The story is the same across the country: not enough ranges, dwindling hunting opportunities and too few hunters.
The entire hunting and outdoor community has been on high alert for some time now searching for a way to turn off the leaky faucet that has sent hunter numbers down the drain. From 14 million of us in 1996 to 12.5 million today, the stats bear out the fact that the situation isn’t getting any better.
Unless you live in Missouri, that is.
“In Missouri, we’ve actually seen an increase in hunters,” said Tony Legg, state hunter education and range coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “The past couple of years we’ve been replacing them at a rate of about 116 hunters for every 100 we lose. We’re one of the few states that does that, and I think it’s in part to our public programs.”
Those public programs center around a statewide system of MDC-run shooting ranges that number 90 strong. Missouri’s range program is proof that if you build quality ranges that are easily accessible and hassle-free, hunters will come.
“Our ranges are pretty heavily used,” Legg said.
The busiest range of the bunch is the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area Shooting Range & Outdoor Education Center outside of St. Louis, which accommodates 50,000 users each year. Busch Memorial is one of five staffed ranges in the MDC system. The others are Lake City and Parma Woods in the Kansas City area, Andy Dalton in Southwest Missouri, and Jay Henges, also in St. Louis. As a group, these five shooting centers see 150,000 visitors a year.
In addition to offering hunters range time, these facilities hold between 200 and 300 shooting-and hunting-related courses each year. Missouri’s courses teach valuable outdoor skills and are designed to help citizens become sharper, safer hunters. Topics include hunter education, wingshooting, antler measuring, end-of-season firearm care and archery basics, just to scratch the surface. Missouri also offers NRA’s Whitetail Deer Hunting Clinic.
Best of all, these classes are open to the general public, nonresidents included, for free.
“You want to make sure that you have a safer public out there if they’re going to use firearms, and you need to have organized courses for them to get the proper information,” Legg said. “We want to teach people, especially the hunters. These ranges are a big focal point to promote that and give people an opportunity to get out there and practice with their firearms.”
In a world where urban sprawl has chewed up prime hunting acres and overrun once-rural shooting ranges, finding a place to sight-in a rifle or shoot up a box of shotgun shells can be difficult and frustrating, if not impossible. It’s enough to make hunters and shooters give up-and they do.
With rifle ranges (usually out to 100 yards), informal shotgun ranges, formal trap and skeet fields, patterning areas for shotguns, both static and walking field-archery courses, and handgun ranges available around the state, Missouri has done an outstanding job of accommodating the needs of hunters.
The importance of these ranges cannot be understated. Ranges provide a place to teach new hunters how to shoot. They offer a place for established hunters to practice with new equipment and sight-in firearms before the start of hunting season. And they ultimately keep hunters engaged in the sport beyond hunting season, as evidenced by Missouri’s strong hunter numbers.
Most of the MDC ranges are unstaffed facilities located on state conservation areas that don’t cost shooters a dime to use. These free, unstaffed ranges have virtually everything shooters need, including shooting benches, backstops, paper targets, and hangers to post the targets on-all provided by the MDC. (The five staffed facilities do charge nominal range fees, largely to offset operating costs, such as electricity.)
“We depend very heavily on Pittman-Robertson Section 10 monies to fund our ranges, and also our own state has a special 1/8 of 1 percent sales tax that goes strictly to conservation,” Legg said. “So, another reason we can offer free classes and offer such nominal fees is because our state residents are already paying through taxes for those services.”
With such a successful range program, it’s no wonder that other states have taken notice.
“Occasionally we’ll get asked about how we do different things-where our funding comes from, how we use the Pittman-Robertson funds that you can get for ranges, and other funding questions,” said Legg. “We’re well known for our ranges and get quizzed a lot I guess.”
In 2005, the Missouri Department of Conservation was awarded the NRA’s Marlin R. Scarborough Award for Achievement in Range Development. This award recognizes the leadership role and the efforts of organizations that have contributed to the building and design of public shooting ranges. shooting Budapest