After 45 Years, N. AZ Has a Shooting Range

A Hopi blessing…

The rapid fire of shots at neon orange clay targets attached to red ribbons…

Cheers from the crowd .... and the ribbon “shooting” is complete. 

The Northern Arizona Shooting Range opened to a happy throng of gun enthusiasts this weekend.  Many of them have waited nearly 45 years for an official place to practice their marksmanship.

But about a mile from the shooting range, as the crow, or the bullet, flies, sits Walnut Canyon National Monument, the ancient home of the cliff dwelling people called the Sinagua.  Here, the Superintendent of North Central Arizona Monuments, Diane Chung, greets the shooting range cautiously.

“We are just very concerned about the noise impacts of shooting in this area and the quiet that we try to preserve here," Chung said.

Caves carved out of the rock ring the 400-foot-high canyon walls.  Chung worries about maintaining the natural quiet for the more than 120-thousand people who visit this place each year.

“Gunshots are not something you are expecting to hear out here, and also we find that gunshots could disturb wildlife," Chung added. 

Walnut Canyon is surrounded by forest land that is open to hunting, so Chung hears the occasional shot. But she’s worried a barrage of bullets from the range would disturb the peace.

Dan Twitchell is with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.  As he shoots clay targets,  he says visitors to Walnut Canyon won’t be disturbed.

“I think it’s basically a zero issue.  We’ve been there while we were shooting here, and the crows flying by make more noise than we do," Twitchell said.

During opening ceremonies, officials spoke of the “long journey” in getting a shooting range in Northern Arizona.  Land swap deals gone bad.  Lawsuits over proposed locations.  Arizona Game and Fish Department Sports Manager Jay Cook, says they considered and rejected more than 50 sites before finally settling on this 160-acre property near Winona.

“We did do our due diligence as far as sound studies and knowing what out impacts would be," Cook said.  "We did put in a significant sound barrier, as you noticed when you came in.  There’s a 20-foot berm. Studies we done show it’s within the standards that are currently out there.”

Monument Superintendent Diane Chung says Walnut Canyon has a study as well. “They simulated a shotgun and looking at the terrain of Walnut Canyon and how far that shotgun could be heard, and it was actually five or six miles," she said.

The non-profit Northern Arizona Shooting Foundation operates the shooting range. The group plans to host hunting education classes, a 50-yard archery range, a 100-yard shooting range and a 12-station sporting clay course.  Local law enforcement agencies, for the first time in 18 years, will have a place to practice

Game and Fish Director Larry Boyles, says this shooting range will give future generations a place to learn an important skill they believe is crucial to being an American.

“Those shots down range mean the new hunters and the new sportsmen that’ll come along and carry the banner for conservation as we move into this 21stcentury," he said. "But more than that, what you’ll hear reverberate is the sound of freedom.”

Nine-year old Abigail Chacon has been shooting since the age of six, and she is the proud owner of a kid-sized Crickett.  It’s a 22 single shot, bubble gum pink rifle her grandfather gave her.  She loves shooting with her parents.

“I never really been out on a shooting range, but last year, I went hunting with my mom," she said. " I saw some pretty cool stuff.”

In addition to the shooting, archery and clay target areas, shooting range officials expect to complete a trap and skeet field this summer.