The Chaffee County Shooting Range
“Don’t tell anyone about this place,” said the target shooter as the smell from the rifle rounds he just shot hung in the air. “This place is great and I don’t want it to get too crowded.”
“Sorry, but telling people about this place is why I’m here,” I replied, smiling.
“This place” is the Chaffee County Shooting Range, or “the best, nonfee, public range in the state,” as Jim Aragon, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) area wildlife manager for Area 13, proudly stated. And from my tour of the range, I would enthusiastically agree. While I understand the shooter’s worry, with the range covering more than 55 acres, I think there is room for more visitors.
“The original lease agreement between then DOW [Divison of Wildlife] and Chaffee County was signed in 2001 and construction began shortly thereafter,” said Aragon. “The current lease runs through May 31, 2021. It has always been a cooperative project between DOW/CPW and Chaffee County and has great support from the county. The range is a nonfee public range which has great support from the community and its users.”
Ron Dobson, a district wildlife manager (DWM) was instrumental in the start-up and development of the range. Dobson has since retired so now DWM Sean Shepherd and Technician Kail Glenn are tasked with the management and maintenance duties. The two “do an outstanding job with running the range and keeping things in order,” said Aragon. “And we have a couple of volunteer days at the range for clean up and repair. There is also a group of users who just take it upon themselves to clean up.” In fact, the shooter I spoke with made a point of cleaning up his area as we talked.
I had been photographing the shooter, and while I can’t remember what target he was shooting at, with 11 covered shooting benches (as well as prone areas) and target holders at 100, 200 and 300 yards and steel targets at varying distances out to about 600 yards, he sure had a range to choose from.
The site has the trees and rolling hills that matches the habitat of the surrounding area between Buena Vista and Salida, which yields realistic shooting scenarios. Shooting ranges are separated both by space and terrain. The site consists of the following:
Rifle Range — 11 covered (shade shelter) shooting benches and a prone shooting area. Target holders at 100, 200, 300 yards for paper targets only. “This keeps down trash issues and target holders are provided,” states Aragon. “And steel animal silhouette targets at varying distances out to about 600 yards let you shoot elk, deer, bear, etc. in a realistic setting.”
Pistol Range — two shade shelters with a shooting bench at each shelter. Nine targets holders.
Tactical Pistol Range
Handgun/Pistol/Rifle Range — One shade shelter with bench. Target holders down-range at about 50 yards
Rifle Range/Sight in Range — About six covered shooting benches and target holders at 25, 50, 75 and 100 yards. This area used mainly for sighting in rifles.
Shotgun Range — Covered table area and currently two (soon to be four) clay bird throwers. Shotgun use only.
NEW .22-Caliber Range — Geared toward youth and family shooting.
One vault toilet on site. It may be the cleanest public restroom I’ve ever seen. “Kail keeps it so clean you can eat off the floor,” said Aragon. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was spotless.
Hours are from 6:30 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset, open 365 days a year “and 366 days on leap years,” joked Aragon. “No firm numbers of users other than every time I stop by, there is someone utilizing one of the shooting areas. Today for example, about seven people at the lower rifle range, one at pistol range, two at upper handgun range and three at rifle sight-in range. This was at 10:00 a.m. this morning,” he added.
The range has been funded with minimal CPW Area 13 funds. Much of the infrastructure has been provided through Friends of the NRA shooting range grants. “Salida has a robust local NRA Chapter and their annual fund rising banquet benefits the range applications,” said Aragon.
Chaffee County Shooting Range Between Salida and Buena Vista on Highway 285 at MM 137
Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.