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Shooting range vandalism causes problems for DNR, sportsmen

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The people in charge of West Virginia's public shooting ranges rue the day the first cable TV shooting show hit the airwaves.

"People started coming to our ranges with things like watermelons and computer monitors and shooting them up, just like they saw on TV," said Frank Jezioro, director of the state Division of Natural Resources. "They made a real mess, and they didn't bother to clean up after themselves."

Shooters trashed the range at Monongalia County's Pedlar Wildlife Management Area so badly that DNR officials closed it, and have kept it closed for a year and a half.

Jezioro believes news of the closure has helped curb the littering a bit.

"People are learning that if they don't help us take care of their range, they will lose it," he added. "After we closed that range, people [at other ranges] seemed to do a better job of policing it themselves. If they brought in cans and boxes to shoot at, they carried them back out. And they're not bringing in as many TVs and other junk items as they used to."

Because they were built with money from sales of hunting licenses, the state's public ranges fall under the DNR's jurisdiction. Most are located on state-owned wildlife management areas or on state forests.

DNR officials intended the ranges to be places where hunters could go to sight in rifles, pattern shotguns or get in a little shooting practice before hunting seasons began.

"They were intended for hunters, but they're open to the public," Jezioro said. "I don't think the problem is coming from our hunters who are sighting their rifles in. The problem is coming more from recreational shooters that come out there with hundreds of rounds of ammo, taking cantaloupes, watermelons, televisions and monitors so they can see things blow up like they do on TV."

Litter isn't the only chronic problem at public ranges. Some shooters, apparently not content merely to fire at paper targets, concentrate their fire on the ranges themselves.

"We've had reports of people bringing really high-caliber guns such as .50-caliber rifles to the range just to cut down the metal uprights that hold up the [target] backer boards," Jezioro said.

At the Beech Fork range in Wayne County, someone has shot away a corner post to the pavilion that shelters the shooting benches. Two of the wooden benches are missing, reportedly torn from the bolts that held them to the floor and burned by shooters who wanted to warm themselves on a cold day.

Especially vulnerable are the metal roofs that overhang the shooting benches. The roof at the Kanawha State Forest range is riddled with holes. Some have been patched with duct tape, but dozens of others allow rain to pour down on the firing line.

"The bottom line is that shooters need to be responsible, and to shoot up only targets put on backers," Jezioro said. "And then they need to not shoot up the backers and not shoot through the roofs."

Part of the problem, Jezioro added, is that the ranges aren't supervised. DNR personnel help to maintain them, but shooters are responsible for their own safety and conduct.

Private shooting clubs usually appoint range officers to uphold the rules, but Jezioro said the chronically cash-strapped DNR simply can't afford to employ range officers at facilities that might only get four or five shooters a day.

"There just isn't enough money to do it," he said.

Money to build and maintain the ranges comes from a $5 conservation stamp that all hunting- and fishing-license buyers are required to purchase. Funds from the stamps are earmarked for capital improvements such as ranges and public boat ramps.

A couple of years ago, Jezioro proposed a change that he believes would have solved some of the shooting-range problems.

"I drew up a proposal to the Legislature that would have required shooters at DNR ranges to have hunting licenses in order to use the ranges at no cost," Jezioro explained. "If you didn't have a license, you would have to buy a range permit. Similar arrangements are in place in other states, but for some reason the [National Rifle Association] opposed having it here, so the Legislature dropped it."

He added that money generated from non-hunters' range fees could have allowed popular ranges to have full-time range officers, and could have allowed for better upkeep and maintenance throughout the state's 28-range system.

"I'm convinced that people are willing to pay to have clean, safe places to shoot," he said. "Maybe it's time we looked [for ways to increase funding for public ranges] again."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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