Like gun stores, shooting ranges in Colorado have seen an uptick in interest during the pandemic. And grants from Colorado Parks and Wildlife are helping some of these private facilities reload.
Every year, the state allocates between $400,000 and $750,000 to shooting ranges across Colorado through the Shooting Range Development grant program. The funds, which mostly come from federal taxes, go to existing ranges as well as the development of new shooting ranges. A separate CPW grant process helps fund improvements at the fifteen to twenty shooting ranges on public land in Colorado.
To qualify for an SRD grant, projects must demonstrate substantive public benefit, says Jim Guthrie, the grant program coordinator. In particular, the range should push access for everyone, from hunters who want to practice to families with kids who want to learn. Many shooting ranges have youth shooting education programs and competitions or offer self-defense classes, he says.
“It’s a variety of cases where it’s not just club members who use the range, but they allow the general public to have access. And that really becomes important along the Front Range, because there’s limited opportunities and a lot of demand,” he says.
The program has awarded almost $5 million in grants to over seventy shooting and archery ranges in Colorado since 2010; this year, CPW awarded $725,000 in SRD grants to nine. The majority of the program's funding comes from an excise tax on hunting and archery equipment from the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the rest comes from CPW license revenues.
To assess the applications, Guthrie says the SRD grant program uses a scoring system that considers youth education programs, location, amount of public access, local support, environmental compliance and more. Ranges receive between $10,000 and $380,000; at least 25 percent of the project’s total budget must come from non-federal sources.
The Boulder Rifle Club, a private shooting range open to the public on some weekends in the summer, received an $388,700 SRD grant to help construct a large public shooting range to the west of the club, which is now only allowing ten people at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions. On normal days, says one member, it's not uncommon to see as many as sixty or seventy would-be shooters.
“The significant population that shows up on public days really didn’t grow up in an environment where they knew what proper etiquette and safety was,” the member explains. “On public days, these ranges are supervised by certified range officers that are there to make sure people don’t do anything that is unsafe, but also to give them guidance.”
Use of the Summit County Public Shooting Range has nearly doubled over the past few months, according to Tom Little, a volunteer who leads instructional shooting clinics for women at the range. “It’s outdoors, and it’s open. And a lot of things weren’t,” he explains. There's no charge to use that range, which is normally used by about 12,000 people a year.
The uptick in gun-range use reflects the increased interests in guns in general. The owner of The Gun Room in Lakewood says that he saw a tenfold increase in firearm and ammunition sales during the month of March. He's operated the store since 2002 and has experienced sales booms before, but says nothing will ever come close to what the pandemic started three months ago.
"We made almost as much as we did all of last year," he says. "And though it's still been very busy, March will never be duplicated. I tripled my staff and still didn't have enough people."
He attributes this increase not just to public fear during the pandemic, but to a general desire to have personal protection. "There's been a lot more recreational shooting and training. There's also been a lot more people interested in training and learning how to use firearms," he says.
Green Mountain Guns in Lakewood reports an almost 400 percent increase in sales in March. With an uptick in firearms sales, there was also an uptick in enrollment in training classes, says a store spokesman.
With all the increased interest and the economy reeling, it's important to keep ranges open and continue competitions, according to Ralph Delaney of the Glenwood Springs Gun Club. A large part of what that club does is host shooting clays, or a strike-down sport described as “golf with a shotgun,” he says.
“People have expensive guns, and they usually come to town to have lunch while they’re here. It’s important to keep these going, to bring people in and to help struggling local businesses,” Delaney says. “It significantly contributes to the economy.”
It's clear that shooting ranges can have a large economic benefit, Guthrie says, citing an impact report put out by the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 2018. According to that report, the $16.9 billion spent on target shooting provided for 329,000 jobs. Target shooters spend money on such equipment as firearms, hand-loading tools, ammunition, accessory fees and more; they also spend on lodging and food.
But the CPW wants to make sure the environment is considered, too, and ranges must develop an Environmental Stewardship Plan before SRD funds are rewarded. This plan is described as a “living document” that records environmental actions that have been completed, as well as those in the works. While environmental stewardship is a priority, Guthrie says, the top factor in determining funding levels is usually public accessibility...particularly as demand increases during the coronavirus pandemic.
Jerry Smith, the public information officer for the 150-member Teller County Shooting Society, was sometimes the only person there when he went to shoot. But that's changing. “People for quite a while were confined to their homes, so going to the range, especially an outdoor range with not many people, is important for people,” he says.
CPW Shooting Range Development Grants in 2020
La Junta Rifle Club: $10,500
Sangre Shooting Sports Club: $23,000
Gold Camp Range, Teller County Shooting Society: $50,500
Pikes Peak Gun Club: $85,200
Bear Creek Regional Park, El Paso County: $15,000
Kodak Archery Range, Windsor: $100,000
Boulder Rifle Club: $388,700
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