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.