The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission hopes to build a first-class gun range in northwest Arkansas. There already is one, but not everyone can use it.
Shotgun shooters break flying clay targets at the Bella Vista Highlands Gun Range out in the country in northwest Bella Vista.
The range features two skeet-shooting fields and three stations for trap shooting. There’s a 100-yard rifle range, a 25-yard pistol range, a neatly kept air-conditioned clubhouse and plenty of parking.
There’s about everything a recreational shooter could want, but the Highlands Gun Range is only open for use by Bella Vista Property Owners Association members and their guests. There’s no public gun range like it anywhere near northwest Arkansas.
Game and Fish wants to build a first-class public gun range in the region that would be the state’s flagship shooting facility capable of hosting national competitions.
Austin Booth, Game and Fish director, outlined requirements in July at the annual meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Council. They include 150 acres of flat land away from wetlands, access to utilities, accessible by road and far enough from development to avoid noise complaints.
Carol Harless, 86, has been manager at the Highlands Gun Range for 23 years. He said the range could serve as a model for what Game and Fish might build, “only it needs to be a lot bigger. If they do it right, it could have all kinds of state and national shoots.”
A public range would be in great demand among the region’s shooting sports community, Harless said Aug. 6, shortly after the range opened on a pleasant Saturday morning.
“We’ve only been open 30 minutes and already we’ve got 21 shooters,” he said.
Events have been held at the Highlands range, he said. Highlands will host an Amateur Trapshooting Association competition Sept. 11 that will be attended by competitors from several states.
Bella Vista POA members and their guests pay a fee to shoot trap and skeet. There’s no charge to use the rifle or pistol ranges for members with a POA activity card. Guests pay a fee. Harless said trap is the most popular shooting activity at the range.
Larry Hicks is a volunteer shooting coach who mentors young trap shooters in northwest Arkansas and coaches the trap shooting team at Southwest R-5 High School in Washburn, Mo. He was at the range Aug. 6 helping Levi Carden, 12, improve his shotgun skills.
Hicks said a first-class range, if Game and Fish builds it, could make northwest Arkansas a hub for trap shooting and other recreational shooting events. It could attract national college and high school trap-shooting contests.
He envisions a public range with a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 40 trap houses where clay targets are launched for trap shooters. Skeet ranges, rifle and pistol ranges would be built. Game and Fish hopes to include an archery range.
“The main thing is it needs to be centrally located,” Hicks said.
Somewhere in the area of Northwest Arkansas National Airport would be good. That would allow easy access from towns along the Interstate 49 corridor and Arkansas 59 corridor.
It would be close to lodging and restaurants for visitors attending multiday events. Game and Fish estimates the cost of a range at $15 to $20 million or more.
Bella Vista’s Highlands Gun Range sits on about 30 acres and started as a much smaller range in the late 1980s, said John Urquhart, POA assistant superintendent of lakes, parks and fisheries.
Hicks said the biggest obstacle for recreational shooters here is finding a place to shoot. The nearest public range similar to the Highlands range is in Jonesboro, he added.
There’s a public no-fee rifle range at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area in east Benton County and two pay sporting clays ranges in the area. Sporting clays is a shotgun game that simulates various hunting scenarios. Some indoor pistol-range businesses operate in the region. Clubs and law enforcement have private ranges.
Trap and skeet
Trap shooting involves firing a shotgun at a single circular clay target flying away from the shooter. In skeet shooting, two clay targets are launched, one high and low, that travel cross-ways and intersect in front of the shotgun shooter.
Source: Staff report