Missourians Want Their Free Gun Ranges Kept Open

Shooters in Missouri have long had enjoyed the luxury of being able to target shoot at any of the 70 free gun ranges made available by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Missouri Department of Conservation provides both staffed and unstaffed shooting ranges for shooters that are safe for sighting in deer rifles or practicing the other shooting sports.

MDC’s shooting ranges and related hunter-education and safety programs are funded through the federal Pittman-Robertson Act which distributes revenue from a federal tax on shooting-related gear and equipment with the states and 25 percent state-matching funds that now come from Missouri’s 1/8-cent conservation sales tax.

The MDC Hunter Education and Shooting Range Coordinator, Kyle Lairmore, is in the process of conducting a year-long survey targeting the unstaffed ranges hoping to find out what people like and don’t like about them, how safe people feel using them, and what improvements they want.

According to an interview conducted by the Springfield News-Leader, Lairmore concedes the state has no idea how many people take advantage of these free ranges or how they are being used since they are unstaffed.  “Are they there to sight in rifles? Shoot shotguns? Teach kids about shooting? Practice pistol shooting?” Lairmore said.  “We’re asking how far they are driving to get there, and what things could we do to provide Missouri citizens safe places to shoot.”

Rather than using uniformed MDC staff to conduct the surveys, Lairmore is using 4-H clerks at the ranges to ask the nine question survey, hoping to get more honest answers.  This strategy may be paying off.  In the southwest region, for example, they have made 106 range visits and conducted 1,406 interviews.  Only 8 people refused to participate.  (The survey questions can be found at the end of this article.)

While the results of this still on-going survey will not be compiled, analyzed and released until early next year, Lairmore said the early answers have yielded some interesting results.

“The most frequent thing we’re hearing is that people love having the free ranges and they don’t want any of them closed or taken away,” he said.

Other findings so far include:

  • Handgun shooters want shorter target distances – 5, 10, and 15 yards, instead of the 25-yard distance commonly offered for handguns. Lairmore will look into using movable short-range targets but is concerned with the added costs to frequently replace these often shot-up targets.
  • Rifle shooters want longer range targets in addition to the standard 25, 50 and 100-yard distances. Lairmore says a 200-yard or more lane could prove problematic because of increased costs and the likelihood of bullets leaving the range.
  • Visitors would like the concrete bench shooting stations covered to protect against sun and rain.
  • Public restrooms and more trash cans are also high on their wish list.

Safety is also paramount so the survey asks visitors if they have observed unsafe behavior at these unstaffed ranges, such as people firing guns while others are downrange changing targets, shooters using automatic weapons or explosive targets, drunkenness or littering and vandalism.

The results may help MDC decide how to improve safety at the ranges, by possibly building or increasing the height of the dirt berms between the shooting lanes and making backstops taller.

But one thing the survey is not likely to produce is more ranges.  Right now, only 7 percent of Missourians have to drive an hour or more to reach one of these MDC ranges, with 51 percent living within a 30 minute drive.

“For now our focus will be on updating our existing ranges,” Lairmore said. “Then we’ll evaluate whether we have the funds available to build new ranges.”

For a list of unstaffed ranges, click here.

Do you take advantage of this free service to go out and practice?

Survey questions

1) Where are you from? What is the zip code there?

2) How often do you come here?

3) How long were you here today?

4) Clerk Notes gender and adult/child

5) What type of shooting did you do here today?

  1.  Sighting in (rifle)
  2.  Modern-sporting rifle
  3.  Rifle
  4.  Patterning (shotgun)
  5.  Shotgun
  6.  Self-defense (Handgun)
  7.  Handgun
  8.  Muzzleloader

6) In the last 12 months, have you purchased a hunting license?

7) How often do you see unsafe or unethical behavior at this range?

8) What bad behavior do you see most often?

  1. a) Litter/trash
  2. b) Vandalism
  3. c) Drunkenness etc.
  4. d) Automatic-fire
  5. e) Unapproved targets
  6. f) Explosive targets
  7. g) Moving downrange (to be closer to target)
  8. h) Shooting while others are down range
  9. i) Other

9) Has other users behavior ever kept you from coming to this range?