Bay County gun enthusiasts will soon have a new practice facility within their sights. On Tuesday, county commissioners agreed to move forward with plans to construct a shooting range complex on property adjacent to the Steelfield Landfill.
Click on the link below the photos to view the Master Plan document.
"A lot of people are looking for a place to be able to safely fire a gun," said Stan Kirkland, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC). "It's better if they're going to target practice that they have a place [where] there is some thought given to stopping that ammo so it doesn't injure someone."
The county plans to use park impact fees to fund the $200,000 project. Kirkland said the National Rifle Association has agreed to chip in $25,000 and the FFWCC will also contribute a portion of its share of firearms excise taxes received from the federal government.
Commissioner Guy Tunnell has championed the concept of a permanent public shooting range. To gauge demand, the county made arrangements with the Bay County Sheriff's Office to open its range on a trial basis. The response over four weekends convinced commissioners to take the next step.
Phase one of the project will accommodate handguns and rifles and will include a public parking area. Future expansion plans call for the addition of a pavilion, sporting clays course, and ranges for archery, trap and skeet shooting.
The FFWCC, which oversees several Florida shooting facilities as safe alternatives to informal ranges, provided the design for Bay County's project and will manage the range. "Even in a rural area, you don't want people shooting guns and [have] a potential for an unsafe situation," Kirkland said.
Jay's Guns and Accessories in Panama City offers firearms training and an indoor range. Billy Lake, manager, said gun safety is paramount and he doesn't view the county's proposed range as a competitive threat. "It adds to the diversity of what Bay County has to offer for gun shooters and people who are in the industry," Lake said. "You will have range officers there that can help make sure that everything is operating safely and less chance of inadvertently shooting something you're not supposed to."
Kirkland said a fully-developed shooting range complex could have added benefits. "You have the potential to draw tourists in to have trap and skeet events much like those offered in some very high quality national venues," he said.
According to county officials, the first phase of construction can be completed soon after all the required permits are issued. They're hoping to open the range in time for the fall hunting season.