NRA Awards $150,000 in Public Shooting Range Grants
By Justin McDaniel, Assistant Editor, www.NRAhuntersrights.org.
Fairfax, VA - -(AmmoLand.com)- One of the greatest challenges facing hunters today is finding a public shooting range where they can sight-in their rifles and sharpen their shooting skills without driving long distances or paying excessive fees. And if a hunter is lucky enough to have a free public range near his or her home, long lines can often be expected due to the high demand for these facilities.
Such is the case at the Indian Creek Rifle Range in the Sumter National Forest near Whitmire, S.C., where crowds of shooters have been known to gather on Saturdays for a crack at one of the range’s six covered shooting tables.
But a $25,000 grant from NRA’s Public Range Fund will soon give shooters in upstate South Carolina a new range option. With that money, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is going to build a brand new rifle and pistol range 30 minutes from Indian Creek at Belfast Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a 4,664-acre former plantation situated on the Newberry/Laurens county line, which was acquired by the DNR last October. That grant is part of $150,000 awarded by NRA this year for range projects in South Carolina, West Virginia and Georgia.
“Probably three or four years ago the decision was made that we need to help build more unmanned public ranges where people can shoot,” said Kyle Weaver, managing director of NRA’s Field Operations Division, which awarded the grants. “We knew we had friends in the state DNRs that could make that happen. And this is just the beginning. You’re going to see more of these types of range projects throughout South Carolina and other states in the future.”
The range at Belfast WMA is actually one of three new public ranges the South Carolina DNR has in store, thanks to two additional $25,000 NRA grants. One of those grants will be used to build a 50- and 100-yard rifle and pistol range at Woodbury WMA in Marion County, with the possibility of extending the range to 200 yards. The other grant will be used to build three new trap and skeet fields for youth programs at Marsh WMA, also in Marion County, although adults can also use the fields if they make prior arrangements with the DNR.
In all, NRA awarded $75,000 to South Carolina—funds that unlocked an additional $225,000 from the DNR’s share of federal Pittman-Robertson funds. The Pittman-Robertson Act, which levies an excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition and then returns that money to the states each year for habitat and range projects, requires matching funds at a 3:1 ratio. Thus, each $25,000 grant from NRA will be matched in kind with $75,000 from South Carolina’s Pittman-Robertson appropriations, for a total of $100,000 per range project, or $300,000 in all.
“I’m excited about this partnership we have with NRA and look forward to a very long partnership together,” said Emily Cope, assistant director for special projects for the South Carolina DNR, who is overseeing the construction of the three ranges.
Of the new ranges South Carolina is building, the one at Belfast WMA will be the first. The Belfast range will be open to the public free of charge Monday through Saturday from daylight to dark and, out of courtesy to nearby churches, on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Although the range will be an unmanned facility, it will be monitored by DNR officers as part of their normal patrols. Shooters should note that the range will feature covered firing points for both 50- and 100-yard targets, but the DNR is leaving open the possibility of eventually expanding the range to accommodate longer distances.
“We’re initially going to have a 50-yard range and a 100-yard range, but it will be designed so that later on in the future, if we see a need and there’s an interest, we have the opportunity to add on and expand to 200 yards,” Cope said.
John Joines from NRA Range Services provided a preliminary layout for the new Belfast range and discussed range design options and suggestions with the state engineers. Joines also conducted a sound test to identify how the range will impact surrounding neighbors. The test involved visiting different sites within a mile radius of the range to measure ambient, or normal, sound pressure and comparing those readings to the sound of a .30-06 being fired at the range site. The results of the test showed that neighbors will notice little, if any, noise when the range is fully operational.
“The ambient pressure reading was actually louder than the gunshot,” said Joines. “All around the property we recorded a one-tenth of 1 percent noise change or none at all. Compared to ambient sound, the sound from the shooting range will be negligible.”
One of those neighbors is Frankie Gresham of Kinards, whose home is located just down the road from the range’s future location on South Carolina Highway 560. A hunter and shooter, Gresham said his family will make good use of the new range.
“I lived in Joanna all my life, and I had to go to Philson Crossroads, it’s a rifle range probably 15 miles from Joanna. Since I moved out here to the country, I just use my yard [to shoot],” said Gresham. “I’m sure we’ll bring the kids and use the archery and the rifle ranges.”
As Gresham noted, the new rifle range isn’t all that the South Carolina DNR has in store for the Belfast property. The property will be managed for hunting, with draw hunts for deer and turkey already in the works, along with some special hunts for youth and mobility-impaired individuals. The DNR will also be offering hunter education classes at Belfast WMA. A hunter education classroom will be established on site, and students will have access to the rifle range, as well as a planned archery course. The archery range will feature two field ranges, a kids range, two walk-through courses, and an archery tower, which will simulate shooting from an elevated stand.
“It’s a public recreational use facility,” said Al Hammond, Southern Regional director for the NRA Field Operations Division. “You’re going to get people from cities driving out here using these ranges who would normally never take advantage of these public lands otherwise, and that’s going to create awareness that the state has these public lands available for hunting and shooting.”
One of the individuals who was very supportive of the DNR’s efforts to acquire the Belfast tract was state Sen. Ronnie Cromer (R-Dist. 18), who serves as chairman of the Fish, Game and Forestry Committee in the South Carolina Senate. Cromer was on hand for a check presentation from NRA to the DNR at Belfast Plantation on July 9 and spoke of the state’s need for public shooting facilities.
“The ones who live in the city have to have somewhere they can go to sight-in their rifles and do a little target practice with their handguns,” said Cromer, whose senatorial district encompasses much of Belfast WMA. “We greatly appreciate NRA making the effort to come down and make the quality of life here, especially in upstate South Carolina, a little bit better.”
In West Virginia, NRA provided two $25,000 grants for new public, unmanned rifle and pistol ranges at Kumbrabow State Forest in Randolph County and Chief Logan Wildlife Management Area in Logan County. Both ranges will be available free of charge. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is matching each grant with $25,000 from state funds for a total of $50,000 per range.
NRA also awarded $25,000 for a public range in Georgia.
“This new range grant program moved incredibly fast,” Weaver said. “We went in a year and a half from having nothing to putting checks in people’s hands. Without South Carolina, Georgia and West Virginia, we wouldn’t have any of it. These states really did help to pioneer this program for us.”
For more information on NRA’s Public Range Fund and how your state can apply for a future grant, contact John Joines in the NRA Range Services Department at 703-267-1278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Established in 1871, the National Rifle Association is America’s oldest civil rights and sportsmen’s group. Four million members strong, NRA continues its mission to uphold Second Amendment rights and to advocate enforcement of existing laws against violent offenders to reduce crime. The Association remains the nation’s leader in firearm education and training for law-abiding gun owners, law enforcement and the military.