EXCLUSIVE: State plans to open public gun range in Columbia area

A shooter at a state range.
A shooter at a state range. PROVIDED PHOTO

Richland County will soon have its only publicly accessible outdoor shooting range once the state Department of Natural Resources completes the purchase of a former private shooting club near Eastover.

DNR plans to use federal funding designated for hunter education and shooting projects to buy 131 acres off U.S. 76/378 near Eastover. The property, between U.S. 601 and the Wateree River, is the site of the former Indigo Gun Club, which until Jan. 1 was open only to members and guests.

DNR plans to reopen the facility as the “Wateree” public shooting range by late summer or early fall.

The property at 14068 Garners Ferry Road has been owned since 2008 by Wateree Timber Co. LLC, according to Richland County tax records. The land and building on the property are valued at $336,100 for tax purposes, according to the county’s assessment.

The purchase price is being negotiated, said Capt. Billy Downer, hunter education coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources.

There are no public shooting facilities in Richland County, but there are a number of commercial facilities accessible to the public in neighboring Lexington and Kershaw counties.

“We want to be able to provide a safe recreational shooting opportunity for the people of the Midlands,” he said. “This is a tremendous area for us.”

At a Natural Resources community input meeting in December where more than 70 neighboring residents gathered, Downer said, no one spoke in opposition of the proposed public range.

The facility will include a 100-yard rifle range, a 25-yard pistol range, a shotgun skeet range, a five-stand range and a sporting clays course, all built to National Rifle Association standards, Downer said. The rifle and pistol ranges will be open for free to the public, and there likely will be a minimal charge for shotgun shooting to reimburse the cost of provided clay targets, Downer said. Shooters will have to bring their own guns to the facility.

Downer said he looks forward to area youth shooting teams being able to use the site for practices, as opposed to firing in private backyards in rural areas.

The facility will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There will be a safety officer on site at the facility, Downer said. And DNR will write a lead-management plan to ensure that fired bullets are periodically sifted out of the dirt berms for recycling to avoid lead pollution.

The existing clubhouse on the property will be used for hunter education and other firearm safety classes.

Elaine Henderson, a firearms instructor who offers concealed weapons permit classes and other training in Lexington, said she would expect an Eastover gun range to be a popular destination given the lack of shooting facilities in that area.

“The majority of people that own guns do it for sport and recreation, but they also practice for self-defense,” Henderson said. “It’s a hobby. It’s fun. They’re going to want to access it.”

Access to shooting facilities is important to help gun users practice and perfect safe techniques, Henderson said.

“Where there’s an opportunity to practice and learn, there’s less chance of danger,” she said.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.