Questions continue surrounding the future ownership of the Oregon Trail Shooting Range, but range officials want to dispel any notion that the facility in northern Bannock County is unsafe.
Two separate evaluations of the shooting range, located off 2 1/2 Mile Road north of Chubbuck, were conducted this year. One was sponsored by the Gate City Sport Shooting Association, the group that manages the shooting range, and the other by adjacent landowners.
Association President Chuck Howell said work began on Oct. 17 and is ongoing to increase safety at the range.
The upgrades and improvements at the range include new 12- to 14-foot berms — even higher than the recommended height to provide added safety.
“And in lieu of a berm at the (380-yard firing line) a 'bay' was cut that provides for a 14- to 20-foot backstop at that distance,” Howell said.
Dirt from that bay was used to build a berm between the shooting area known as Gullyville and the main firing line target area to allow the target area to be accessed while the mock frontier town is in use.
In addition, Howell said improvements to the bays at the range are under way. These include lowering the floor of the bays, which will raise the sides and ends of the bays to help prevent rounds from leaving the range.
“This work was not recommended (by the assessments) but (the Gate City Sport Shooting Association) felt it would enhance the safety of the range,” Howell said.
Howell said the work was funded through dues paid by the group’s 1,600 members. And he added that the association has extensive liability insurance coverage. He pointed out that the shooting range has been in operation for 23 years and adjacent landowners have never made a damage claim against the association.
The Gate City Sport Shooting Association renewed the shooting range's lease with the BLM in March and that lease will expire on Dec. 31, 2026. The association hosts more than 50 sponsored events at the shooting range, and shooting and field guide requirements for hunter education classes are conducted at the range.
One issue that remains at the range is ownership. Right now the BLM owns the land on which the range is located. But the BLM would like to transfer ownership to Bannock County.
Such an ownership change would not threaten the existence of the range, Howell said.
“Overall the intent of the BLM is to transfer the 200 acres of land that includes 80 acres for the law enforcement range, the 80 acres for the Oregon Trail range and 40 acres located at the 'corner' of the two ranges,” Howell said.
Howell said the gates are locked to an additional 40 acres of property included in the lease and located directly east of the Oregon Trail range.
“This additional 40 acres of land allows (the Gate City Sport Shooting Association) to control access to this land. And we have locked the gates between this area and the range. So no use of that acreage other than as a backstop to the range is allowed,” Howell said.
He also said the association has never discussed expanding the Oregon Trail facility to include a 1,000-yard range.
Bob Hart, who owns property near the range, said there have been reports about banned tracer bullets being fired at the range. These bullets pose a wildfire threat to the adjacent properties.
Howell disputes that tracer bullets are being fired at the range and said signs are posted prohibiting the use of tracer ammunition and exploding targets. Howell said if a range member were found to be using tracers or exploding targets, their membership would be revoked.
Hart recently said the assessment commissioned by nearby landowners stated that if the adjacent property is visible from the range's firing line, the property can be hit by a direct fire round either intentionally or accidentally.
Howell asserts that if that’s true, the law enforcement training range, adjacent to the Oregon Trail range, poses the same safety issues.
Howell said the Oregon Trail range is very popular with its members and receives several thousand visits per year.
Bannock County Commissioner Craig Cooper said recently he’s opposed to transferring ownership of the range to the county. But he said it will be up to the next County Commission to decide the future of the shooting range.
Cooper will leave office in January and two new county commissioners will be elected Tuesday and take office at the start of the year.
Regardless of who owns the shooting range, the Gate City Sport Shooting Association will continue to manage the facility, Howell said.
For more information about the Oregon Trail Shooting Range and the Gate City Sport Shooting Association, go to www.gatecityssa.org.