DNR shooting ranges improve to keep pace with target shooting trends

Pontiac Lake Shooting Range officer Rick Phillips assists a young woman with a youth model rifle.

July 12, 2016

It used to be that to check the precision of your aim when practicing at a shooting range, you had to walk downrange and look at your target. Today – there’s a Smartphone application for that.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has introduced Bullseye Camera Systems at all five of its staffed shooting ranges – at Dansville (Ingham County), Ortonville (Lapeer County), Pontiac Lake (Oakland County), Rose Lake (Clinton County) and Sharonville (Jackson County).

“These cameras give you the ability to track your shots right from your Smartphone, tablet or laptop, with a free app downloaded to your device and a connection to the camera’s Wi-Fi signal,” said Charlie Brauer, who runs the DNR’s Ortonville Shooting Range and who had the idea to install the cameras at the end of the ranges’ long-range shooting stations.

Julee Hasbany takes aim on a pistol range at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Rose Lake shooting range in Clinton County.Brauer said there’s no more need to have lengthy target checks due to shooters walking out and back from the 100- or 200-yard targets or shooters wondering where their bullets are hitting.

“Pretty cool, right?” Brauer said.

Brauer said the new remote sighting systems not only will help those with mobility challenges enjoy the shooting sports, butalso will offer a fun, “techie” experience for the ranges’ younger customers.

And that’s just one example of how the DNR shooting ranges are evolving to meet the needs of a growing – and changing – group of shooting-sports enthusiasts.

Trajectory and trends

The number of target shooting participants in the United States increased from 34.4 million in 2009 to 51.2 million in 2014 – almost a 50-percent jump – according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation report on sport shooting participation published in 2015.

Pontiac Lake Shooting Range officer Warren Silverstein assists a young man with a .22 caliber youth model rifle.The visitor traffic at the DNR’s staffed ranges reflects the growing popularity of the pastime as well, with the total number of shooters at all the ranges (excepting Dansville, which did not open as a staffed range until November 2014) increasing by 44 percent in the same five-year period, from about 29,000 in 2009 to about 42,000 in 2014.

The foundation report also indicates the largest upturn in participation – more than 50 percent over the last five years – was in handgun shooting.

One of the fastest-growing segments of the target-shooting population is women, expanding by 60 percent from 2001 to 2013, as reported by the National Sporting Goods Association as part of its annual studies of sports participation.

And in a 2013 foundation survey, firearms retailers estimated that 20 percent of their shooting- and hunting-related sales were attributed to women, up from 15 percent in 2010.

Observations from DNR staff members bear out these national trends.

“We’ve seen more women and children over the past few years, with a gaining interest in handgun shooting,” said Aiden McLearon, who oversees all of the DNR’s staffed shooting ranges.

Shooting range officers like Richard Phillips at Pontiac Lake echoed McLearon’s comments about “more handgun customers” at the ranges.


Keeping pace

The DNR has been improving and upgrading facilities at the ranges to keep pace with these trends.

“Michigan has approximately 850,000 people who participate in shooting sports,” said Dennis Fox, manager of the DNR Recruitment and Retention Section. “Nationally, shooting sports — particularly handgun shooting — is a growing sport, and our recently added 10-yard ranges will provide opportunities for the increasing demand.”

All of the DNR-managed shooting facilities now have handgun ranges. The newest, at the Sharonville range in Grass Lake, opened in late 2015 thanks in part to a $25,000 grant from the National Rifle Association.

“After installing the new handgun range, I have noticed more women coming to shoot for their first time,” said Joe Presgrove, shooting range officer at Sharonville. “This is great for the future of shooting sports, because hopefully those individuals will introduce others to shooting as well.”

Another recent upgrade that makes the DNR shooting ranges more user-friendly and inviting to shooters is the addition of modern restrooms at Ortonville, Pontiac Lake and Sharonville.

At Rose Lake, an education building – that will include not only restrooms but also classrooms that can be used for hunter education, youth and conservation groups and DNR activities – is under construction and set to open this fall.

Other efforts to make the DNR shooting ranges more family-friendly include things like a pavilion and grill available for visitors to use at the Sharonville range and events like Demonstration Days – where kids can learn about and safely try out different types of child-sized firearms and archery equipment – that the ranges have hosted in recent years.

Ortonville Shooting Range attendant Charlie Brauer helps move the rear sight on a new .22 rifle a grandfather recently gave to his grandson. “The feedback we hear from the customers is excellent,” Presgrove said. “Most customers are happy that the DNR is making the effort to meet the needs of the growing interest in shooting sports and providing a safe facility to shoot at with family and friends.”

Getting started

For those interested in getting started in the shooting sports, but not sure of the best way to begin, Phillips suggests, “Buy a gun and come on out.” For those who prefer to only dip a toe in the water at first, Presgrove suggests a gradual approach.

“Learn from someone with a lot of experience and start with a smaller caliber/gauge,” Presgrove said. “Pulling the trigger for the first time can be both exciting and scary for some, so it’s important to start at a comfortable level in terms of gun size. Once you feel comfortable shooting with the smaller calibers/gauges, you can move up in size.”

McLearon also recommends visiting your local shooting ranges and firearms retailers to learn more about the sport and what’s offered.

As for the DNR shooting ranges, McLearon said, “The DNR is dedicated to providing safe, friendly, family-oriented facilities for all to enjoy. Our staff is knowledgeable about firearm safety, and we’re always willing to work with new shooters.”

Because of the DNR’s commitment to its hunter safety education programs – with more than 3,000 volunteer instructors lending their valuable expertise – Michigan’s hunter safety record continues to improve.

For the second year in a row, Michigan recorded no fatalities in 2015 during all hunting seasons. That continued improvement is part of an overall trend toward fewer hunting-related fatalities and injuries over the past several decades.

The downward fatality and accident trend began in 1988 when completion of a hunter education class became mandatory for all first-time hunters born after Jan. 1, 1960.

In addition to its five staffed shooting ranges, the DNR also contracts with Michigan Shooting Centers, Inc. to operate and maintain the Island Lake (Brighton) and Bald Mountain (Lake Orion) shooting ranges.

Michigan Shooting Centers owner Pat Lieske, shooting professional and sporting clays Hall of Fame inductee, offers shooting instruction at the ranges.

Learn more about the DNR shooting ranges – including offerings, locations and hours – or search for other ranges around the state.

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