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Vandalism Continues to Be Problem at WFF Shooting Ranges

Vandals are causing significant problems at the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries public shooting ranges. WFF photo

By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

It’s like when their favorite lamps get broken by reckless youngsters and moms say, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

I don’t get riled easily, but one photo posted recently by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division really kicked my blood pressure up a notch.

Some yahoos at one of the WFF shooting ranges vandalized items at the range to the detriment of all who use and maintain the shooting facility.

Unfortunately, a few bad actors could jeopardize the use of some of these facilities if this malicious behavior continues. The facility where inconsiderate people destroyed state property is still open. For now.

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said the vandalism at Etowah Shooting Range that irked me so much is only one of many examples of how destructive some people can be.

“We installed new concrete shooting benches at several ranges over the past couple of years,” he said. “Within days of us installing them, several were damaged through senseless vandalism.”

Unfortunately, vandalism is not new, but this new destructive activity could have a greater impact. As far as the damage done at the Etowah range, Marisa Futral, WFF Hunter Education Coordinator, said the recent incident indicated a growing problem.

“People can be so inconsiderate,” she said. “People will bring computers, washing machines or whatever to shoot. If they don’t have anything, they’ll just shoot up the garbage cans. It’s not the first time it happened at Etowah, but this time was really bad. Then they just leave them for someone else to clean up.”

Futral said another example of people being inconsiderate is when they place their targets too close to the bench, causing their bullets to impact the floor of the range instead of going into the earthen berm. This creates big ruts in the floor of the range and makes maintenance a nightmare.

“At South Sandy at Oakmulgee Wildlife Management Area, we had just put 13 new shooting benches there,” she said. “They cost more than $900 each. We were trying to make the facilities as nice as we could. We weren’t open a week before someone either shot or took a sledgehammer and tore up one of the benches. Fortunately, we did have some thoughtful users who were in the concrete business. They volunteered to supply materials and labor to repair the benches. That was a positive, and we wish all users would have this attitude. That’s why we would love to staff all of our ranges – to stop all the vandalism.

“Unfortunately, it’s the few who ruin it for the many.”

Two facilities, the Cahaba Public Shooting Range in Shelby County and the Swan Creek Public Shooting Range in Limestone County, had to be closed temporarily because the users would not abide by specific social-distancing guidelines. Another facility, the Conecuh Public Shooting Range, was also shut down due to the temporary closure order issued for all U.S. Forest Service recreational access areas in national forests.

“As with most things, Alabama hunters have it really good,” said Director Sykes. “Our Governor has been working generously with us to make sure we keep the outdoors open. It is providing a healthy alternative for people who are social distancing. You can be smart about it and still go to the woods and hunt, still get on the water and fish, as long as people take this seriously and don’t think it’s a three-week vacation, because it’s not. We want you to get outdoors and have fun. What we do for a living is provide those opportunities. As long as people are smart about it, we will remain open. But we had to close two of our staffed shooting ranges because people would not obey the guidelines set forth by (State Health Officer) Dr. (Scott) Harris and the Governor.”

Sykes said the staff taped off every other shooting bench at the staffed ranges to ensure people were maintaining the proper 6-foot distancing, to no avail.

“We told people coming into the range that they had to follow the social-distancing protocol or they would force us to close it,” Sykes said. “Before lunch, people were stacking their equipment on the taped-off benches, walking all over people. We just finally had to close it.”

Damaged garbage cans at the shooting ranges have to be discarded by WFF personnel. WFF Photo

Futral said the program had no other option than to close the manned shooting ranges that she and her staff oversee.

“Those ranges were so packed,” Futral said. “Everybody was touching the same staple gun and same benches. People weren’t maintaining the 6-foot social-distancing recommendations. Our staff was getting exposed. We definitely didn’t feel like we were complying with Governor Ivey’s order not to congregate.”

The nine WFF shooting ranges that currently remain open are Barbour WMA Shooting Range, Coosa WMA Shooting Range, Etowah Shooting Range, Freedom Hills WMA Shooting Range, Marengo Public Shooting Range, Sam R. Murphy WMA Shooting Range, Skyline WMA Shooting Range, South Sandy-Oakmulgee WMA Shooting Range and Upper Delta WMA Shooting Range. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/shooting-ranges for details about the ranges.

WFF Director Sykes said people in Alabama may not realize how good they have it right now in terms of enjoying the outdoors.

Governor Kay Ivey specifically granted Alabamians the option of enjoying outdoors recreation during the virus restrictions, with the proper social distancing of course, because she knows how cherished the outdoors is to people in our state.

“A lot of states are experiencing mandates to close public access during these restrictions,” Sykes said. “For one example, Illinois shut down all of its public hunting lands. If you’re an Alabama resident who drew a non-resident turkey tag in Illinois, you’re out of luck unless you have access to private property. I hunted in Nebraska last year, and I received a text from their game department that said basically, thanks for buying your turkey tags last year, but, sorry, you can’t come this year.

Sykes said a meme floating around social media nails the hoarding hysteria that hit the nation.

“It says the reason we have game and fish regulations is because of how some people acted in the grocery store,” he said. “We’re trying to provide an opportunity. People who abuse it, hurt it for everybody else. I’m not saying there are a lot of people who do this. For the most part, the people who use the shooting ranges and hunt and fish on the WMAs (wildlife management areas) are upstanding citizens. They buy their licenses. They abide by the rules and regulations. They abide by the bag limits and fish creel limits. And it’s a pleasure to have them around.

“My daddy always taught me there’s one in every crowd. And you know what that one is. Those people are the ones who could possibly ruin it for everybody.”

Sykes participated in a conference call recently with the National Forest Service to determine if those lands could remain open during the coronavirus outbreak.

“They don’t want to shut down the national forests,” he said. “We are struggling nationwide for relevancy. People are not growing up in the country. They don’t have a high value for outdoor recreation like we do because we grew up doing it.”

As tragic as this virus has been for many in the nation, Sykes sees an opportunity.

“Let’s make lemonade out of lemons,” he said. “This is a terrible situation for the country as a whole, but this is a great time for us to show people what we do, how we do it and why we do it. We’re providing recreational opportunities for people who would normally be going to soccer games, going to movies or concerts and stuff like that. We’re providing them with a safe, healthy alternative to go outside and enjoy nature. This may be the silver lining for this.

“We’re the only game open in town right now. If people use it wisely, it may help us create a new group of users.”

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The public shooting ranges overseen by the WFF, like this one at Cahaba WMA, are quality facilities when used properly. Photo by Kenny Johnson

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