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Home On The Range

Home On The Range

Soon, many more Wyoming residents will truly have a home on the range—the shooting range, that is.

With a nickname like “Big Wyoming,” the nation’s lowest population, and a reputation for wide open rangeland and mountain landscapes, it may come as a surprise that finding a place to shoot there isn’t always easy. But new initiatives spearheaded by NRA Field Representative Dave Manzer and launched by the Governor last year are set to change that.

As the field representative for Wyoming, Manzer had become all too familiar with the difficulty of establishing public shooting spaces in a state where nearly half of the land is owned by the government.

(Photo courtesy/Thermapolis Gun Club)

“For a long time there has been a need for more access to public shooting ranges—it’s the number one thing I’ve been asked as a field rep,” Manzer says. “The land has always been our major obstacle for building ranges and providing people with safe and well-managed places to shoot, especially in small towns.”

Irresponsible use of existing shooting ranges and abuse of public lands has plagued the state in the past, and when a fire started by an incendiary target burned a large portion of a public grassland near Cheyenne in October 2015 and prompted the State Board of Land Commissioners (SBLC) to close the land to public use, the whole issue came to a head.

“The SBLC contacted me about the land being closed,” Manzer remembers, “And that’s when I first offered my idea about taking the state land that was being used, and in some cases abused, and building ranges on it. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to both teach land ethics and give people a place to shoot.”

At the same time, the Governor’s office was encountering their own problem with range availability. As Magpul, Hiviz and other firearms industry companies moved into the state, the Governor’s office sought to organize a big pro shoot to highlight the growing shooting industry in Wyoming and promote the diversification of the Wyoming economy. But they realized they couldn’t find any ranges to host the event.

(Photo courtesy/Thermapolis Gun Club)

“The Governor’s office called me with their problem,” says Manzer. “And I told them, ‘This is very strange, but I’ve just been talking with state lands … and I’d like to offer you a solution.” With that, an idea that Manzer had had for years and shared with Wyoming Game and Fish Communications Director Renny MacKay, finally reached the table.

“I had the idea of building on state land before and talked to Renny about it, but we had no in or idea of how to make that happen,” Manzer explains. “Last year it just all fell together and basically tied in so well to the needs and goals of all these state agencies and associations as well as our growing firearms industry.”

So come May of 2016, Manzer found himself in a meeting with MacKay and the SBLC in the Governor’s office, presenting this solution to Governor Matt Mead.

“I pitched the whole thing to him, tying it in with Game and Fish and State Lands,” Manzer says. “I told him that we’re not asking for money to build the ranges, just for the land to be turned over, because we can apply for NRA Foundation grant support. It’s a win-win all the way around. He was on board, and at that point I was kind of on a roll and also proposed the Wyoming Top 100 competition.”

Everyone quickly set to work to make these proposals a reality. When Governor Mead declared a Wyoming Day at the Range last August, he launched the Open Ranges Initiative to increase access to public shooting ranges, the Wyoming Top 100 Shooting Competition to recognize the state’s top 100 shooters, and the Magpul Governor’s Match—a national-level 2-gun (semiautomatic rifle and pistol) match to feature some of the best competitors in the country.

(Photo courtesy/Thermapolis Gun Club)

The first round of the Wyoming Top 100 Shooting Competition kicked off in April, with ten workshops taking place at shooting ranges around the state. Representatives from the Governor’s office, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the NRA and Wyoming’s firearms industry attended the workshops where amateur sportsmen and women came out to participate in the postal match and test their skills against one another.

Manzer sees the competition as way to reach into new communities, to highlight the things that The NRA Foundation has done and can do to promote the shooting sports, and to build new Friends of NRA committees. With more than $2 million in grant funding invested in Wyoming ranges already, The NRA Foundation and Friends of NRA have provided resources over the years to all ten of those that hosted workshops this year. Among them are the City of Rawlins Indoor Shooting Facility and Outdoor Shooting Complex, as well as the Thermopolis Gun Club “Bob Milek Memorial Range.”

“We have been very fortunate to have the volunteer base and the Friends of NRA support for this range,” notes Patti Hays, City of Rawlins Superintendent of Recreation. “Our shooting fans are increasing every year.”

The Rawlins Outdoor Range now has two skeet fields, four trap fields, a shotgun 5-stand, 10 pistol bays supporting all types of handgun competition, a 300-yard rifle range and a 1000-yard range that will soon have new electronic target systems for 10 firing lanes, all of which have been supported with construction and equipment grants from The NRA Foundation. Grants provided funding for new target carriers and control systems in the Indoor Shooting Range.

(Photo courtesy/Thermapolis Gun Club)

These ranges and the grant funding invested in them provide direct support to a large number of shooting sports programs, from the local Wyoming Game & Fish Hunter Education and 4-H rifle and archery to training and qualification requirements of the local police and county Sheriff’s Department, and they have been instrumental in developing various matches from cowboy action to modern long rifle, junior rifle leagues and shotgun leagues.

Although small in size, the Thermopolis Gun Club (TGC) also supports a wide range of activities and has been steadily growing in membership. Its "Bob Milek Range" land is being developed into a functional range with NRA Foundation grant funding provided by Wyoming Friends of NRA. The range serves programs including Hot Springs County 4-H Shooting Sports, a “Hunt for Heroes,” and the local police department, which uses it for qualification training.

“The use of the TGC ‘Bob Milek Range’ has in no small part been augmented by the generous grants from The NRA Foundation,” says TGC’s Cynthia Garbin, who also serves as chairwoman of the Hot Springs County Friends of NRA committee. “The grants awarded have provided ammunition used at the local YHEC and other youth shoots. Metal Targets were used for our Tactical Rimfire Blastathon, and the excavation of our pistol pit and berm work have improved the use of the range for classes and shoots, like the Wyoming Top 100.”

(Photo courtesy/Chris Iacovetto)

Manzer looks forward to helping more ranges, new and old, benefit from NRA Foundation grants and bring more opportunities in the shooting sports to people all over Wyoming. “It’s very exciting,” he enthuses. “We’re currently working to secure the land for our first range in the Open Ranges Initiative, and hopefully it will be the first of many. Star Valley is an incredibly beautiful place with a bunch of little towns nestled in the mountains. But there is no place to shoot; it’s all either private land, state land, or national forest. The folks in Star Valley are eager to see this project succeed, and they are putting together an organization to apply for NRA Foundation grants.”

Looking back on the past year and a half, Manzer emphasizes how Friends of NRA has been at the heart of all his efforts. “I’m proud of how many people were involved, and I don’t think it could have fallen together any better,” he says. “I know none of this would’ve happened without my job, my travel around the state and my knowledge of our ranges, and absolutely everything about this I did to perpetuate Friends of NRA. We’re starting to see the benefits for the program already, and it really helps to have the support of the Governor’s office. It’s Friends of NRA and The NRA Foundation grant program that are building the ranges, and the next generation is going to benefit from every bit of this. And that’s exactly the point of it all.”

Learn more about grants from The NRA Foundation by clicking here.

Republished from Traditions Quarter 2: 2017

Main photo courtesy/Thermapolis Gun Club

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