Conservation Department Shooting Ranges Available

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Wintertime, and the living is . . . boring! No matter how much we love to curl up with a good book or surf the Internet, at times between New Year's Day and April Fool's Day most of us feel the need to get outdoors. When cabin fever strikes, some of the closest opportunities are found at shooting ranges operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Conservation Department maintains shooting facilities at more than 60 conservation areas (CAs) statewide. Ten are accessible to people with mobility impairments. Five are outdoor skills training centers with full-time staffs and a mission that goes far beyond shooting.

The busiest time of year at Conservation Department ranges is September through December. Visitation can still be heavy on winter weekends, but the facilities typically are less crowded this time of year.

"Our ranges started out as places to sight-infles or practice trap shooting or pistol marksmanship," said Hunter Education Program Coordinator Rick Flint. "Through the years, we have expanded their mission to include teaching outdoor skills from orienteering to birdwatching. You can still get instruction in hunting and fishing, but just about anyone can find something to interest them at our ranges."

Flint said the five staffed ranges also are excellent places to take children who receive air guns or .22 cal. rifles as holiday presents to learn to use them safely. Some ranges even offer special programs just for this purpose. All are great places to spend a winter afternoon honing old outdoor skills or learning new ones.

The flagship of state ranges is August A. Busch Memorial Shooting Range and Training Center a few miles west of St. Louis. The 30-year-old facility has covered ranges to accommodate rifle and pistol shooters and archers. Shotgunners enjoy trap and skeet shooting. Range officers are on duty at all times to ensure safety. Indoor classrooms host seminars, workshops and clinics in map and compass, trout fishing, birdwatching, archery, field-to-freezer game care, wild game cooking, including how to make venison sausage and more than 100 other classes.

The Busch range is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Friday through Tuesday. The area's extensive archery shooting course is open from dawn to dusk daily. Day-long competitive archery shoots draw as many as 300 contestants, and local corporations sometimes reserve the facility for employee appreciation day events. Little wonder the range draws 35,000 visitors a year. For information about upcoming programs there, call 636/441-4554 or visit www.mdc.mo.gov/areas/ranges/busch/.

"The biggest advantage of a supervised range is that it has people dedicated to ensuring safety," said Range Supervisor Tony Legg. "A lot of people comment on that. It's nice, too, having people who are experts on shooting skills and firearms. You can get 10-minute, one-on-one classes when you need help."

Jay Henges Shooting Range and Training Center, located on Forest 44 CA, offers similar programs for people in southwestern St. Louis County. Novice training for new firearms owners and hunters, coupled with guided youth hunts for turkey and waterfowl, make this a favorite of youngsters and families with a yen to follow in their pioneer forebears' footsteps. This area also hosts a regional Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) event and hunter education day camps in June and July. Like the Busch area, the Henges range draws upwards of 35,000 visitors annually.

"We aren't just a place to shoot," said Henges Range Supervisor Greg Toczylowski. "We strive to offer programs for everyone. From time to time we hold family days where firearms and ammunition are furnished and we have shooting and safety instruction for all ages. It's amazing the variety of people who come out for those and other events."

The Henges range's winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For directions to the area or for program information, call 636/938-9548, or visit www.mdc.mo.gov/areas/ranges/henges/.

On the opposite side of the state, the Conservation Department has two more staffed ranges. Parma Woods Shooting Range and Training Center in southern Platte County a few miles west of Kansas City is the newest of the five ranges, having opened in November 2001. In just a little over two years, however, visitation has soared to 15,000 per year. That popularity is due in part to the modern facilities and diverse programming.

The Parma Woods facility offers youth air rifle instruction, classes in predator calling, fly-tying, orienteering (map and compass) and introduction to pistol shooting. There are seminars on the biology and identification of birds of prey and hands-on activities like building bluebird nest boxes. Range Supervisor Dan Johnson said he is particularly excited about a workshop that will teach participants how to hunt snow geese during their spring migration and "Slime Time," a fun program for all youngsters about snakes, frogs, toads and salamanders.

"Getting outdoors at this time of year is nice, but people really appreciate being able to come inside and warm up," said Johnson. "Shooters know when they come here there will be trained personnel to make sure people are doing what they are supposed to. They like knowing that someone is going to be watching the person next to them."

Parma Woods' winter hours are noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, call 816/891-9941 or visit www.mdc.mo.gov/areas/ranges/parma/.

Lake City Shooting Range and Training Center in central Jackson County opened its doors in 1989 and has since built a following that draws in 10,000 to 12,000 visitors per year. Range Supervisor David Wyatt said his facility gets lots of cabin-fever escapees this time of year. Programming spans the generations, with youth air gun classes, family shotgun days and new "community-center" classes geared to retirees who drifted away from shooting and other outdoor activities during earlier, busier stages of life.

"We want to get experienced outdoors people back outside with their children and grandchildren," said Wyatt. He said the Lake City Range has a reputation as being very strict about safety, which he considers a great compliment.

The Lake City range has two trap fields for shotgunners, plus rifle and pistol ranges with covered shooting positions. Upcoming classes include beginning wood carving, introduction to fly-tying, basic hide tanning, antler measuring and end-of-season firearms care.

Winter hours at the Lake City range are noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. It doesn't have toilet facilities or an indoor area where shooters can warm up, so dress accordingly. Further information is available by calling 816/229-4448 or visiting www.mdc.mo.gov/areas/ranges/lakecity/.

The Andy Dalton Shooting Range and Training Center opened in 1995 at Bois D'Arc CA, northwest of Springfield in Greene County. With both trap and skeet ranges in addition to the standard covered rifle and pistol range, this is one of the state's best-equipped and most modern public ranges. It hosts the regional YHEC event in March, and a YHEC camp in July. Summer programs also include an outdoor skills day camp.

Upcoming programs at the Dalton range include antler scoring, shotgun and rifle reloading, wildlife identification and woodworking for wildlife. There will be hands-on instruction in canoeing and fishing at the area's lakes. Winter hours are noon to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Monday. For more information, call 417/742-4361, or look them up at www.mdc.mo.gov/areas/ranges/a_dalton.

If all you want is to smell gunpowder, you can plink at cans and clay targets at one of the dozens of less elaborate, unstaffed shooting ranges on CAs statewide. Many of these consist of cleared spaces with earthen berms at one end, providing a safe backstop for rifle and pistol shooters. Shotgunners with their own portable target throwers can use the same spots to sharpen wing-shooting skills. These modest ranges provide legal places for target shooting, which is prohibited elsewhere on conservation areas.

Some unstaffed public ranges are more elaborate, with box berms to separate different shooting ranges, restrooms, covered shooting positions and other improvements. These include:
--Sugar Creek CA in Adair County, 660/785-2420;
--Rocky Fork Lakes CA in Boone County, 573/445-3882;
--Pigeon Hill CA in Buchanan County, 816/271-3100;
--Apple Creek CA in Cape Girardeau county, 573/547-4537;
--Scrivner Road CA in Cole County573/884-6861;
--Gallatin CA in Daviess County, 660/646-3335;
--Leadmine CA in Dallas County, 417/532-7612;
--Little Indian Creek CA in Washington County, 573/468-3335;
--Golden Valley CA in Henry County, 660/885-6981;
--Riverbreaks CA in Holt County, 816/271-3100;
--White Ranch CA in Howell County, 417/256-7161;
--Steele Training Complex in Pemiscot County, 573/333-4101;
--Mark Twain Lake in Ralls County, 573/735-4097;
--Mineral Area College in St. Francis County, 573/468-3335;
--Reifsnider State Forest in Warren County, 314/456-3368.

A complete list of public shooting ranges is available online at www.mdc.mo.gov/areas/ranges/.