With more young hunters heading into the field this fall, in this first year of Michigan’s Mentored Youth Hunting program, how can parents and other mentors best prepare them for a safe and successful hunt?
Look no further than one of the Department of Natural Resources’ shooting ranges – always a great place for hunters of all ages to practice shooting or sight in their firearms. The DNR encourages families to visit its shooting ranges before taking young hunters afield.
The DNR recently offered Demonstration Days for mentored youth hunters at three of its shooting ranges (Pontiac Lake, Sharonville and Rose Lake), helping mentors ensure that youth hunters are properly fitted with firearms, as required by the mentored youth hunting regulations. The Demo Days events gave young hunters the chance to try a variety of firearms (rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders), get fitted with help from gun experts and conservation officers, and try out the DNR’s hunting simulator.
Each young hunter got a free T-shirt for attending, and a chance for a free hat if they come back to the range to practice shooting. The project was supported by the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Range Partnership Grant Program.
“If youth are properly fitted with a firearm, then they will have a more successful experience during their first mentored hunt, and they’ll be more likely to continue hunting,” said Dennis Fox, DNR Recruitment and Retention manager. “The Demo Days were one way to help pass Michigan’s hunting tradition on to the next generation.”
The events also helped introduce participants to the DNR’s ranges as safe, affordable places for families to shoot.
“I think the event went really well. Kids and parents had lots of fun, and there were definitely a lot of excited faces,” said Alex Koptyev, a DNR shooting range officer who attended the Demo Days events at the Rose Lake and Sharonville ranges. “We’ve had several kids come back so far to get their hats and sight in their guns.”
Koptyev added that, in general, staffers are seeing an increase in kids and families shooting at the DNR ranges.
“There are definitely a lot more families that enjoy a range outing and make it a family event,” he said. “Also, there is an increase in women’s participation in shooting – we see a lot more women come out and enjoy shooting as a sport and a lot more come out and sight in their guns for the deer season.”
Recent improvements at all four of the DNR staff-operated shooting ranges – aimed at making the ranges more user-friendly – have also helped bring more visitors out to shoot.
The Rose Lake shooting range in Clinton County now has a new handgun range featuring five covered, accessible stations where visitors can shoot at 10 yards.
In Oakland County, the Pontiac Lake range has added four stations where visitors can shoot their handguns at 10-yard targets and a 5-foot-wide crushed-limestone path to the target boards, which complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The pavilion at Jackson County’s Sharonville shooting range is available for hunter education courses and as shelter for shooters and their families when the weather gets cold. The staff at Sharonville has temporarily removed the four 10-yard handgun stations to accommodate shooter demands for the sight-in season, but the 10-yard range will return for handgun enthusiasts in early January 2013.
A construction project at the Ortonville shooting range in Lapeer County, completed in early September, added more shooting stations to the range – the 25-yard range now sits four shooters, and both the 50-yard range and the 100-yard range can hold six shooters. The facility also has added a berm and concrete to allow for a 10-yard pistol range that accommodates four shooters and a new 200-yard range allowing for six shooters at a time, as well as all-new, ADA-compliant shooting benches along with new ADA-compliant paths to each of the target structures.
“The improvements to the Ortonville shooting range have brought out a lot of new faces to the facility,” said Charlie Brauer, DNR shooting range officer. “The general reaction by all has been more than positive. They like the 10- and 200-yard ranges, the overall look of the place, and the fact that we are a bigger facility offering less wait time.”
Support for shooting range renovations comes from a combination of sources, including the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, federal Pittman-Robertson Act funds and state restricted funds (shooting range program income).
“With the ongoing upgrades, our ranges are great destinations for Michigan shooters,” Fox said. “Some of them are a little out of the way, and we sometimes hear local residents say they didn’t know the range was so close, so we encourage hunters and shooters to stop by and check out the facilities.”
As firearm deer hunting season approaches, the DNR ranges expand their hours of operation to accommodate hunters. In October, the ranges are open six days a week, Wednesday through Monday; Nov. 1-15, they are open seven days a week.
In addition to the rifle/pistol and handgun facilities, the four DNR-staffed shooting ranges offer opportunities for archery practice – including a 3-D archery range at Ortonville – and for clay target shooting. They also have accessible shooting stations.
There is a fee of $4 per shooter, age 16 and older, per day at the Ortonville and Pontiac Lake ranges; guests under the age of 15 shoot free. There is no fee at the Rose Lake and Sharonville ranges.
A Recreation Passport is required for entry at the Ortonville and Pontiac Lake shooting ranges, which are located inside state recreation areas. Shooters under the age of 16 must be directly supervised by an adult. Shooters are responsible for providing their own eye and ear protection, ammunition and targets.
The DNR also contracts with Michigan Shooting Centers, Inc. (MSC, www.mishoot.com) to operate and maintain the Island Lake (Brighton) and Bald Mountain (Lake Orion) shooting ranges. MSC owner Pat Lieske, who competed in the World Sporting Clays Championship in August and finished in second place overall for the silver medal, offers shooting instruction at the ranges.
“If parents are looking for opportunities for their kids, or themselves, to learn how to shoot, Pat Lieske is one of the best trainers in the United States,” Fox said.
To learn more about the DNR’s shooting ranges, other shooting ranges in your area or the shooting sports, visit www.michigan.gov/shootingranges.
Image courtesy Michigan DNR