COLUMBIA - The Missouri Conservation Department has been increasing enforcement in the Rocky Fork Shooting Range from the beginning of this year. Being so popular the range raises worrying issues, mainly littering and gun safety. The range is based just couple of miles north of Columbia.
"I've never seen it like this. In five years, I've never seen this much trash on the ground," said leisure shooter Bryan King.
From more than 100 outdoor shooting ranges in Missouri, only five are staffed with full-time employers. Those ranges are based around bigger urban areas - St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield. The other ranges, including the Rocky Fork Shooting Range, are unstaffed and free for everyone.
"It's always has been kind of honor system, where everyone picks up their own trash when they're done and throws it in the dumpster they've provided for us," said King.
The main littering problems include not picking up shotgun hulls and paper targets.
Tony Legg, State Hunter Education and Range Coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said officers come more often, sometimes monitor ranges for an entire day and write tickets if they are needed.
"Sometimes it helps just being in the shooting range and observing," said Scott Rice, Conservation Agent responsible for the Rocky Fork Shooting Range. He said that agents from other counties and officers from other law enforcement agencies, such as highway patrol troopers, come to help monitor the range. Rice said maintenance staff on regular basis comes to clear the range, however, high cost is a big issue.
Popularity of the range causes safety problems as well. "It can get pretty crowded out here. I had an experience out here when some individuals basically stepped out of the vehicle, walked down here with the rifle and started shooting without paying attention that I was down range a little bit. That was one of the big reasons why I don't come here anymore," said Matt Parker, avid shooter from Boonville.
"What can be done? I don't know. Maybe having someone out here more often," said Parker. He said newcomers maybe should come with or find somebody in the range that could explain all the rules and safety issues.
Rice said the most important rules that conservation agents have to remind to people include: safe firearms handling, keeping the muzzle pointed in the safe direction, making sure that nobody is down the range before start shooting from the stations, communicating will all the shooters.
"The Wildlife Code is the backbone from which we write our tickets. There is a section in it that addresses shooting ranges," said conservation agent Rice.
According to the conservation department, around 350,000 people come to unstaffed Missouri shooting ranges every year.
In the United States, Missouri is significantly ahead with a number of shooting ranges. Missouri runs third of around 300 ranges that use Pittman-Robertson Act Funds nationwide.