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New handgun-only range opens on game land 203

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Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

There are many places in Pennsylvania's forests and fields where you can escape to enjoy peace and tranquility, the kind of quiet solitude that restores the soul and lifts the spirit.

State game land 203 is not necessarily one of them.

Located off I-79 near Bradford Woods, it's home to a public shooting range unlike just about any other. It sees shooters in the cold of February. It sees shooters in the heat of August. And it sees shooters — oh boy, does it see shooters — on the weekend before opening day of deer season.

“This is the most heavily used shooting range in the state, period,” said Doug Dunkerly, a land manager for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which owns the range.

“You know what, I've been doing a little digging, and I'm not sure it's not the most heavily used range in the country,” said Tom Baldridge, field representative for the National Rifle Association in Western Pennsylvania. “There are more NRA members in Allegheny County than in any county in the country. We've got a lot of shooters here, which is cool.”

That carries demands, expensive ones. A new project at 203 — partially completed — aims to address that.

This week, in what is phase one, the commission unveiled an all-new handgun-only range on the game land, just off Game Land Road. It features 16 shooting stations, all under roof, with backstops 10 yards away.

Phase two of the project likely will begin in March, when the game land's primary shooting range will be closed for renovations. The now-duplicate pistol stations will be removed, and berms will be added between what remains so shooters can operate safely without having to wait on their neighbors so much.

The work is expensive; it will cost the Game Commission more than $500,000, and perhaps as much as $700,000.

It's going to foot most of that bill itself, though the NRA is helping, too. It has agreed to funnel $50,000 to the agency through the Wildlife For Everyone Foundation.

That deal was struck last summer, when the NRA brought its national convention to Pittsburgh. Commission officials talked with Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, and secured help.

“That's really how this all got kicked off,” said commissioner Bob Schlemmer of Export.

Next spring's work will require closing the rifle range for two months or so, but it will be worth it, said Joe Stefko, wildlife education supervisor in the commission's southwest region office.

“It will be a case of short-term pain leading to long-term gain,” Stefko said.

Then the banging away at targets can begin again.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-838-5148.

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