.’ It’s kind of like motorcycles; you can’t have a track operate dirt bikes and street bikes at the same time — they have to be different tracks.”

Then there are the private ranges. These are for groups to rent, or for instructors to rent to teach classes.

“This way, customers can have the shooting course they want,” Wait said. “They can have the freedom to go cold or hot when they feel like it. Sometimes someone just wants to shoot away from the noise of other people shooting.” (It’s a fairly unique aspect of Okeechobee Shooting Sports Wait shared; not many ranges offer a private option.)

The facility also offers the full gamut of clays shooting sports, including trap, skeet and sporting clays. The sporting clays range is set up as a 5-stand game, with five separate shooting positions, which is more than any other 5-stand field in Florida.

Stand-Out Customer Service

What makes Okeechobee Shooting Sports stand out the most, Wait lends, is their customer service.

“We look for the right people [to hire] who enjoy what they do, and enjoy sharing it,” he said. “We don’t want people with egos who tell everyone how good they are; we want people who get their satisfaction out of making the customer a better shooter. They want their students or their customers to leave with a smile because they really enjoyed themselves. It’s what makes our staff happy.”

This attitude extends to all the ranges.

“You can control your range without being harsh,” Wait advised. “If it gets to the point where a range officer has to raise his voice, the customer is probably going to be asked to leave. We aren’t getting into a yelling match. If the customer doesn’t respond to a polite request by a range officer to follow simple safety rules, this isn’t the place for them. It’s very rare we’ve ever had it happen — most people are apologetic for something slipping their mind.”

Keeping The Same Goal In Mind

Wait shared the owners of Okeechobee Shooting Sports didn’t set out to be a 5-star range; they just wanted to create the best range they could for shooters.

“There were things we wanted to do here we couldn’t do on an indoor range,” he said. “At the time, there also weren’t many places to go shooting around here.” (The latter now has changed. Since Okeechobee Shooting Sports opened, 11 other ranges have opened in their customer area.)

“We didn’t look at it as ‘There are no other options so they have to come here,’” Wait observed. “We wanted to make the safest and most enjoyable place for people to come to shoot. It’s still our goal every day.”

“It’s not like a range where ‘no, you can’t do that here.’ We say, ‘You can do it over there on the other range.’ It’s kind of like motorcycles; you can’t have a track operate dirt bikes and street bikes at the same time — they have to be different tracks.”

Jeff Wait, Co-Owner Okeechobee Shooting Sports

Besides the ranges, Okeechobee Shooting Sports has a full retail gun shop with a gunsmith as well as instructors, and a number of different training companies that come to the facility to train their own students.

Okeechobee Shooting Sports isn’t close to anything, so they’ve created an environment to make it easy for customers to stay all day.

“We have a café that serves a good variety of food,” Wait stated. “When people are out here, they don’t want to leave to get food and then come back. So, we have things set up so it’s easy for them.”

The aforementioned on-site campground will further encourage extended stays.

Okeechobee Shooting Sports developed three custom Draw & Shoot bays for
customers looking to combine draw stroke with live ammunition.

No Time For Complacency

The staff at Okeechobee Shooting Sports works at maintaining its 5-star status, according to Wait.

“It’s something we go over with our employees in meetings,” he noted. “We reiterate why we’re a 5-star range, and this is what we intend to do to keep it. Just because we’ve reached this status doesn’t mean it’s our stopping point.”

Planning For The Future

The great thing about the shooting sports, according to Wait, is you can be any age, any physical condition and any income level — and still enjoy them.

“The other sports aren’t forever,” Wait remarked. “We have people from ages 5 to 95 years old out here shooting. We have people who fly in and land their helicopter next to someone’s junky old car, and they shoot together. It probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else, but out here they’re together having a great time enjoying themselves.”

Five years from now, Wait would like to have the campground completed, with cabins as well as locations for campers.

“We’d also like to have a few more ranges,” he said. “We’d like to have an impact on our area as far as introduction to the shooting sports is concerned. We’d like for people who have never done it before to come try it. Our focus is to continue to be a destination where people come to relax and enjoy the outdoors.”

Ten years from now, he’d like to be a lot bigger.

“I’m a dreamer,” he contended. “Right now we’re about 100 acres; in 10 years I’d like to have purchased more property and have a bigger footprint; basically I’d like to keep growing until we run into water.”

With nearly 100 acres of shooting paradise, Okeechobee has a lot of opportunities that would be impossible to realize elsewhere.

Next month, we’re going to look at a very different 5-star range: Maxon Shooter’s Supplies — an indoor range located in the Chicago suburbs.

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