By Bob Frye
Harrisburg – More than a few hunters use the public shooting
ranges on state game lands to do some plinking and sight in their
rifles for the fall hunting seasons.
They’re going to have to put their trigger fingers on hold for a
while right now, however.
All across the state, the Pennsylvania Game Commis-sion has
kicked off a voluntary effort to remove decades worth of lead – in
the form of spent bullets – from their ranges. Many ranges also are
getting new backstops and berms and other improvements.
The effort is expected to cost about $1 million. All of the
money is coming from Growing Greener II funds, rather than license
What all of that means, though, is that many if not most ranges
are closed to public use for the time being.
In the area the commission considers to be the southwest region
of the state, for example, 10 of 11 ranges are currently closed.
Only the one on State Game Land 108 in Cambria County remains
The goal is to have the others ready for use again by the end of
“We want them to be ready before the big rush comes in
the fall when guys want to sight their rifles in,” said Mel Schake,
information and education supervisor in the commission’s southwest
A Game Commission news release, expected to be released shortly
after this story was being written, will announce the range
closings and their timetable for being reopened. What that release
will also say is that the main reason the ranges are being cleaned
is that they’ve been in existence for decades – some date to the
1950s – and no one’s ever attempted to reclaim any of the lead on
“It was never really an issue,” Schake said.
“I don’t know that anyone ever considered this a
There figures to be a lot of lead on each range, however.
According to Metals Treatment Technologies, the Colorado company
that is under contract to sift the dirt backstops at each of the
ranges and remove any lead found there, there are more than 10,000
public and private shooting ranges in the United States.
Together, they represent the single largest source of
environmental lead contamination, annually putting more than 160
million pounds of lead into the environment.
There are no federal rules regarding how or when that lead
should be removed from the environment. The Environ-mental
Protection Agency has developed a set of recommendations – a list
of “best management practices” – for maintaining ranges,
Edward Guster, an environmental scientist and the EPA’s national
shooting range coordinator, said those recommendations call for
removing the lead from trap and skeet ranges every 250,000 to one
Right now, with the price being paid for recycled lead
relatively high, range operators could probably opt for the lower
end of that scale, he said.
Rifle and pistol ranges should be remediated at about the same
frequency, Guster said.
“And rifle ranges are easier to clean up because of
their earthen backstops, which tend to collect and hold the lead,”
The commission plans to clean its ranges periodically in the
future, Schake said, to keep them lead-free.