Missourians going to practice shooting or sight their rifles at many of the state's public shooting ranges throughout 2015 now will be asked to take a brief exit survey.
It's part of a year-long effort by the Missouri Department of Conservation to collect public input on usage and needs for its 70 unstaffed shooting ranges. The department also runs 5 staffed shooting ranges.
Hunter education and shooting range coordinator Kyle Lairmore said the ranges are maintained by the department so residents have a safe place to target shoot, practice archery, sight their rifles, hone their shooting skills, and teach others how to shoot.
The survey will help the department better serve those users.
"These ranges are the Missouri citizens' ranges," he said. "This survey is going to help us improve their range to provide them with opportunities to enjoy shooting, a piece that the MDC provides citizens of Missouri. We want to make sure we’re maintaining and managing our shooting ranges for their intended purpose and that’s where the survey comes in, is to give us an idea of how many people are using our ranges, how they are using them."
On behalf of the department, Missouri 4-H began conducting the voluntary exit surveys at 40 unstaffed ranges starting January 1 and will continue to the end of the year. Lairmore said the 4-H's Shooting Sports has served as a good partner in teaching about shooting and conservation issues.
"We encourage range users to participate in this survey to help MDC to continue providing the best facilities for our states' hunting and shooting enthusiasts," Missiouri 4-H Foundation Executive Direct Cheryl Reams said in a press release.
Lairmore said 4-H also was brought in to be a neutral party that could reduce "biased opinions," yield more willing participation, and gain more accurate results.
"So it's not a government employee standing there and asking these questions, so they don't feel like we're invading privacy," Lairemore said. "Some people might have a perception that we're asking them about their firearms and ammo in a negative way. We're doing this to improve how we do things and provide better opportunities and safer opportunities for the citizens of Missouri."
Lairmore said getting hard numbers will help the department better dole out resources and budgets.
"The big thing is going to be the number of users and the type of shooting they're doing," he said. "The number will help us get an idea of prioritizing which ranges are heavily used and those heavily used ranges will be ones we focus on first, for renovation needs if they need anything at all."
Based on survey feedback, that could include simple general maintenance and upkeep or making structural improvements such as replacing target backers and shooting benches. For example, Lairmore said the department might need to shore up backstops or side berms, where sand has settled down to too low a height. Or it might need to install so-called "no blue sky roofs" over shooting lines to alleviate the concern about bullets going over backstops and leaving the range.
"We want to make sure we’re providing good service, design and safety at our ranges, if there are any issues at our ranges in regards to safety, managing or renovating with new projects," he said.
The survey will be conducted throughout the year, Lairmore said, in order to get the hard data on when peak months and time of day are, as well as whether weather affects range usage.
"We're also looking at potentially putting staff at the location during the peak times to assist shooters or address concerns there may be," he said.
In time, the survey data could also help the department determine where there are needs for additional ranges. But that would be a decision "down the road," Lairmore said, and would require a lot of planning, good design, and making sure the department follows both NRA and EPA management guidelines.
"It’s important to us that when we develop ranges, that we put thought into where it’s located before we put that range, because once it’s there, it’s there permanently," he said. "We want to make sure it’s the right spot."
Lairmore said Missouri leads the nation in the number of state-owned public shooting ranges.
"If you look at other states, we are exceeding the opportunity, leading the nation in what we have," he said. "Missouri citizens forget they have that opportunity and the positive impact that MDC has when it comes to outdoor education and hunting and fishing and shooting sports."