Pennsylvania game land shooting suggestion rebuked by state Game Commission

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Last week's Outdoors Notebook entry about recreational shooting at public state game land ranges suggested the Game Commission's range rules are not conducive to common recreational shooting practices and seem primarily designed for sighting-in use by hunters.

It ended with an observation: "The intent seems clear: hunters in search of a sighting range are welcome; recreational shooters are expected to shoot somewhere else."

That drew a sharp rebuke by the Game Commission.

"This is simply not true," said Southwest Region information and eduction supervisor Tom Fazi, in a written statement. "... We recognize that many non-hunters utilize our ranges across the commonwealth -- especially the State Game Land 203 range [in Allegheny County], the busiest in the state, where probably more than half of the users we encounter are non-hunters. ... Recreational shooters are more than welcome at our ranges, we just ask that they pay their fair share."

The issue wasn't the $30 permit required of shooters without a valid hunting or furtaker license, it was range rules limiting shooters to a three-round clip in rifles, six in pistols. Many recreational shooters, particularly those bearing guns with large capacity magazines, enjoy popping off a long string of shots before reloading. Shooters practicing defensive tactics may require more than three rounds to complete a drill.

A page of the Game Commission's website devoted to public shooting ranges explains the intent of the three-round rule: "What it does is give shooters a chance to check their targets without having to wait for those who may want to shoot long strings. This same regulation prohibits people using firearms with large capacity magazines from monopolizing time on the range, and also causing inordinate damage, particularly to backstops."

Recreational shooter Keith Savage of Braverman Arms in Wilkinsburg said he avoids state game land ranges particularly because of the three-round rule.

"I understand somewhat where they're coming from, still I don't agree with using a three-round magazine limit," he said. "In most defensive shooting training that I've done you shoot two rounds [and] if the [target] doesn't go down you go to the ultimate -- the head shot. I'd have to reload after every three-round magazine."

The ranges are maintained using hunter dollars, but the $1 million spent on lead remediation in 2007 included state Growing Greener funds acquired through general tax dollars.

"I should be mad that my tax dollars are there but the rules are for hunters ... but what can I do about it?" said Savage. "I belong to a phenomenal club, Pitcairn-Monroeville Sportsmen's Club. They have safety rules ... but no three-round limits."

Many sight-in shooters complain about routine violations of the three-round rule by recreational shooters with semi-automatic assault-style rifles. Jack Walters, president of the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League, said the public ranges should be open to anyone, as long as they follow the rules.

"The rules are in place and everyone should abide by them," he said. "The ranges are not equipped for the damage done by semi-automatic rifles. The idea is to sight-in your gun, not just shoot stuff. That's done at private sportsmen's clubs."

Walters said the source of the conflict lies in minimal enforcement of state game land range rules.

"There are not enough Wildlife Conservation Officers to patrol them all the time," he said.

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