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Innovative gun shop and range targets enthusiasts

Mixing business and pleasure: Karen and Keith Ruter love to serve their customers and run a store and range dedicated to their beloved hobby. Photo by Zach Arbogast
Mixing business and pleasure: Karen and Keith Ruter love to serve their customers and run a store and range dedicated to their beloved hobby. Photo by Zach Arbogast

Right on the northern edge of Forreston, a dentist and gun enthusiast runs a top-notch facility for shooters and collectors of all experience levels.

The Smokin’ Gun Worx, 8785 N. Baileyville Rd., is much more than just a gun shop, it’s a firing range, training ground, and party venue, all in one place.

The Worx opened in March under Dr. Keith Ruter, Forreston’s dentist for 32 years, along with his wife, Karen.

“People kept saying ‘you should open a gun shop, you should open a gun shop,’ and we were able to make it a reality,” said Karen.

The first thing a visitor sees when entering the front door is the main sales floor, with handguns, rifles, shotguns, and knives adorning the walls and cases, and the center floor area has an enormous variety of gear, including concealed carry purses.

Aside from the models on the floor, the Worx provides consignment services, trades, and features a full-time, in-shop gunsmith, Jarrett Wehunt, of Prophetstown.

From there, each direction has something different — an indoor shooting simulator room, a pair of stacked indoor live firing ranges, and a party room.

Two 25-yard indoor ranges, lined with ballistic steel, sit atop one another on the southwestern part of the building, and each include six stalls separated by steel plating and a slew of sound-dampening baffles to reduce noise.

Stalls also have consoles and range retrievers from Action Target, allowing a shooter to send their own targets out up to 25 yards, and call them back in to see how they’re shooting.

The lower-level targets have settings to rotate for extra challenge to the shooter, and is the site for the “zombies” shooting scenario.

They also have lights the user can brighten or dim to their preference, and have settings to simulate flashing police lights.

Instead of firing into rubber backstops like other ranges, the Worx ranges feature low-angled ramps that funnel projectiles into a deceleration chamber that revolves the projectile until it loses speed and energy, until being collected into buckets at the back of the range.

Safety is king for Ruter’s ranges.

Before even entering the range, shooters enter a safe room between the main floor and the range, where shooters get prepared, put on eye and hearing protection, and are briefed about safety practices.

The doors and windows between the range and safe room are bullet-proof, and alarms will sound, alerting the front desk and calling a ceasefire if the door is opened for more than a few seconds.

An RSO is always present during shootings, and has full communication with the front desk with their microphones - who, in turn, can see everyone on the cameras, and can address shooters and RSOs with a PA system.

A full medical kit is in each range, and log books keep track of everyone who has been inside.

Ruter’s medical background has been a huge boon for his shop.

“In medicine, it’s imperative that we are clean and organized, and ready to handle any type of infection or contamination,” said Ruter. “That spills over into this place, to help keep it safe and clean.

The stalls and floors of the ranges all get thoroughly cleaned of lead dust and residue, and staff wears Tyvek protective suits, eye protection, and respirators during cleanings.

Shooters won’t need to worry about air quality or lead pollution, either; a full ventilation system in each range circulates the air out every single minute, passing it through a layer of paper and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

“The air that exhausts out of the building is actually cleaner than what came in to begin with,” said Ruter. “There is absolutely no possible contamination of the air around the facility.”

The stacked ranges are something of an innovation for ranges, according to Ruter.

“This is one of the first stacked gun ranges in our nation,” said Ruter. “They could never really figure out how to do the floor in a way where shooting up from the lower level wasn’t a danger.”

A layer of precast, two separate layers of concrete, and a lining of ballistic steel later, Ruter had a floor safe enough for a range below.

The entire space is his own drawn-up floor plan.

If live firing isn’t for you, or you’re simply not licensed and qualified for it, a simulator room sits in the southeast of the building, and has scenarios for all ages.

Kids can have fun on the “balloon safari,” shooting at mobile balloon animals, while adults can face a variety of target practice, personal defense, hostage situations, and even zombies.

If you’re looking to make a day out of the Worx with friends, a party room is available on the lower level as well, where food and drink can be served.

Ruter’s staff includes a variety of passionate firearm experts, including Marine Veteran Danielle Eberle and Oscar Welty III, board member of the Byron Oregon Sportsman’s Club.

Several experienced range safety officers include Katrina Meier, whose shooting landed her silver and bronze medals in the Junior Olympics. Meier commutes from Lena just to work at the shop.

“I enjoy watching and studying other shooters techniques, so I can help them develop further in their skill level, where they can be safe and confident with their firearm at all times,” said Meier. “I want them to leave the range with sense of accomplishment and higher confidence then when they first arrived.”

For those interested in learning to use firearms, and hoping to get licensed, the Worx hosts children’s safety courses, introductory classes to hand guns and reloading, Illinois concealed carry classes, hunting safety, and private instruction per request.

In the classes, people learn parts of the gun, operating the firearm, how to clean them effectively, and eventually, test firing a variety of handguns with live ammunition.

“You even learn the differences in how each gun feels,” said Karen. “You’ll fire a few different 9mms, but each one shoots differently.”

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