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Growing recreational shooting sports is the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s target in the coming years under Director Austin Booth, and much is underway to make that come to fruition.
Booth expanded the AGFC’s focus on recreational shooting sports with the creation of a Shooting Sports Division in July, headed up by Chief Grant Tomlin. The AGFC’s Youth Shooting Sports and Archery in the Schools programs, which are within the Shooting Sports Division, were previously part of the agency’s Education Division.
Tomlin said, “Recreational shooting is one of the fastest growing outdoors recreational activities in the country. Recreational shooters, whether they know it or not, are among the biggest contributors to the conservation dollar in the country. Somebody goes out and buys a gun, they may or may not be a hunter, but even if they aren’t they are still contributing to conservation because of the federal excise tax on the guns and ammunition they are buying.”
The move to create a separate Shooting Sports Division “lets us focus solely on the mission of creating new recreational shooting opportunities, improvement on the existing facilities and programs that we have, and lets us focus more on recruiting new people into the sport and the recreational opportunities,” Tomlin said.
In September’s monthly Commission meeting, Booth was authorized by the commissioners to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the city of Clarksville and the University of Ozarks to construct a new shooting sports complex that would be open to the public and complement the university’s growing collegiate shooting sports program. The AGFC hopes to provide up to $2 million in matching funds to help the university construct a proposed $12 million facility.
Meanwhile, existing ranges have been improved and new complexes have opened, and AGFC officials envision that as more money becomes available, more shooting sports facilities could open throughout the state.
The Jack Cox Scatter Creek Shooting Range near Paragould reopened this summer after $175,000 was spent on an assortment of repairs. The unmanned range only requires that shooters of pistols and rifles bring their own targets. The range offers up to 200 yards of distance for practicing rifle or pistol shooting, and what better time to home in that rifle with modern gun deer season approaching.
In concert with the Jack Cox range in the region is the new Jonesboro Shooting Sports Complex, operated by the city in partnership with the AGFC, which provided $2 million in funding toward construction of the range. “The Jonesboro range has skeet, trap, pistol, rifle and archery,” Tomlin said. “It’s a manned facility that is staffed by the city of Jonesboro’s Parks Department.”
The Jonesboro range is open Wednesdays through Sunday, which coincidentally is the same schedule seen at Jacksonville, home to the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Jacksonville Shooting Sports Complex. The Jacksonville facility, which features 12 trap houses, 3D archery and a stocked fishing pond, was opened in 2007 and annually plays host to the AGFC’s Youth Shooting Sports regional and state championships.
Much of the work on these shooting ranges was funded through federal matching grants administered through the Wildlife Restoration Program, distributes excise taxes on firearms and ammunition for wildlife-relate recreation, hunter education and development and the construction and operation of ranges.
“We’re continuing our progress toward getting a range in Northwest Arkansas. Northwest Arkansas is our top priority,” Tomlin said, adding that the Fort Smith area and Texarkana area also are being discussed for “good-sized” future projects. The AGFC also has a partnership established with Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, where the AGFC is providing construction funds for two additional trap-shooting fields to SAU’s existing range, in addition to a 3D archery trail and a known-distance archery course on the property, Tomlin said.
“We’re looking at building smaller ranges around the state to fill in the gaps,” Tomlin added. “This is a long-term project. It’s not going to be completed in the next five years. But we are starting in the right direction.”
The AGFC has partnership shooting ranges in Batesville and Warren with those cities. It operates trap fields at Rick Evans Grandview Prairie WMA and Nature Center, about 16 miles from Hope. The Fred Berry Crooked Creek Nature Center in north Arkansas has a trap shooting station along with an archery area. The Potlatch Cooks Lake Nature Center near Casscoe in Arkansas County has a trap shooting range, an archery known-distance range and a 3D setup for bow enthusiasts as well. The city of Mulberry also partners with the AGFC for a known-distance and 3D archery course.
In all, Tomlin said, the agency has 14 known-distance archery ranges scattered around its WMAs, including some with 3D archery. “Curtis Gray, who runs our archery program, has been very diligent getting archery ranges put around the state,” Tomlin said.
The AGFC’s archery, rifle, pistol, trap and skeet shooting range at Mayflower now carries the name of Fiocchi, an international ammunition maker, as its sponsor and the business sponsor of the Shooting Sports Division. “They are invested. They want to make sure that our division succeeds and can provide people with opportunities to shoot recreationally,” Tomlin said.
Also, MidwayUSA, based in Missouri, has also stepped up in a big way nationally for recreational shooting sports, and the AGFC is enjoying some of that generosity. “We work with MidwayUSA and their foundation,” Tomlin said. “They have provided us grants to help our youth shooting sports program and grants for small range construction. They’ve been a good partner as well.”