AUGUSTA, Maine — Neighbors and users of Maine’s public shooting ranges have become increasingly annoyed with people unloading their guns on refrigerators, TVs and propane tanks and setting off noisy and dangerous exploding targets.
Such complaints have led to the temporary closures of Maine’s only two public shooting ranges this year, the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife says.
The Summerhaven shooting range near gravel pits in Augusta closed in the spring but has since re-opened after the department investigated a neighbor’s complaint that a stray bullet caused a thousand dollars of damage to her new car. The department is seeking volunteers to monitor the range.
The Major Gregor Sanburn wildlife management area straddling Brownfield and Fryeburg was closed in July at the request of the Fryeburg Fish and Game Association, which runs the range. It will re-open once a safety officer certified by the state and the National Rifle Association can be posted on site.
“The biggest problem that we’ve had is the use of exploding targets — people detonating and blowing craters in range floors,” said Ian Tait, association vice president. “I’m amazed nobody’s been killed.”
Neighbors were right to complain because the targets “literally sound like a bomb going off depending on how much chemical the people have mixed up,” Tait said.
The state now is proposing restrictions on the free shooting ranges that sit on state-owned land and have long gone unsupervised. In its written proposal, the department noted: “After-hours shooting, discharge of weapons in unsafe directions, vandalism of range infrastructure and littering have become regular problems.”
Informational meetings and public hearings are set for Wednesday in Brownfield and Thursday in Hallowell.
The department consulted the National Rifle Association and considered public gun range policies in Vermont and Maryland to draw up its proposal. The measures include a ban on drones, fireworks, exploding targets, firearms chambered with .50 caliber-machine gun cartridges, as well as armor-piercing and steel-core ammunition. Hunting and trapping would not be allowed, and drugs and alcohol would be prohibited. Children under 16 would not be permitted on the ranges.
Tait said the association supports the proposed rules in general but would like the department to reconsider banning steel-core ammunition and a 25-yard maximum distance for handgun shooting.
He said it’s unlikely steel-core ammunition could damage a target more than other types of bullets, and said there are handgun hunters who can target practice at 75 yards out.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, supports the proposal. He said a few bad actors have led to the need for rules. He also noted that as rural areas have developed, shooting ranges have received more complaints from neighbors.
“This is an evolution of the days when you used to go out in the gravel pit and shoot, to more established ranges with rules,” Trahan said.