By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Tucked inconspicuously among the rolling hills and back roads of rural Talladega County sits a modern marvel.
No, I’m not talking about the legendary Talladega Superspeedway, which dominates the conversation when the county name is mentioned.
I’m talking about a new facility just south of the Superspeedway that will leave any visitor stunned by its grandeur and size.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) is well known for its facility at Camp Perry in Ohio, and it has a presence at Anniston Army Base just up the road.
As it says on the CMP Talladega Marksmanship Park brochure, the new facility is state-of-the-art and blends traditional marksmanship with the latest technology.
Retired Master Sergeant Don Heuman, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 26 years, is in charge of the Talladega Marksmanship Park (TMP). Heuman said he has been part of the marksmanship community for more than 30 years and shot competition for the Marines for about 20 of those years.
After retiring from the Marines, the U.S. Army asked him to be the head coach of its service rifle team at Fort Benning, Ga., where he stayed for 13 years.
CMP then asked Heuman to run some of its matches in North Carolina and Arizona. That association soon led the CMP to offer Heuman the manager’s job at Talladega.
“The (TMP) concept has been in the works for 10 years,” he said. “It was an idea from Mark Johnson, who is now our chief operating officer. He is of the belief that if we are to be at the forefront of marksmanship in the country, along with the National Rifle Association, that we should have a marksman’s paradise, if you will.
“People can come and we can dispel the bad perceptions about shooting and firearms, and we can create this golf course-type environment where people can come out, especially here in Alabama, and have something nice for the public. This is not a private facility. We do not have memberships.”
The facility is open to the public. It is fee-based with daily to weekly rates. TMP is open Wednesday through Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays are maintenance days at the park, Heuman said.
He said one of the reasons TMP took so long to become reality was finding 500 contiguous acres between Birmingham and Anniston. The current location was found in 2012 and the work started.
The board set aside $10 million and started working with architect David Christian of Anniston to develop the concept. Rabren General Contractors out of Auburn handled the bulk of the construction. The final tally for construction was around $20 million.
Before the TMP was opened earlier this year, more than 600,000 yards of dirt was moved on the property. Some of that soil was worked to make ballistic loam for the huge berms on the shooting ranges. Those berms are integral parts of the lead mitigation program at TMP.
“Nothing was moved in and nothing was moved out,” Heuman said. “The ballistic loam absorbs the lead, which then leaches into our collection ponds, which are lined with zinc and limestone materials that absorb the lead. When we did our lead survey done by one of the universities, what releases back into the environment through leaching is less than what it was when we purchased the property. We had all that research done to satisfy the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requirements.”
Heuman said park visitors can shoot into the ballistic loam for eight to 10 years before the berms will have to be dismantled and the lead recycled.
On the main range, there are 54 stations with targets set at 200 yards, 300 yards and 600 yards. There is a 100-yard rifle range with 40 stations that will most often be used by those who are sighting in or checking their rifles for hunting season. Action pistol shooters can take advantage of three ranges. There are 25 stations each at the 25- and 50-yard pistol ranges, the only two places in the park still under construction. On the shotgun side, there is a mountaintop sporting clays range, as well as trap and five-stand ranges.
Heuman said with the high-power range out to 600 yards, the Talladega facility can host the traditional CMP matches, which consist of 10 rounds in the standing position at 200 yards, 10 rounds in the sitting position at 200 yards, 10 rounds at 300 yards in the prone
“We can shoot any type of match,” Heuman said. “I can shoot NRA matches. We’ll start having monthly matches. A club in north Alabama is going to hold a state championship, which hasn’t been held in a long time because of a lack of a venue.”
Heuman expects the 100-yard rifle range to be especially busy in September and October.
“We’re going to get a lot of use out of the 100-yard range this fall when it’s time for hunting,” he said. “And I’m going to challenge the hunters because a lot of them talk smack about shooting their deer out to 300-400 yards. We’re going to put their claims to the test. We want the hunters to come out. We can get them zeroed in for hunting season.
“They can shoot anything up to a .338 magnum. We do not shoot .50 caliber. We can shoot blackpowder as long as the bullet is conical in shape. I hope my 25- and 50-yard pistol ranges will be up and running by the end of August. We’ve also got what I call our plinker range at 25 feet.”
The target system is one of the features that really makes the Talladega facility unparalleled. The Kongsburg Electronic Target System allows shooters to check the point of impact on a monitor immediately after the shot is fired.
“The Kongsburg system measures the bullet impact within .0064 of an inch, which is more accurate than a (printing) run of paper targets,” Heuman said. “When you hit the target, it feeds back to the monitor instantly.”
The immaculate clubhouse is 14,000 square feet with two training classrooms and a pro shop that sells firearms, ammunition and shooting apparel. There are rooms available for board meetings. A huge patio deck overlooks the 600-yard range.
“The most common reaction we get when people step out onto the patio is, ‘Wow,’” Heuman said. “They say, ‘It’s about time Alabama had something like this.’”
“We don’t allow automatic fire, and we don’t allow anybody to fill their magazines and just willy nilly shoot at the targets on the electronic ranges,” he said. “People are really respectful of this place. They are not expecting what they’re seeing, so their attitude almost instantly changes from stepping onto a dirt lot and unloading a magazine to something they can really enjoy.”
Visit http://thecmp.org/competitions/talladega-marksmanship-park/ for details, map and information on hours and prices. For obvious reasons, TMP is closed during race weeks at the Superspeedway.
PHOTOS: (David Rainer) The CMP Talladega Marksmanship Park, located just south of Talladega Superspeedway, offers visitors a clubhouse with meeting rooms and pro shop. The 600-yard rifle range allows the Talladega facility to host a wide range of competition rifle matches, while the 100-yard range is the perfect place to sight in your hunting rifle. Jeremy Coppock of Jacksonville, Ala., sights in his AR-15-style rifle in .223 caliber with ease, thanks to the electronic scoring system.