Range owners mixed on public shooting facility

news_icon_greenOXFORD – A 243-acre shooting range proposed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks has stopped one potential competitor’s plans and is raising the hackles of another.

The Department of Wildlife Fisheries & Parks is proposing its first North Mississippi range near the F.D. “Buddy” East Law Enforcement Training facility several miles southwest of Oxford.

Planned with ranges and courses that will accommodate a host of shooting sports, the proposed state-owned recreational facility would be comparable to the Turcotte Education and Shooting Facility near Canton and the new McHenry Shooting Facility near Perkinston.

The Lafayette County Planning Commission gave preliminary approval to the project plans last week, and the Board of Supervisors followed suit Monday.

“We don’t have zoning in the county, so as long as they meet safety standards, we don’t have any basis to deny the application,” said Board of Supervisors President Jeff Busby. “But no county funds are going into it.”

Joshua Gregory owns TGC Outdoors, which includes 20-lane outdoor pistol range and several rifle lanes, which will be expanded soon. Gregory said he’ll soon add two more ranges – one for steel targets and another for one-on-one training. He also has long-term plans for 5-stand sporting clays, skeet and archery.

Gregory sent an email about the proposed publicly funded competing facility last weekend, addressed to “Dear politicians and media.”

“This really bothers me. First off, there are already two shooting ranges in town,” he wrote. “I don’t like the idea of my local government using federally subsidized funds to compete with local small businesses. While I welcome competition I do not welcome my local government using my tax dollars to compete directly against me and other local businesses.”

Donny Guest, owner of Hunter’s Hollow, welcomes the possibility of the state shooting facility after some early trepidation. Hunter’s Hollow just opened a new 20,000-square-foot store along with a 10-lane indoor pistol range on Highway 6 West, not far from the turnoff to the proposed public outdoor range.

“When I first heard about it, I was a little concerned,” he said. “But they don’t sell guns and ammo, and I think it’ll be a benefit to us. I think it’ll be good for the community.”

Derek Hand had only reached the land-leveling stage for The Range at Oxford, a planned $2 million indoor shooting facility on Highway 6 when rumors about the state-owned complex stopped him from further investment.

“My range is not going through. We’ve ceased in development,” he said. “With the state knowing there are two private ranges already here and another was being developed, it’s a little insane for the state to open a shooting complex here instead of somewhere that doesn’t have facilities already.”

Clark Gordin, CEO of the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Foundation, said the state proposal is “a more comprehensive shooting facility” than either existing one and that many errors are being repeated about the proposal.

“This might not happen,” he said. “If we hit obstacles, there is no back-up location. We don’t have a range yet except as a dream.”

He said agency funds generated by hunting and fishing license fees – both state and federal – would pay for most of the facility if MDWFP officials at some point give the go-ahead.

Meanwhile, Gordin said, “We needed a good, intelligent, thought-out proposal.”

Hand and Gregory remain unconvinced that Lafayette County needs the facility, but Hand said he expects it to be built.

“The state is the state, and they never go bankrupt,” he said.