The Department of Game, Fish, and Parks maintains several shooting ranges for firearms and archer around the state. Now GF&P wants to build a 400-acre shooting complex GF&P north of Rapid City on Elk Vale Road.
I found a few mentions of this proposed shooting range in the minutes of the January 28–29, 2021 meeting of the Game, Fish, and Parks Commission, at which GF&P’s Division of Wildlife Terrestrial Section Chief John Kanta said his department seeks “to develop a free public rifle, shotgun, and handgun range in the Rapid City area… open to the public, youth groups, shooting sports groups, and others.” GF&P would use the range for hunter education and outdoor programs. Commissioner Charles Spring said the acquisition price of $2,000 per acre seemed “a little high” and suggested $1,400 per acre; Kanta reported the original price of the land in question was $2,500 when assessed as development property rather than pasture. The commission unanimously approved acquiring the land from the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation, a private group that raises money to acquire land for GF&P projects.
The resolution passed at that meeting, Resolution 21-03, indicated the Parks and Wildlife Foundation would acquire the land from Rapid City developer Jim Scull for $900,000, then sell the land to Game, Fish, and Parks for that price, plus associated acquisition costs, by April 30, 2022. The resolution locates the proposed range about eleven miles north of I-90 on Elk Vale Road:
The only other online mention I could find of the planned shooting range was this report from GF&P Secretary Kevin Robling stating that the Parks and Wildlife Foundation has bought the land in March and that GF&P was working on obtaining Pittman-Robertson grant money to fund the purchase. (Pittman-Robertson is the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, which taxes firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment to fund conservation projects and hunter education programs. This fiscal year, South Dakota is receiving $11.4 million of the $679 million apportioned nationwide under the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.)
Curious, I called John Kanta looking for more detail. Mr. Kanta happily obliged, providing both this two-page flyer:
…and this super-duper 36-page project description, complete with maps, diagrams, and details of the proposed shooting facility:
Kanta also spent a good hour on the phone walking me through that project description, since he’s really eager to promote this project, find private funding partners, and build what he calls a “world-class range” in 2022.
First, one ownership detail: while the GF&P resolution in January referred to Jim Scull as the owner of the land, the actual owner was Ken Cassens, an Edgemont rancher and outfitter. The Parks and Wildlife Foundation enlisted Scull to help with negotiations, and the original plan was for Scull to buy from Cassens, then transfer the land to the Foundation. For whatever reason, the Foundation was able to purchase the land directly from Cassens.
GF&P would build a facility on the east side of Elk Vale Road that could host 180 active shooters at a time:
South End Range:
- six 50-yard bays with five lanes each
- six 100-yard bays with ten lanes each
- two 200- to 300-yard shooting areas with 20 shooting positions each
- one stationary shotgun clay target area with ten shooting positions
- one bay with 20 lanes, ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 yards, two shooting positions in each lane
North End Range:
- eleven 50-yard action bays
- three 75-yard action bays
- three 100-yard action bays
- one versatile training bay
- one sporting clays range with twelve shooting positions
The hunter education building at the southwest entrance may also include an indoor range for air rifles and archery. That building would generally be used for classes, meetings, staff office space, and storage.
GF&P would provide target backers, stands, and clay bird throwers; users would have to bring their own targets. While the state would have staff on site on weekends, at peak times, and for “range days” and other GF&P programming, Kanta says the state won’t be stationing range safety officers in each bay. GF&P will maintain the facility (including clearing snow out of the bays in winter) and post safety rules. Kanta says its staff will be able to issue citations, ask rule-breakers to leave, and even ban troublemakers from the range. But Kanta says experienced shooters are very good about helping new firearm users and making sure everyone is using their deadly weaponry safely.
The long range is angled 5° away from the road to reduce the distraction shooters might experience from movement on the road, not to mention reduce the chance of rifle fire straying roadward. However, as you can see in the map above, the long range points directly at the action bays of the north range. Kanta says that in addition to the 20′ back berm 1,200 yards out, the long range would face a ridge that stands 180 feet above the long range elevation and runs northwest to southeast across the center of the complex. The north range will sit over the crest of that ridge, out of sight and bullet trajectory from the long range.
Kanta also notes that while the project description calls for 12′ side berms and 20′ back berms around all bays, whether for small arms or long guns. As they start building and get to know the actual topography, if GF&P sees sightlines that don’t look safe, they’ll pile on more dirt around a shooting bay.
The north range is planned for more experienced shooters. It will have its own entrance from the road at the northwest end of the property. Experienced shooters will use the action bays for shooting with multiple guns, practicing tactical and Wild West shooting. Each action bay can have one shooter at a time, because the “action” includes the shooter moving around the space while shooting.
Kanta says the versatile training bay is designed first to give law enforcement a large space separate from civilians where they can conduct training and qualifying activities. The versatile training bay will be large enough—50 yards by 300 yards—to accommodate weapons from standard sidearms to sniper rifles and to allow police to bring in vehicles to practice traffic stops and other scenarios.
North of the versatile training bay, the complex will offer a 12-station sporting clays course. Kanta describes sporting clays as “like golf, but with shotguns.” Shooters walk along a trail to separate stations. At each station, they fire at one or two clay targets thrown in different launch patterns. Multiple armed individuals walking along a Y-shaped trail shooting at multiple play pigeons flying every which way sounds like a recipe for someone getting a Dick Cheney facelift, but Kanta and Youtube assure me that people safely do this kind of thing all the time.
The entire facility will cost $9.9 million to build:
- South End Range: $2.232M
- Long Range: $2.413M
- North End Range: $1.813M
- Hunter Education Building: $1.032M
- “soft costs” (permits, inspections, testing, surveying, moving, professional/legal fees, etc.): $1.292M
- contingency costs: $1.1235
Kanta says the ideal plan is to build the whole thing at once, breaking ground in Spring 2022 and completing the project by Fall 2022. However, Game Fish and Parks has committed $2.5 million to the project, and that includes whatever Pittman-Robertson money it can win for this purpose. The other three-quarters of the funding will have to come from other sources. If the full $9.9 million doesn’t materialize right away, Kanta says the project will be built in stages, with the South End Range first, then the Long Range, then the North End Range.
Kanta says some funding may come from law enforcement agencies that will benefit from the training space. But Kanta expects most of the support to come from private partners, either in the form of in-kind contributions of materials and labor for construction or straight-up cash.
To attract support from the business community, GF&P justifies the range as an opportunity to increase participation in shooting sports in the Rapid City region. According to the project description, 4.74% of Pennington County residents participate in shooting sports. (The range will be in Meade County, but the target market is all those folks itching to trigger in Rapid and at Ellsworth Air Force Base.) That’s a bit lower than the statewide shooting-sports participation rate of 5.55%. Kanta figures that all those in-town folks lack opportunities (e.g., a big back 40 where they can go shoot soup cans) for target practice. A big shooting range may entice more Rapid City residents to invest in guns and ammo, and that’s a sales opportunity for Black Hills gun manufacturers and sellers, who thus would have a logical interest in helping build this shooting range. Shooting clubs may also want to chip in, as this range would provide an excellent space for their meetings and contests.
Kanta figures that the range could host tournaments for over 450 contestants. GF&P cites the prospect of such big shooting tournaments to pitch this shooting range as a boost to the local tourism economy:
The Rapid City firearm range complex will also host a number of local and national shooting competitions and events which will generate significant positive economic impact to the area. As an example, Southwick Associates reported that the 2015 SSSF National Championship at the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta, Ill., contributed $15,797,787 to the Illinois GDP, generated $3,960,917 in tax revenues, and supported 245 jobs in the state [GF&P, June 2021, p. 34].
Of course, some of those tax dollars will have to find their way back to the Meade County Commission to maintain Elk Vale Road, which turns to gravel a good mile before the site. Local rancher Matt Kammerer expressed alarm about that wear and tear at the Meade County Commission meeting Tuesday:
Matt Kammerer, a lifelong Meade County resident who also owns land adjacent the proposed shooting range, said he is concerned about the increased traffic on Elk Vale Road.
“How many people do you think are going to be driving this road a month?” he asked.
Klosowski said they expect a “fair amount of traffic” to the site.
“I want a number. Fair amount. What’s that?” Kammerer said.
It could be 100 cars a day or more, [GF&P western regional supervisor Mike] Klosowski said.
Kammerer worries about the wear and tear on Meade County roads.
“Our road is just supposed to take that for Pennington County and Rapid City’s gun range?” he said [Deb Holland, “GF&P Plans Massive Shooting Range in Meade County,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2021.07.29].
Kammerer also expressed concern about lead shot washing into the Elk Creek watershed and affecting the water local ranchers depend on for their cattle, as well as lead flying out of the range and doing damage and the added noise that 100-plus visitors a day will create.
But if there’s anything our Governor loves, it’s guns and noisy recreation in Meade County. In a blurb included on page 3 of the project description, Governor Noem says this proposed shooting range would be “the finest outdoor shooting range ever constructed by Game, Fish, and Parks.” Perhaps the Governor will be able to persuade companies like New Hampshire tactical gear-maker Cole TAC to give back a little of the corporate welfare used to lure them to South Dakota to support this GF&P project.