Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area Range to Reopen June 29

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West Virginia Public Shooting Range to Reopen June 29


6/19/09

The public shooting range at Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Berkeley County will reopen for the use of shotguns only beginning June 29, 2009. Last month, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) had to temporarily close the rifle range on Sleepy Creek WMA because of a safety problem involving bullets intermittently hitting a home approximately one quarter-mile down range.

The DNR determined certain individuals were illegally placing targets on top of the bunkers instead of in front of them. In addition, some shooters were engaged in the rapid firing of semiautomatic rifles, which resulted in the rifle muzzles rising over a safe line of sight toward the bunkers. These unsafe and illegal actions created a downrange hazard and are direct violations of the posted range rules. Other safety violations were discovered, including indiscriminate firing, failure to control muzzle direction, shooting from non-designated areas on the range, shooting after range hours, etc.

"Once the DNR became aware of these potentially life threatening conditions, the agency had no alternative but to temporarily close the range and explore options for resolving these safety concerns," said Rich Rogers, District Wildlife Biologist for the Eastern Panhandle.

The DNR is committed to reopening the public shooting range at Sleepy Creek WMA, Rogers said. The first step in this process will be to open the existing range to shotguns only beginning June 29. In addition, the DNR will continue to explore options to construct another range on Sleepy Creek WMA that will allow for the safe shooting of rifles and pistols.

Like many of the public shooting ranges built and maintained by the DNR, the Sleepy Creek WMA range was constructed on a wildlife management area. Lands acquired for wildlife management areas are purchased with funds derived through the sale of West Virginia hunting and fishing licenses. This same source of funding (i.e., hunting and fishing license dollars) is used to construct and operate these public shooting ranges.

The goal of the DNR's public shooting range program is to improve the opportunity for sportsmen and women of all ages to become familiar with the safe handling of firearms and to provide safe and convenient public shooting range facilities for recreational shooting within a reasonable driving distance of everyone in the state. The ranges were first built as a convenience for hunters and a safe place for them to sight in their hunting guns.

As time elapsed, more and more people began looking for places to enjoy the sport of recreational shooting. These activities are strongly encouraged and supported by the agency; however, when people do not abide by the rules of the range the DNR simply can't assume the potential liability that these illegal acts create, according to Rogers.

The current range problems at Sleepy Creek WMA involve both rifles and pistols, as both are now chambered for the same long range cartridges creating a potential downrange hazard. Therefore, shotguns only will be allowed on the existing range at Sleepy Creek WMA. Concurrent with this action, the DNR is exploring other options to relocate and develop a new rifle and pistol range on Sleepy Creek WMA.

"The DNR simply cannot provide direct supervision of the range during all the hours it is open," Rogers said. "We have been in contact with legislators representing the Eastern Panhandle to explore possible solutions. We have also called upon the National Rifle Association (NRA) for assistance in reviewing range operations and resolving these safety issues. One possible solution being investigated would be to construct a rifle and pistol range across the road from the present range.

"Both DNR staff and NRA representatives are working together to conduct field surveys to determine if this site, or other alternative locations, can be found that will be suitable for range development and operation. If a safe location can be found to relocate the rifle and pistol range, the next hurdle will be to secure adequate funding for range construction. While theDNR does not currently have monies budgeted to cover the estimated cost of construction for a new range at Sleepy Creek WMA, the agency is exploring funding options."


Contact:

Rich Rogers, Wildlife Resources Section, Romney District 2 Office 304-822-3551 or Paul Johansen, Charleston Office,
304-558-2771 wildlife@wvdnr.gov
 
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