Four shooting ranges on the Owen/Bartel Road, in the Wolcottsville area, were set up years ago to prevent possible accidental shootings on other parts of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area. Each range has a huge pile of dirt as a backstop for target shooting in an area that is away from most WMA activities. The thought was to give folks a place to target shoot without jeopardizing the safety of other users: hikers, birders, hunters, wildlife enthusiasts. It worked very well.

Until the rise of the internet helped word get out to young people who just wanted to shoot and play Rambo, that is.

These days, range users aren't hunters or members of any sportsman's club that has a shooting range. Many of them have no real, formal gun safety training. I travel the area a lot and, of course, I have been handling guns since I was able to hold up my BB gun. What I'm seeing by these shooting ranges is really scary. Usually I try to avoid the area from noon to sunset, when target shooting is allowed.

First, I'll convey some of the rules of the ranges, to give you a better idea why I'm so upset about this terrible situation.

Note, the rules are posted on large metal signs next to the road at each of the four ranges. These signs cost the DEC a lot of money (your money) and they don't last long, because they get shot up (used as targets), making it difficult to read them.

Here are the rules that are usually broken and don't seem to get a response from law officers.

— Paper targets only. (Consistently, there are piles of wood, large plastic objects, five-gallon pails, cardboard boxes and beverage bottles being used as targets at the ranges. One time I saw a refrigerator and a couch.)

— All targets must be within 3 feet of the mounds. (That's to ensure bullets go into the dirt mounds. On drive-bys, I can always see targets near the road, or too far in front of the mounds, which causes bullet ricochets.)

— Carry in, carry out. (A biggie that applies to old targets and spent rifle, pistol and shotgun cases. A quick look shows targets laying all around and the ground covered with spent cases and trash of all kinds.)

— Target shooting between noon and sunset only. (It's not uncommon to see someone shooting before noon.)

— No target shooting when the ranges are posted "closed." (These postings seem to disappear.)

Are these rules followed by most range users? Not by a long shot! Some follow the rules, usually those who are serious, mature and educated shooters, but most are just irresponsible young “Rambos” with no respect for others or the area.

So, all the violations of these rules not only make the area dangerous for others, they contribute to a negative public opinion of good sportsmen. It's a dangerous situation when bullets ricochet before they hit a mound and fly off to who-knows-where. It's dangerous for hunters and hikers when they believe the ranges are closed but shooters don't agree. All the trash left behind gives a bad impression of sportsmen and DEC's management.

Around these ranges, it is common to see vehicles parked half-way off the road, many times with vehicle doors left open into the road, and that of course makes hazardous driving conditions for others using a public road. To my mind, that makes not just Environmental Conservation Officers look bad, but sheriff's deputies and state troopers as well. You won't find any mention of the ranges on DEC's website. Maybe they're too embarrassed about them?

Ricocheting bullets can travel a lengthy distance — the little .22 can go 1-1/2 miles and the bigger calibers can travel 2 to 3 miles — and one problem with them at the shooting ranges is the power lines behind the ranges. The lines are getting damaged and requiring repairs, at your cost. Less than a mile behind the ranges is the Tonawanda Seneca Reservation, where lives may be endangered by those stray bullets.

One other thing: What about all the lead — hundreds of pounds — being deposited around and behind these shooting mounds? This poses a real threat to wildlife that consume the lead directly or indirectly. Lead shot was banned in waterfowl hunting many years ago, after the discovery that lead was killing the waterfowl that devoured it as well as wildlife higher up on the food chain: eagles, loons, hawks and meat-eating mammals.

Maybe everyone who uses the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area should drop a line to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos ( and state Sen. Rob Ortt (, and call U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (716-282-1274) to express their feelings on this problem. The situation is just plain out of control.

Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or

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