Something predictable yet amazing happens after a state repairs and reopens dilapidated public shooting ranges.
People use them.
“We’re not sure exactly how many people come out to our facilities each year, but they are heavily used year-round,” said Chip Schaffer, chief of engineering for the Pennsylvania State Game Commission (PGC).
That’s saying something for a commonwealth that experiences cold weather and heavy snowfall five months out of the year. The PGC maintains 30 ranges on state game lands throughout the Keystone State, giving hunters and shooting enthusiasts a place to practice, sight-in their firearms or prepare for an upcoming competition free of charge. Over time, many of the ranges had fallen apart and become more of an eyesore and safety hazard than a natural resource.
Complicating the problem was the fact that, like in most states, Pennsylvania officials lacked the knowledge and expertise to properly evaluate its ranges.
Enter the NRA.
In 2006, the PGC formed a partnership with staff from the NRA Range Services Department to evaluate each facility and make it a safe place to shoot.
“We set up an agreement where we would evaluate each of their ranges – some of them were closed down,” said NRA Range Services Manager John Joines. “We then made written recommendations for what to do to get each facility back up and open.”
In a commonwealth that spans more than 46,000 square miles, just getting out to each range for an evaluation can be a challenge. To overcome this, the NRA maintains a team of highly skilled range technical team advisors who are trained to properly assess shooting facilities. Advisors are located across the country to meet any state’s need for range evaluation.
After more than three years of the two organizations working together, all but two of Pennsylvania’s public shooting ranges have been overhauled and reopened. Work is currently being performed on facilities in Somerset and Bucks counties, with plans to reopen them later this year. The commonwealth has spent more than $900,000 to upgrade its public ranges.
“Partnering with the NRA was simple,” added Schaffer. “They’re the recognized authority on range design and evaluation, and it’s always a good idea to have an outside pair of eyes looking at your shooting facilities.”
The NRA literally wrote the book on how to design and maintain a safe shooting range. The Range Source Book provides basic and advanced guidance to assist in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of shooting facilities. The Source Book discussed methods and technologies which may result in a fuller use of range operations.
“In addition to having the NRA make an objective review of safety conditions at each range, we contracted with Metals Treatment Technologies [MT2], a leader in the nation among companies providing lead remediation and stabilization services on outdoor shooting ranges,” said Carl Roe, Game Commission executive director. “This effort is the largest by any state agency in the country and will result in environmentally clean and safe shooting ranges provided to the general public by the Game Commission.”
MT2 uses a product it designed, called Ecobond®, to bond the lead to the soil and prevent leaching. Pennsylvania’s lead remediation project was funded by Growing Greener II, which provided more than $1.8 million for lead treatment.
This isn’t the first time the NRA has partnered with a state to evaluate and improve its shooting ranges. The Range Service Department has also worked with Missouri and Montana to inspect their facilities and turn them into safe shooting venues. The NRA also is committed to helping states open new public shooting ranges.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on a range grant program specifically tailored for state, county or city ranges,” Joines explained. “If they want to build a range, we’ll put up as much as $25,000 for the project, provided that they match this money with in-kind funding, which can include materials and labor.”
In 2009, the new NRA Public Range Fund Grant will distribute a total of $150,000 to public agencies that want to build new shooting ranges. The grant funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so agencies are encouraged to apply for funding as soon as possible.
“Currently the state of South Carolina has applied for funding to open three new ranges, and we’ve also had meaningful discussions with representatives from Florida, North Carolina and Vermont,” Joines stated.
Critics of public shooting ranges often voice concerns about environmental safety and trash accumulation. But as Joines pointed out, opening a new facility puts the shooting in one place, making lead treatment and trash clean-up much simpler. He added, “There are often concerns over trash, but if you look at your other wildlife and state land areas, you’ve got trash there as well. It’s rarely used as a reason to shut down a boat ramp or a campground, and shouldn’t be used to shut down a shooting range. Maintenance is simply an issue that you have to address when building a new facility.”
Proper enforcement of range and shooting rules also helps maintain a clean and safe facility. Joines recommends that all agencies or clubs opening a new shooting facility build into their maintenance plan strategies for enforcing range-use regulations.
Like any natural resource, a range will deteriorate without proper supervision and care. But states such as Missouri and Pennsylvania have proven that if you build it, they will come, and reap the many benefits that free public shooting ranges provide.
For more information on the NRA Public Range Fund Grant, please contact John Joines at email@example.com or (703) 267-1278.
To have your range(s) evaluated by a qualified NRA Range Technical Team Advisor, please contact Eric Whitescarver at (703) 267-1279, or visit: www.nrahq.org/shootingrange/technicalteam.asp
By the Numbers
At present, 28 states maintain pubic shooting facilities on state lands. Missouri leads the nation with 90 ranges that give hunters and shooters a place to practice and provide over 200 education courses each year that cover such topics as hunter education, antler measurement and proper gun care. Currently there are no accurate numbers on the total number of public shooting ranges, but an effort by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to count them is under way, with results expected to be released in late 2009.