Who wants it? State Game and Fish Commission Asks Communities to Bid on Northwest Arkansas Firing Range

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is using a different method in its search for a site to build a proposed shooting range in northwest Arkansas.

In the past, when the Game and Fish Commission wanted to build a facility like a shooting range, its staff would scour the countryside looking for suitable sites. These sites are usually remote and require substantial improvements to make them compatible with their purposes. The facilities are understandably underutilized, which is detrimental to its existence.

Instead of combing through fringe properties for a Northwest Arkansas Firing Facility, the commission is asking communities in Northwest Arkansas to compete for the facility.

Austin Booth, director of the Game and Fish Commission, recently made the pitch at the Northwest Arkansas Council’s annual meeting at the Springdale Nature Center, a state-of-the-art facility that was completed in 2020. Booth said that Northwest Arkansas is a logical site for the commission’s flagship firing facility, as it is the fastest growing region in the state and supports a diverse constituency. The commission also has a very small presence in northwest Arkansas, Booth said.

Economically, Arkansas’ recreational shooters generate $486 million in consumer spending, Booth said. However, recreational shooting in the Third Congressional District only generates $64 million, or 13% of the total.

“To me, that means one thing, untapped potential,” Booth said. “When it comes to ammunition, firearms, and the broader shooting sports industry, we have 15 outstanding manufacturers statewide. Those 15 alone support 6,500 jobs and provide $19 million a year in tax revenue to our state. This makes Arkansas number four nationally in terms of economic output per capita in the firearms, ammunition, and recreational shooting industry.

Of course, people drive the economy, Booth said. Again, northwest Arkansas is underrepresented. Nearly 6,500 youth participate in the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program, but only 1,500 youth participate in Northwest Arkansas. The lack of filming locations discourages participation.

Booth asked the audience who the recreational shooters were. In crazy sports in northwest Arkansas, his response silenced the already attentive audience.

“In 2018, the Outdoor Industry Association conducted a national analysis of recreational shooting sports and found that there were more participants in recreational shooting than there were in tennis, football or baseball. “Booth said. “At first glance, it seems impossible, doesn’t it?

Booth said people who play baseball, basketball and soccer have one thing in common: they’re young. The time people spend playing ball sports is very short and their skills deteriorate with age. Conversely, there are no physical barriers to enjoy and excel in recreational shooting.

“Every attribute necessary for success is learned,” Booth said. “I was genetically predisposed to play in high school [sports]. I was 6-foot-2 and 155 pounds. I was also genetically predisposed to get on the bench because I weighed 155 pounds. You can see how big the offensive linemen are. You can watch Michael Phelps and how his anatomy naturally supported him as a champion swimmer. You can look at elbow mechanics in major league pitchers. There is nothing genetic about a good shooter. Everything is learned.”

As an example of shooting sports equality, Booth cited a girl who participates in the commission’s school archery program. Although confined to a wheelchair, she is competitive at a high level, Booth said.

“There’s nothing about being in a wheelchair that stops her from being as good as the person standing next to her,” Booth said. “When you come to these events, you see that kids have the opportunity to succeed in a teachable sport, whereas they may not have the same opportunity in some other sports.”

Participation in shooting sports has increased 28% since 2000, Booth said. During the same period, women’s participation increased by 80%. Wooster’s Kayle Browning, who won a silver medal in trapping at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, is a product of Arkansas’ youth sport shooting program.

In light of recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York, and elsewhere, throwing a range of fire at civic leaders may seem awkward and inappropriate. Booth said these events heighten the need for a public recreational shooting facility to de-stigmatize the legal recreational use of firearms.

“As we reflect on communities with names like Uvalde, Buffalo or Highland Park, we should ask ourselves what we owe to our community and our constituency,” Booth said. “We owe people access to facilities where people can explore their interest in shooting with their communities and not explore that interest in isolation, not explore that interest in the dark, not explore that interest in loneliness where they are most likely to [malicious] radiation. It must be explored in the light of day, in communion with their communities.

“That’s why northwest Arkansas,” Booth continued. “Look how underserved you are. We owe people that kind of access.”

To build the type of recreational shooting range she envisions, Booth said the commission was ill-equipped to find a suitable site on its own.

“As we were deciding where to build this range, we found some pretty hard to find land,” Booth said. “We have a few sites in mind, but not each of those sites has the potential that would meet the demand we’re hearing from northwest Arkansas for a modern filming facility.

“What state governments would typically do is find a poor option, then invest an inordinate amount of time and a lot of taxpayer money, and then act with surprise. [that the facility doesn’t meet expectations].”

Success would be more likely if communities invested in the facility. To this end, the commission will submit a request for proposals (RFP) in August.

“We’re not going to rely on our skills as a community planning organization, not as an urban development organization, but as a conservation agency,” Booth said. “We did some soul-searching and were like, ‘Hey, maybe we’re not the best at finding a place for this.’ We want you to do it for us. We are proud to announce a competitive RFP in August to solicit your site proposals, operating agreements and incentive proposals.”

Finally, Booth explained how a recreational shooting complex in northwest Arkansas would fulfill the mission of the Game and Fish Commission. Every shooter is a conservationist, whether they know it or not, Booth said, because of their contribution to the federal Wildlife Conservation Assistance Act, better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. The federal government levies an excise tax on all sales of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, and other equipment. Revenues go into a fund that is divided among the states according to a formula based on the physical area of ​​land and the number of hunters licensed in each state.

The Game and Fish Commission receives more money from the Pittman-Robertson fund than from the statewide conservation sales tax. The commission is required by the federal government to use these funds to purchase and improve wildlife habitat and to provide public access to hunting opportunities.

To maximize the state’s full conservation funding potential, Booth said, northwest Arkansas is fertile recruiting territory.

Aurora J. William