AUGUSTA – Game wardens this summer put up a sign in the Summerhaven pits area, a longtime favorite for target shooting, saying it’s a public shooting range and asking those who use it to “carry in, carry out.”

The sign is now riddled with bullet holes and the effort to clean up debris left by some of the shooters is an ongoing effort.

“Most of the people who use it are great, but a select few just come in, shoot up TVs and other stuff, and just leave everything behind,” said Steve Allarie, a district game warden who comes to the site at least once a month with a crew of prisoners on work detail to remove debris. “It’s great to see it’s being used. We want people to come here. We just want voluntary compliance (with rules and laws).

“It’s getting better; it’s starting to be self-policing. I’ve seen guys out here with rakes cleaning it up on their own, who said they just wanted to help.”

Allarie said he expects activity at the site to increase soon, with hunters coming to sight-in their guns ahead of the fall hunting season.

Allarie said people have likely been using the area to fire off a few rounds at targets for decades. But some previous users of the site shot up all manner of items — TVs, toilets, barrels, bottles — and then left the debris and spent shells behind.

Holes were made in both directions — into the shooting range, and out of it — suggesting that bullets have gone across Sanford Road, which is just a few yards away, and into an adjacent active gravel pit and ATV riding area.

Wardens removed eight tons of debris in their initial cleanup, and Allarie said his monthly visits with a crew of Kennebec County prisoners typically net about 600 pounds of litter.

The shooting range, which is free for the public to use, requires users to carry out whatever they carry in, and restricts shooters to targets that are biodegradable — paper, cardboard and clay.

Allarie said the area is under surveillance and violators of rules and laws there will be prosecuted. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife sign makes that clear.

“Last year I gave warnings for littering here,” Allarie said. “This year, there are no more warnings.”

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said such shooting ranges are of great value to hunters, target shooters and members of the larger public who may not ever raise a rifle to their eye.

“Any time you improve safety at ranges, it allows people who might otherwise shoot in their backyard to have a nice place to shoot that is safer,” Trahan said. “A lot of people may not care much about hunting but sure do like to shoot guns or bows and arrows. It’s a lot of fun and a great recreational opportunity. So we see great value in improving ranges.”

Trahan agreed that as shooting ranges become more well established and popular, they tend to become self-policing.

“Having the community see value in a site creates peer-to-peer pressure,” he said. “Having people that care there can stop the vandalism.”

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine see the value of safe shooting ranges so much the state agency and private advocacy organization are working together to secure some $750,000 in federal funding to make safety improvements to shooting ranges across the state.

At the Summerhaven site, near the Manchester line, wardens have built up a several-feet-high dirt berm on one end of the roughly 100-yard-long range. Allarie said they plan to make the berm wider and install utility poles in front of it, connected to each other by two-by-fours so shooters have something to attach their targets to.

An ATV trail that used to go through the shooting range, putting riders at risk from bullets, now skirts around the range.

Allarie said wardens will maintain the site for now but hope eventually “to turn it over to the people” and see an independent club form to look after it.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards can be reached at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]centralmaine.com