One of the most intriguing proposals the Legislature will consider this session is as American as mom and apple pie. But because it has something to do with guns — actually, it has a lot to do with guns — some legislators will balk at the idea, or oppose it altogether.
Because the time is right to build a world-class shooting, camping and event complex near the metro area — a plan that would meet a significant unmet need, and in all likelihood would be an economic boon to the Twin Cities, if not the entire state.
Here’s the issue:
Minnesota is far behind other states in the facilities it offers trap, skeet and sporting clays shooters. This void has long been recognized by the hundreds of thousands of state residents who shoot competitively or simply for recreation.
In fact, arguably, Minnesota is home to more great competitive shooters than any other state, a claim perhaps undeniable when figured on a per capita basis among state residents.
In recent years, however, the absence of a high-quality shooting park big enough to host national and international events in Minnesota has been underscored by the emergence of shooters from an unexpected source: state high schools.
Thanks in large part to the organizational wizardry of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League (MSHSCTL), as well as to the countless mothers, fathers and other volunteers who coach prep shooting teams, high schools from Worthington to Warroad are forming trap squads.
This spring, about 8,000 students are expected to compete in trapshooting, up from 6,100 last year, with Little Falls being among the most recent schools that will field a team.
With 185 teams statewide, the sport is the fastest growing high school activity in Minnesota, and it’s quickly catching on in other states as well.
High school trapshooting is popular in part because it’s co-ed, and in part because it can be successfully pursued by people of all ages (kids included) and body types.
Being a great shot does require skill and a lot of practice. But even the best shooters needn’t run fast, jump high or do anything with a ball — be it kick it, throw it, shoot it or hit it over a fence.
Additionally, as will be the case in Little Falls, in most cases there’s no limit to the number of kids who can participate. Instead, the squad will be divided into teams of five, and shooters will advance on the basis of the clays they break.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of youth shooting is the respect, discipline and responsibility it teaches its participants. Gun safety is not only required of prep shooters, but it’s demanded, as is firearm maintenance and the generalized civil behavior one would expect of people who hang around guns and ammunition.
That said, a glass ceiling of sorts hangs over the further spread of prep shooting in Minnesota, as it does over competitive and recreational shooting of all kinds in the state: a shortage of venues large enough to accommodate the growing number of shooters.
The Legislature has helped in recent years by approving a small grants program intended to help small ranges statewide upgrade their facilities. And it recently appropriated money from the Game and Fish Fund to consider the possibility of building a world-class shooting park near the Twin Cities.
Now complete, that exploratory effort will manifest itself Monday in a legislative bill that would allot $25 million in state bonding money to acquire land and build a shooting park to accommodate both everyday and world-class shotgun, rifle and archery events.
As envisioned, the park also would have more than 225 RV sites — a necessity, because so many shooters travel in motor homes and campers.
“We know the bill won’t pass this year, because there is no bonding bill this session,” said Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, a bill author. “But it’s time to get legislators thinking about it.”
Dill is unsure whether $25 million is the correct amount for the planned park. “We need to find a piece of land and do more study,” he said.
Perhaps 250 to 500 acres would be required, a space that necessarily would place it in the Twin Cities’ exurbs, if not in the countryside.
Also to be resolved: Exactly who would own and operate the complex.
What is known, Dill said, is that a shooting park would infuse considerable funds into the metro. He cited the recently constructed World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Illinois as a project to emulate.
That complex accommodates skeet, trap and sporting clays shooters, as well as archers, pistol, rifle and cowboy action shooters. Fishing also is offered.