Even if Mark Baldini won’t often use the Baker Draw shooting range on the Pawnee National Grassland, he’s thrilled that it’s there.
U.S. Forest Service officials celebrated the range Tuesday with a grand opening, although it’s been open since Jan. 10.
Baldini has used the Grassland to shoot for 15 years, but the range wasn’t built for people like him. And this is why Baldini is glad it’s there. It’s because of the idiots.
That’s Baldini’s word for all the shooters who drag their old dishwashers or computers out to the Grassland, shoot them up and leave the trash behind. Or they shoot up a tower or road sign. Or they shoot without really knowing where the bullets are going.
“Those are the people who ruin it for the rest of us,” Baldini said. “A responsible gun owner doesn’t like irresponsible gun owners.”
Recreational shooting is one of the biggest reasons people visit the Grassland. But while that’s increased the numbers out there, it’s also caused problems like the ones Baldini described. That was one reason why the range was built.
Still, Baldini of Fort Collins likes to believe that people are inherently good. He doesn’t want to think that people are breaking the laws — shooting up dishwashers and then leaving the corpses isn’t actually allowed — out on the Grassland on purpose. This is what excites him most about the shooting range. It’s a chance for education.
“I’d like to think most of the people are just ignorant,” Baldini said. “This shooting range is an opportunity to mix with those people and influence them in a positive way.”
The range won’t solve the problem of trash or irresponsible target shooting, but it may make a dent. It’s getting used a lot, said Reghan Cloudman, spokeswoman for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and the Pawnee National Grassland.
On the first weekend in January, 40 people used the range. In March, more than 200 used it on one weekend.
But, on those same weekends, there were just as many shooters on the Grassland who weren’t at the range, Cloudman said.
Part of the reason for that are the distances offered at the range. There are berms at 25, 50 and 100 yards. Those are good, common distances, but they aren’t far enough to satisfy a shooter like Baldini, who enjoys practicing the distance he’ll need to take down an elk (that’s at least 200 yards, he believes). Baldini also belongs to the private Weld County Fish & Wildlife High Plains Shooting Range, which is nicer, he said, and offers more variety.
The crowds have forced shooters at the range to wait at times, though it’s rare when they have to wait for very long, Cloudman said.
The shorter distances are the ones used more, despite the concerns from more skilled shooters. The weekends, of course, tend to be far more crowded than during the week.
Shooters such as Baldini, who want to see the range succeed and keep shooting open on the Grassland, have monitored the range, and so the problems that exist elsewhere, such as spent shells being left on the ground, aren’t much of an issue there, Cloudman said.
“We haven’t had much conflict,” she said. “That’s been really positive.”
The best part, Cloudman said, other than making shooters more familiar with the regulations, may be just the fact that it’s out there.
“When someone calls and asks where they can shoot, we can say right there,” she said. “This provides them with that opportunity. We haven’t had that before.”
Nick Zemler of Loveland was there with a friend, Brett Petersen of Greeley, that Tuesday afternoon. They enjoyed the solitude that they probably wouldn’t find on the weekends, as they were the only ones on the range for more than an hour.
They said the range was nice, even unexpected in the vast prairie of the Grassland.
“You do drive to the middle of nowhere,” Zemler said. “But then there’s a nice setup, a destination to go to now.”
Zemler didn’t want to shoot at the Grassland before the range was built, though Petersen did it many times, because he wasn’t sure about the idea of just driving somewhere and shooting.
Tuesday was the first time either one of them visited the range, and they were both impressed at how clean it was as well, something that could be the opposite of other popular shooting spots on the Grassland.
“We even picked up all our shells,” Zemler said, “because we wanted to leave it the way we found it.”