Building a public shooting range used to be pretty simple.
Push dirt into a big pile for a backstop and set up three aisles for shots of different distances — 25, 50 and 100 yards.
“That was pretty much the standard design,” said Mark Reiter, director of the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. “The original idea was hunter sight-in ranges.”
Berms separated the three aisles so users could self-regulate their activity independently.
“Only the guys on the 25-yard range needed to agree that it was time to change targets, and they could all go down to the targets without it mattering what the 50- and 100-yard guys were doing,” Reiter said. “The whole idea was they were managing themselves, being their own range officers and shooting at distances people in Indiana normally would encounter when hunting.”
That was the idea, but it wasn’t always the reality.
“Instead of the hunter sight-in situation where a guy comes up to the firing line, puts up a target and shoots three, four rounds and figures his gun is shooting accurately, what we got were shooters we never expected,” said Reiter, who is an avid target shooter and active hunter.
“At the time, pistols weren’t legal firearms to hunt deer, but we got a bunch of guys coming there to shoot pistols,” he said. “So what we had was a range design that didn’t fit the user very well. A guy with a pistol wants to shoot at a 7-yard target, not 25, so those ranges really didn’t accommodate that kind of use very well.”
The ranges also attracted another unexpected user. Instead of bringing paper targets to shoot at, some users lugged in anything imaginable.
“The whole idea that people would respect the range and use it properly was a bit of a mistake,” Reiter said. “People brought a lot of junk.”
One property manager told Reiter that the staff would be off on the weekend with the range open for self service.
“Every Monday, his crews would spend all day picking up all the junk left at the shooting range,” Reiter said. “We got a lot of that kind of use. For 20 years, that sort of thing built on itself and became accepted and got out of hand.”
That began to change in the late 1990s after Reiter attended a National Rifle Association conference on shooting ranges. He came home with a wealth of new ideas and NRA certification as a range technician.
“That’s when we started looking at our shooting ranges and realized we had to make some changes,” he said. “What we had wasn’t working.”
A goal was set to open modern shooting ranges in five locations by matching DNR license revenue with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service federal assistance funds.
Kingsbury Fish & Wildlife Area was the first to get an upgrade. A 37-station range opened in 2002 with distances from 10 to 100 yards, plus four places for shooting clay targets, all supervised by qualified range officers. Concrete overhead baffles were added to prevent shots from accidently leaving the range. Other changes included indoor accessible restrooms and a nominal fee for use of the range.
J.E. Roush Lake was the next site to be transformed. The former dirt pile range received a $1.4 million facelift and opened in 2005 with 33 stations to accommodate pistols, rifles and shotguns,and clay target shooting. Roush has since added two regulation combination trap and skeet fields.
The best was yet to come.
Atterbury FWA, which had one of the dirt pile ranges built in the 1970s, was refitted with the largest public range in the state. Managed by a private concessionaire, the range has 72 shooting stations for shotguns, pistols and rifles, and also offers trap and skeet.
Dedicated as the Sgt. Joseph E. Proctor Memorial Shooting Range in early 2007, the site cost $4.7 million to construct and more than doubled the size of Kingsbury or Roush.
The three new facilities — Kingsbury, Roush and Atterbury — contributed to a 30 percent statewide increase in use of DNR ranges last year, Reiter said.
And the DNR is looking to add more.
“We’re looking southeast and southwest,” Reiter said. “We’re looking at the demand and what’s already out there with conservation clubs and gun clubs. If they are meeting the demand for places the public can go for shooting sports, we probably shouldn’t put our money there. We need to go someplace where it’s needed.”
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.