State sets its sights on shooting range initiative

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Not long ago in Maine, finding a place to sight in your deer hunting rifle was no problem. The nearest gravel pit filled the bill. Not so anymore. Because of liability concerns, many gravel pits are gated off or are posted “No Trespassing.” So, unless you belong to an organized shooting club, it is getting tougher and tougher for a recreational shooter to find a safe, sanctioned place to practice shooting a rifle or a handgun.

This is about to change.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) have formed a partnership, in a significant and well-funded initiative, intended to expand shooting range opportunities statewide. According to MDIF&W spokesman John Boland, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is providing a $750,000 grant over three years that the state will use to fund this program. This effort, which is a laudable one, is long overdue. Over the years, the state fish and wildlife department has been getting millions of dollars in Federal money from the special taxes paid by citizens who purchase guns and ammunition. Some outdoor writers have been critical of the fact that up until now very little, if any funds, have been earmarked for shooting range improvements.

Better late than never!

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According to Boland, MDIF&W is compiling an inventory of Maine’s existing shooting ranges. MDIF&W and SAM will then develop a data base of Maine’s ranges, which would include their locations, the opportunities provided, costs, public accessibility and other pertinent information. This inventory will be used to determine how to best utilize funding in order to increase opportunities.

Dave Trahan, executive director of SAM said, “SAM is excited to be a partner in this venture. Providing more opportunities for the public to get involved with Maine’s traditional outdoor sports helps both SAM and IFW.”

Of course, when it comes to expending public money, the challenge is always the same: wise and effective use of the dollars. Apparently, MDIF&W has formed a Shooting Range Steering Committee from within its ranks. The committe’s role will be to guide and work with a new state hire called a Shooting Range Access Program Coordinator. This will be a part-time position and the new coordinator will work on a contract basis. The position is being advertised as follows:

The Coordinator will develop and administer a small grants program to facilitate range access improvement and development projects at non-profit shooting range organizations (e.g. sportsman’s clubs, rod and gun clubs) and municipalities. The Coordinator will also assist range access improvement and development on State owned lands. This position has the potential for a multi-year contract and is funded in part by a US Fish and Wildlife Service grant.

Applicants for this new state job, which pays $15.00 and hour and mileage, must have some experience with shooting ranges and fish and game clubs and be willing to travel. For details, check MDIF&Ws website at: www.mefishwildlife.com.

When it comes to shooting ranges in Maine, what is sorely needed are some public shooting range options throughout the state: a shooting range for the casual recreational shooter or hunter, who might have use of a range once or twice a year, sort of one step above a gravel pit. Not everybody is interested in joining a rifle and pistol club or fish and game club and all that it entails.

Coincidentally, the MDIF&W/SAM shooting range initiative is ramping up at the same time that an increasingly larger number of non-gun owning Americans are purchasing firearms for the first time.

Responsible gun owners, whether they are recreational shooters, hunters, or simply those looking for self protection, will benefit from sanctioned shooting ranges, where they can practice marksmanship and safe gun handling.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM  101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com and his new book is “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook.”

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