The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission isn’t rushing the search for a home for its next flagship shooting range in northwest Arkansas.
The commission opened site selection bids last month and got about two dozen viable proposals. Director Austin Booth said the commission will evaluate the proposals for the 150-acre site before making a selection and moving forward.
Tentative plans for the shooting range are ambitious, calling for skeet- and trapshooting stations and ranges for rifles, handguns and archery.
“We are really committed to making sure we don’t get the fastest option but that we get the best option possible,” Booth said.
The final design of the shooting range will be tailored to the particulars of the selected site, but Booth wants it to be at least 150 acres. That is a bit trickier in northwest Arkansas, where the robust economy means good land near population centers is highly valued for commercial and residential developments.
The complex will need to be close to utilities and be oriented from east to west so shooters and archers are firing — or loosing in the case of archers — either north and south and not into a rising or setting sun.
The AGFC said research shows that recreational shooters are willing to drive 50 miles to a shooting range. Placing one in northwest Arkansas would make it accessible to more than 500,000 northwest Arkansas residents as well as those who live in neighboring Missouri and Oklahoma.
“We are also looking at ‘Where will northwest Arkansas be 25 years from now?’” Booth said. “When we look down the road at where we want this range to be long term, we should be more comfortable with a 45-minute drive now with the understanding that in 20 years that range will be exactly where it needs to be.”
The AGFC currently operates shooting ranges in Mayflower, Paragould and Columbus (Hempstead County). The AGFC built the Mayflower range, the James Moore Jr. Firing Range, in the early 1970s.
“It’s a great range, and people love it,” Booth said. “We intend to replicate that in northwest Arkansas.”
Booth said there is high demand for shooting ranges from many Arkansas communities.
The AGFC believes a modern shooting complex in northwest Arkansas could find traction as a tournament site for skeet- and trapshooting competitions. Booth also said that many northwest Arkansas schools would like to have shooting teams through the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program but can’t because there isn’t access to shooting facilities.
AGFC research shows that 5,500 youth shooters participate in the shooting sports program statewide
In addition to shooting ranges and competitive tournaments, the complex will be able to host hunter education courses and concealed weapons and security training.
The AGFC said Arkansas ranks second nationally with 27 registered guns for every 1,000 citizens; the state’s 500,000 recreational shooters generate $486 million in annual economic activity.