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Third time is not the charm: Legislature declines to help fund public shooting range

Land north of Rapid City that Game, Fish and Parks wants to turn into a state-of-the-art shooting range.
Arielle Zionts
Land north of Rapid City that Game, Fish and Parks wants to turn into a state-of-the-art shooting range.

A third time was not the charm for a bill that would have provided $2.5 million for a public, state-of-the-art shooting range near Rapid City.

The state House of Representatives voted 39-30 on Monday to support the bill. That did not meet the 47 votes — a two-thirds threshold — needed to "smoke out" a bill.

A smoke-out is a procedure for bringing bills to the House or Senate floor after they die in committee.

The Game, Fish and Parks Department says it would cost around $12 million to purchase the land and develop the range. Most of the funding would come from federal dollars and donations.

The location of the proposed range is in a rural area of Meade County near ranches and some homes, and also close to Rapid City, which is in Pennington County.

Rep. Roger Chase, R-Huron, spoke in support of the bill.

“Expected results and benefits will be to provide safe, outdoor and indoor shooting facilities for the public. Users of the range will include recreational shooters, hunters, and other individuals and groups, and especially young people," he said.

Opponent Rep. Dean Wink, R-Howes, said the Legislature should be fiscally responsible and prioritize more pressing matters, such as Meade County's need to repair 15 bridges.

“I would have a hard time explaining why I voted to spend $2.5 million to build a shooting range instead of putting that money out of the general fund towards a more worthwhile purpose," he said.

A House committee previously killed the first version of the bill.

Then, the Senateconsidereda similar bill that passed in committee and on the full floor. But a second House committee voted against it.

The smoke-out was the third time the bill failed to gain the necessary number of votes..

GF&P appears to be moving ahead with the project, even without money from the state's general fund.

The GF&P Commission voted 6-1 before the smoke-out vote to authorize the GF&P Department to spend $900,000 on 400 acres of range land identified for the shooting range.

A department spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about next steps. Options include raising the $2.5 million privately or scaling back the range plans.

The range, backed by Gov. Kristi Noem, would have a hunting education building and shooting areas for beginners, advanced shooters, law enforcement training and competitions.

It could host up to 180 people and would offer clay target shooting, long-range shooting up to 1,200 yards, and bays where shooters can move forward and side to side as they fire at multiple targets.

South Dakotans and local residents have mixed reactions to the proposed range.

Supporters say there's no sufficient public shooting range in the Black Hills, and this one could serve youth, adults, law enforcement and Ellsworth Air Force Base. They say the facility would improve the economy by attracting tournaments and boosting local sales of ammunition and guns.

Opponents say Rapid City and Pennington County would reap the financial benefits but Meade County taxpayers would have to provide money and manpower to maintain and keep the area safe.

They're also concerned about noise, crime, traffic, access to their property, and the impact on the dirt roads, cattle, wildlife and drinking water.

Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, said berms and baffles effectively suppress noise at his hometown gun range, which was also a GF&P project.

"And I'm telling you those hold the sound into the range," he said, adding it's "surprisingly quiet."

Bartels said people keep the range clean and take safety seriously, such as waiting to load their guns until they are inside the facility.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.
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