Unless you belong to a private rifle and pistol club, finding a place to sight in your deer rifle or simply to practice with a firearm is becoming increasingly problematic in Maine.

There was a day when all you needed to do was to find an old gravel pit, set up a target and plink away. Not anymore. Pit owners, mindful of all the new legal liabilities that seem to be the scourge of the 21st century, are posting their properties.

Organized shooting clubs and ranges don’t have it so easy either as anti-­gun factions and other detractors try to put them out of business.

There is some good news, though. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) has a new program called the Maine Range Access Improvement Grant Program. Boiled down, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving the state grant money to fix up shooting ranges across the state and make them more accessible to the public.

Nate Webb is heading up this program. In his words:

In 2012, the Department was awarded a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Wildlife Restoration Program grant to:

• Improve public recreational firearm and archery shooting opportunities by providing small grants to range owning organizations for range enhancement.

• Accomplish improvements at existing firearm and archery range facilities.

• Develop new firearm and archery range facilities.

• Provide facilities accessible by persons with disabilities,where feasible.

• Integrate safety, accessibility and environmental Best Management Practices into the physical facilities of ranges and the management of ranges.

• Support firearm and archery education to learn safe and responsible hunting and shooting practices.

The Grant Program provides funding of up to $50,000 to eligible shooting organizations for noncommercial firearm and archery range enhancement. Applicants must provide at least 30 percent of project costs, which may include cash or in-­kind contributions of labor, services or materials. A critical component of the program is that any range that receives grant funding must provide public access to the range facility. There is a competitive evaluation of grant applications and an effort to provide a state­wide distribution of awards. Ranges that provide more shooting opportunities for the general public are given a higher ranking in the scoring process.

In late 2014, MDIFW awarded grants totaling $337,000 to 12 different shooting range projects across the state. The approved projects are very diverse in their scope, ranging from improvements to ADA accessibility, construction of berms to improve safety, installation of barriers to reduce noise, improvements to range infrastructure such as access roads, development of Range Management Plans, and implementation of lead abatement measures.

Several projects are already under way, with all projects scheduled for completion by late 2015.

The Department is currently preparing to issue a second Request for Proposals for a new round of grants later this winter. We anticipate of earning at least one more round of funding (for a total of 3), contingent upon adequate funding. We are also working with the NRA to hold a lead management workshop this spring, and will be sending invitations to all shooting ranges across the state.

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 (WVOM­FM 103.9, WQVM­FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e­mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com or by calling Diane at 207 745 0049.

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