HILO — Long-awaited shooting ranges for the Big Island could take some incremental steps forward, the county Game Management Advisory Commission learned Monday evening.
Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said two areas traditionally used for target practice, the Manuka Natural Area Reserve in South Kona and mauka of the 16-mile marker on Saddle Road, could be reassigned as shooting ranges under current state law.
Robert Farrell, DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, said the Saddle Road project could come up before the Board of Land and Natural Resources as early as Feb. 23.
“We’ve identified a couple of areas that are good candidates for a public shooting range,” Farrell said, noting the areas have already become impromptu gun ranges. One advantage, he said, would be the ability to keep the areas cleaner than they now are.
The goal, Farrell said, is to have at minimum a shooting range on each side of the island. The state still has some work to do at Manuka, however, since it is designated a natural area reserve.
“That may or may not affect how we are able to move forward with that particular site and in addition, I need to do a little bit more research on the land ownership and how it came into DLNR’s possession,” Farrell said. “It may be we have to delay that site a little until we complete the research. But I’m hoping we can also designate that site as well, as it’s already being used.”
The public’s quest for a range to sight their weapons, for hunter education and to practice, has sometimes runs afoul of the law. Farrell described his experience at mile marker 16 as a former DOCARE conservation officer on the Big Island.
“The shooters who were up there for target practice were being held to hunting rules. … The officers were writing tickets for people discharging a .22 (caliber rifle) and actually seizing the firearm. I didn’t agree with that approach,” Farrell described his experience. “We found out there was really no legal place for these folks who wanted to shoot.”
But Farrell said DLNR has the authority to designate gun ranges and to strike agreements with gun clubs and other groups to operate such facilities.
Commissioners had a lot of questions about who would run a shooting range, how it would factor in with hunting also going on at sites, and whether the sites would be policed.
“Is it going to be just self-ran, kind of how it is now?” asked Commissioner Willy-Joe Camera. “Do people just go there and do their own thing, or will there be staff there?”
All those details can be worked out in the rule-making process, Farrell said.
The County Council in August unanimously passed a resolution that gave the commission the go-ahead to begin the process of locating potential sites, finding funding and putting together public and private partners. The county received more than 100 letters of support for the plan.
Pittman-Robertson funds, which come from a tax on firearms and ammunition, and other grants might be available to help finance the project, said Commission Chairman Tom Lodge.
DLNR First Deputy Robert Masuda called the project “a work in progress.”
“It’s our attempt, as feeble as it may seem at this point, to move the ball forward,” Masuda said, “and working in conjunction with the local hunting and shooting community, come up collaboratively with a way of allowing people to go up and sight-in and do things legally, rather than have people do things illegally.”