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Published on: Aug. 29, 2011

I grew up hunting. It’s just part of me,” said Keith Haley.

Haley, a volunteer shotgun and taxidermy instructor at Andy Dalton Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center in Bois D’arc, Mo., loves wing shooting for duck, pheasant and quail. He has been shooting at the range for seven years, and he put in almost 300 hours of volunteer work in 2010 alone.

Haley shares his passion for hunting and shooting sports with Missourians across the state. Some of the most treasured Missouri memories have been made in tree-stands, duck blinds and camouflage. However, shooting sports are enjoyed beyond the woods and bottomlands as well.

The Missouri Department of Conservation maintains five staffed and more than 70 unstaffed shooting facilities around the state to provide fun, safe places to practice shooting and archery skills.

Missouri has a rich history of hunting and shooting sports. With more government provided shooting ranges than any other state, Missouri is a national leader in public range development. Such facilities date back to 1952 when August A. Busch Memorial Wildlife Area featured the state’s first archery range. Interest in range development rose with expanding population and rural development and peaked with the rise of hunter education.

“From its beginning in 1957, hunter education has always advocated that hunters practice shooting skills and sight in their firearms and bows,” said MDC State Hunter Education and Range Coordinator Tony Legg. “Shooting ranges provide safe opportunities to do that.”

As Missourians recognized the need for safe and accessible shooting ranges, MDC began developing these ranges in 1972 with the construction of a staffed range at August A. Busch Memorial Wildlife Area in Defiance, near St. Charles. Range development grew to include Jay Henges Shooting Range in High Ridge near St. Louis; Lake City Shooting Range in Buckner, near Independence; Andy Dalton Shooting Range outside Bois D’arc, near Springfield; and Parma Woods Shooting Range in Parkville, near Kansas City. Combined, these five facilities serve approximately 140,000 shooters and program attendees each year.

The staffed facilities provide rifle and pistol ranges with covered booths, training and meeting rooms, outdoor skills training programs and special events. Other services vary by range and include shotgun patterning ranges; field, broadhead and 3-D archery ranges; and trap and skeet ranges.

Get With the Programs

Each staffed shooting range is also an outdoor education center that provides shooting and non-shooting programs such as fishing, camping and Dutch-oven cooking courses for the whole family. The staffed ranges offer hundreds of shooting programs each year including classes in basic shotgun and handgun, archery, trap and skeet shooting, home firearms safety and advanced wing shooting for hunters.

In addition to regular programming, staffed shooting ranges and outdoor education centers host special events. For example, this year Andy Dalton Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center organized its eighth annual “A Day at the Range” and Outdoor Adventure Fair, a free event open to people with disabilities and their families and friends.

“‘A Day at the Range’ is an opportunity for people with disabilities to enjoy nature and learn shooting and outdoor skills at their own ability levels,” said Michael Brooks, outdoor education center supervisor at Andy Dalton Shooting Range. About 600 participants in 2011 attended the event to shoot pellet guns and .22 rifles, practice archery and fishing, and participate in assisted shotgun shooting.

According to Brooks, the outdoor education center also organizes a youth and women’s dove hunt, a youth waterfowl hunt, managed deer and turkey hunts, and a deer hunt for people with disabilities. All staffed ranges and outdoor education centers support programming and events for people of different ages and backgrounds and whole families.

“The staffed shooting ranges and outdoor education centers are able to take people from the novice level and, through training, to real hunting experience in the field, which is quite an accomplishment for all involved,” Legg said, noting the importance of training proficient, responsible hunters.

“With hunting comes responsibility,” said Jeff Cockerham, MDC Outreach & Education supervisor for the Central Region and frequent hunter-education instructor. “This responsibility includes being safe, being respectful of the animals and being respectful of other hunters. That’s what we teach at these programs.”

Safety First

Staffed shooting ranges provide a safe place for Missourians to practice shooting skills. Safety considerations include handling equipment properly, using proper eye and ear protection, and considering the welfare of fellow hunters and trail companions.

“Safety is our main priority,” Haley said. “The ranges demonstrate that with every program they have, from fishing to shooting shotguns.”

Outdoor education center supervisors at each range receive training from the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Range Development and Operations Conference and conduct training for outdoor education center staff along with the NRA’s Range Safety Officer course for all staff. They enforce safety measures such as muzzle control, caliber limitation, mandatory ceasefires, no fully automatic firearms and much more.

Range staff are not the only ones maintaining the safety and cleanliness of the ranges. Staffed shooting ranges and outdoor education centers rely heavily on help from volunteer instructors like Haley, along with a significant amount of maintenance work.

John Zimmerly, 2010 volunteer of the year between the two staffed St. Louis-area ranges, has donated more than 1,500 hours to Jay Henges Shooting Range since 2009. Maintenance and safety also depend on the Department’s “adopt-a-range” program. Individuals, families, shooting clubs or other organizations can adopt all or part of a staffed or unstaffed range. Special signage recognizes their support.

“The ranges are for the public, and the adopt a range program allows the public to take ownership of their ranges by helping keep them clean and safe,” Legg said. A range adoption can be arranged by contacting a range manager or local MDC office.

Youth under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult, both as a safety precaution and as a way of helping them learn as they go.

“Hunter education is one of the main drivers behind shooting ranges,” Legg said. “Once you teach people how to hunt, they need a place where they can go to become proficient. That’s one of the big reasons the Department of Conservation developed these shooting ranges.”

According to Andy Dalton Shooting Range volunteer Louis Boos, the best feature of the staffed shooting ranges is the controlled environment that assures shooters.

“Some people see unsafe shooting practices and decide they don’t want to be a part of it. Then they see how it’s done at the staffed ranges, and they know that’s the way it should be,” Boos said. “People might be doing something wrong, but the staffed ranges always have someone there to correct mistakes.”

Brooks says that is exactly the goal.

“We have trained staff who have the ability to share their passion with new people who want to be involved in hunting or shooting but don’t know how to take the first step,” Brooks said. “These facilities give people the opportunity to develop their hands-on skills through practice and programs in a safe environment.”

Programs in Action

“The programs and services that the staffed shooting ranges offer are important both for bringing in new hunters and for bringing people back to hunting,” Cockerham said.

Many program attendees are first-time shooters who haven’t had the opportunity to develop their skills. For example, the hunting and shooting skills of youth might be limited by parents who don’t have the knowledge to teach them. However, many parents of aspiring young shooters often rise to the challenge of developing their own skills to help their children.

“We have a lot of opportunities for current hunters to take advantage of, but we also tailor many programs and events to youth and families,” Brooks said. Targeting both youth and their families opens hunting and shooting fun to multiple generations. Each staffed range has its own Web page that lists information and upcoming programs.

“These programs mentor children as well as parents, who can develop their own shooting skills while learning how to help their kids develop theirs,” Cockerham said.

Family sharing in the shooting sports is not limited to parents and children. Jack Nicholson, who has shot trap at Jay Henges Shooting Range for six years, recently began going with his wife, who enjoys shooting small-caliber pistols and throwing targets for her husband.

“I taught her to shoot years ago, but she got out of it. She got to a point where she didn’t shoot regularly like I did,” Nicholson said. “It’s enjoyable to go shooting with her. We’re both retired, and it’s something we like to do together.”

Hunting and shooting sports are fun for friends, too. Len Hoffmeister and Jim Crowe met at Jay Henges Shooting Range while Len was an employee. They began shooting together and eventually formed a weekly retired men’s shooting group, which meets every Thursday morning at the range. While practicing with friends, Hoffmeister also recognizes the importance of sharing the shooting sports among families.

“It gives people a chance to pass the shooting ability on to their children, both through the programs and by just being able to take them to the range to show them how to use a firearm properly,” Hoffmeister said.

Aiming for the Future

“We have a rich heritage in Missouri of hunters and shooters, and that’s a tradition that should be maintained,” Legg said.

As the state’s population becomes more urbanized, hunters and shooters must consider how residential and commercial development could affect open-land areas and the opportunities they provide. Missouri’s five staffed shooting ranges are located near urban areas, which offsets this threat.

However, for hunting and shooting sports to continue thriving in Missouri, the role of family and tradition cannot be underestimated.

“I think these skills need to be passed on to other generations; otherwise they’re going to die out,” Haley said. New hunters and shooters need to discover the sport to maintain both hunting heritage and the health of Missouri’s wildlife.

“Hunting is the most economical and most humane way to manage wildlife populations and avoid conflicts between animals and humans,” Legg said.

Properly managing wildlife involves preventing overpopulation and subsequent disease. It also means using ethical and humane hunting methods to do so.

“The public expects hunters to be able to make quick, clean kills on the animals they pursue. The Department of Conservation sets up hunting seasons to allow us to harvest the excess of any given population of animals. Because the public expects us to be proficient at our sport, hunters need some place to help them build those skills,” Brooks said. “In order for us to be able to continue the aggressive management it takes to control wildlife populations, we have to bring along a new generation of hunters to take an active role in conservation.”

“Shooting ranges and education centers give people a place to go where they can feel safe and participate in the hobbies and sports they enjoy,” Haley said. “I love to see people learning how to hunt and shoot and accomplish what they set out to do. I’m glad I can be a part of it.”

For more information on Department of Conservation staffed and unstaffed shooting ranges, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/6209.


MDC Shooting Ranges

MDC has five staffed shooting ranges that provide safe and inviting places to practice shooting skills. Please see the phone numbers and Web pages listed below to get more information on each range.

  1. Parma Woods Shooting Range, 816-891-9941, mdc.mo.gov/node/283
  2. Lake City Shooting Range, 816-249-3194, mdc.mo.gov/node/282
  3. Jay Henges Shooting Range, 636-938-9548, mdc.mo.gov/node/299
  4. August A. Busch Shooting Range, 636-300-1953 ext. 251, mdc.mo.gov/node/270
  5. Andy Dalton Shooting Range, 417-742-4361, mdc.mo.gov/node/288

 

MDC also maintains more than 70 unstaffed shooting ranges throughout the state. For information on our unmanned ranges, including a complete listing of locations with phone numbers, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/6209.

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