Shooter's Corner: Modern gun clubs ditch dirty reputation

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As you may be aware, the East End Rod and Gun Club in Milton-Freewater was recently granted their long-awaited conditional use permit to continue operating their shooting range, even though they have been operating at their present site for quite a few years now. The 800 or so members breathed a very audible sigh of relief.

Our own Walla Walla Gun Club has spent considerable time and effort over the last few years trying to find a new home, and we have several times been met with something other than enthusiasm by more than a few well-intended citizens, who seem to have the notion that shooting ranges are always dirty, noisy nuisances.

Certainly, neither WWGC nor EERGC come anywhere close to fitting that description.

Modern shooting range design has made huge progress in both noise and dust control. Not surprisingly, a lot of that recent progress has come because more women and families have begun to enjoy the shooting sports.

Here’s a peek at what’s being done on modern ranges to remedy that old-fashion notion of what a shooting range is.

First off, the trend in modern range design got its start in post-World War II Europe, when the NATO countries needed more room to practice their warfare maneuvers, even as burgeoning populations needed more room to live and work.

As a result, you can drive down an autobahn in Germany today and be completely oblivious to the fact that a platoon of marines are shooting heavy weapons in the median, even while children frolic unawares in schools and neighborhoods on either side of the roadway.

This is possible because of three main factors: vegetation, earth moving and modern acoustic engineering. A fourth factor — environmental science — has also become a big part of modern range design.

Well-designed ranges today use similar construction techniques.

The most important tactic is to channel noise upward rather than outward. This is done by building mounds of earth all around the entire range, and building sheds around the shooting area lined with sound-absorbing material. Earthen works not only redirect noise, they also absorb it.

Vegetation plays a key role in further abating unwanted sound. When earthen berms are planted with ground cover and fast growing trees and shrubs, the results are both aesthetically pleasing to neighbors and easier on the ear drums.

For proof, look at the Seattle Skeet and Trap Club, located a mere 20 minutes from Seattle in Ravensdale, Wash.

On many days you will find close to a hundred men, women and kids at the line, all banging away at clay targets and making a racket.

But because of the abundant trees, surrounding hillsides and good location and design, the many owners of expensive homes ringing the shooting complex can barely hear what’s going on. What’s more, there is a rifle/pistol range and a law enforcement training center right next door.

One feature of modern ranges that I find particularly intriguing is the shooting tunnel — a long tube of large-diameter pipe or oil drums welded together and lined on the inside with baffles and sound-absorbing material like newsprint or fiberglass.

Shooting tunnels can reduce the ear-ringing whump that large caliber hunting rifles make almost to nothingness, absorbing the noise in exactly the same way that the muffler on a car absorbs the noise from its engine.

Fortunately, such shooting tunnels are relatively cheap to construct and maintain.

Modern ranges are good to Mother Earth as well. They cannot even get a permit to operate unless there is a well designed and approved lead mitigation plan that is approved by the local environmental authority, like the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon or Washington’s Deptartment of Ecology.

In high wind areas, a dust abatement plan must also be in place, as well as full Americans With Disabilities Act compliant facilities.

Let’s not forget the economic contribution which ranges and shooters make to a local economy. When 400 out-of-town tournament goers come a-visiting, they bring their RVs, their families and their wallets. They shop the local shops, buy gas and oil from the local dealers, stay in the local motels, eat in restaurants and — oh, yes — even buy a bottle of wine or two.

What’s more, ranges provide jobs for a lot of local people, including few teens who otherwise might struggle to find a good job.

Modern range operators build good neighbor relationships into their designs and business models and, in short, modern ranges are a heck of a lot different from what you might remember as a child or what you might have heard from others.

If you are one of those who is ambivalent about shooting ranges, or even decidedly hostile, you owe it to yourself and your community to get informed.

Drive around to other communities where newer ranges are located, ask the folks there what they think. We can all work together to make a safe and cheerful place for shooters to learn and practice their craft, while enhancing our community at the same time.

Bob Bloch is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Walla Walla Gun Club and a member of the East End Rod and Gun Club in Milton-Freewater. He can be reached at info@wallawallagunclub.com.

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