RIVERTON — The success of a proposed multimillion-dollar Wyoming shooting complex could hinge upon offering the right attractions and amenities for world-class competitive shooters, as well as its reputation, some experts said.
“When we start talking about a project like this, and we start throwing around terms like ‘world-class’, we need to understand what we’re talking about, said Jason Wilson of Riverton, founder of the Lucid Optics company.
Wilson has rubbed elbows with some of the top names in shooting sports and firearms accessories, and said that America already has several mega-sized shooting complexes for competitive shooters to choose from. So, if Wyoming builds one, it will have to stand out.
He made his remarks Wednesday during a meeting of the Wyoming Shooting Complex Task Force in Riverton.
Project Will Take Years
The task force plans to spend the next 18 months or so gathering public comments and hearing from Wyoming communities vying to be the site for the complex.
The task force was authorized by the Wyoming Legislature and appointed by Gov. Mark Gordon. It's chaired by Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, and Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, and includes other legislators, as well as representatives of the Wyoming Business Council, conservation organizations and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Things are still in the early, or “pre-proposal” stage, Hicks said during the meeting. The task force hopes to deliver a recommendation regarding the size, scope and location of the shooting complex to the Legislature in 2025 and building the complex could take several years.
The Legislature agreed to set aside $10 million for the shooting complex. That includes $5 million from the state’s general fund, $2.5 million from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and $2.5 million from the Wyoming Office of Tourism.
That $10 million will sit in a special account, untouched unless and until plans for the shooting complex and its location are realized. And even then, the money can’t be released until the Legislature authorizes it.
The complex would be focused on bringing in major shooting competitions, and all the economic revenues that come with them. But it would also be open to the Wyoming public, Hicks said.
The Right Appeal
A recent survey conducted by the task force indicated broad support for a shooting complex, Hicks said. Well over 300 people responded from 61 communities in nearly every county in Wyoming, as well as a few people from other states.
Many of the responses indicated that a shooting complex should be easily accessible and include amenities such as RV camping spaces, a lounge, on-site gunsmiths and a store with ammunition and shooting accessories, he said.
When it comes to shooting complexes, Wyoming should think big, Wilson said.
For example, the National Rifle Association’s Whittington Center near Raton, New Mexico, sprawls across 33,000 acres and includes all manner of target ranges, he said. It also has on-site lodging and RV campsites and is kept clean and organized by a full-time staff.
Members of the task force said that the location of a shooting complex in Wyoming could hinge upon several factors, such as proximity to utilities, lodging, food services, highways and an airport.
Wilson said an airport might not be that big of a factor.
“Competitive shooters don’t travel by air with their firearms, they drive,” he said.
Match Organizers Are The Ones To Impress
Wyoming also will have to have variety and excitement to tap into the growing shooting sports market, said Nephi Cole of Cheyenne, director of government relations and state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Shooting ranges and competitions involving semiautomatic pistols are growing in popularity, as are long-range rifle competitions and all manner of shotgun sports, he said.
People also like dynamic events, such as three-gun competitions or archery target ranges that involve moving along a trail and shooting at 3D big game animal targets, he added.
Three-gun matches involve shooters moving through a course firing at various targets using a pistol, shotgun and a rifle, usually an AR-style semiautomatic.
Cole added that the people to impress are “match directors,” or the lead organizers of national and international shooting competitions.
If a Wyoming shooting complex can win match directors over, they could practically do the facility's marketing work for it, he said.
“Once they see that this facility is going to make their life easier, they’re the guys who are going to sell these events,” Cole said.
Built On Reputation
That’s what’s essentially happened at the local shooting complex in Worland, said Tom Outland, who helped promote and maintain that facility for years.
The Worland facility has all manner of target ranges, some of which include pistol, trap and skeet, archery and long-range rifle, he told Cowboy State Daily.
Worland started hosting black powder matches several years ago and got rave reviews from organizers and competitors. The events started to grow by leaps and bounds, and now some of the top black powder shooters in the nation come to Worland for shooting matches, he said.
A state shooting complex could similarly grow based upon a good reputation, Outland said. He added that he doesn’t think it would be in direct competition with the Worland facility or detract from its events.
Second Amendment Advantage
Representatives of a few Wyoming towns and counties showed up Wednesday asking questions or making preliminary pitches for their communities to be the site of the shooting complex.
Worland Mayor Jim Gill gave an enthusiastic plug for the complex to be built either in the Big Horn Basin or Fremont County.
We need some economic activity in the Big Horn Basin and I’m an advocate for the Big Horn Basin and this area (Fremont County) as well,” he said. “We’ve got some cowboys, Indians, farmers — we’ve got some sportsmen, and they’re all excited about this.”
Others pointed out that Wyoming’s reputation as a Second Amendment-friendly state would boost interest in a major shooting complex here.
“What shot Cameo (a shooting complex near Grand Junction, Colorado) in the foot was that legislative body down in Colorado, and we don’t have that problem,” said task force member Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, in reference to recent gun control measures in that state.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.