Arizona Game and Fish is backing away from a large shooting range proposed northwest of Munds Park and is instead eyeing a smaller location east of Flagstaff.
The agency is now considering two small areas for rifle sighting, pistols, shotgun and use of clay pigeons to the east or the north of Winona.
Unlike the site proposed at Willard Springs, off Interstate 17, these would be 60-80 acres in size instead of 300 to 600 acres and wouldn't accommodate camping — at least not at first.
Each of the sites is within a 30 minute drive of Flagstaff, has somewhat milder winters and has the capacity to expand.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission asked its staff to take another look at possible shooting range locations this spring, following some opposition among residents in Munds Park and a finding from the Coconino National Forest that a possible land swap would likely take until 2019 to accomplish.
"It was partly out of requests from constituents around there who wanted us to go back and take a 90-day period and evaluate everything we could," said Habitat Branch Chief Josh Avey.
He and others weighed the pros and cons of 23 locations, including at Camp Navajo (too much security clearance involved), near Meteor Crater, near Schnebly Hill, a $3 million ranch named "Dirty Smith" northwest of Williams, and on Hopi lands southeast of Flagstaff.
What hunters and target shooters really wanted, he said, was to drive half an hour or less.
When faced with a 7- or 10-year wait to have a shooting range, they opted overwhelmingly for a smaller local site on the survey, ideally to open by 2013.
"Our goal is to find the site that allows us to develop the quickest and cheapest," Avey said.
Land swaps aside, the range is estimated to cost about $2 million.
It is up to the Coconino National Forest, however, to conduct work needed to arrange a land swap, and they are estimating a 6-year timeline.
One proposed site goes by the names of Winona, Telephone Hill and World War II, and is located northeast of Winona and east of Cinder Mountain.
The other is a few miles north-northeast of Winona, at Cochrane Hill.
Neither would have camping areas, and each would hold fewer people than the shooting range previously proposed near Munds Park.
To see what is proposed, go to: www.nazrsf.com/pdfs/June27Comm.pdf.
Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at email@example.com.
A brief history
1994 — Flagstaff Trap and Skeet Club loses its ranges at Fort Tuthill. Coconino County Sportsmen contact Arizona Game and Fish to request a shooting facility in the region
1996 — Game and Fish Department selects a site in Bellemont
2003 — Game and Fish drops the idea, following litigation from nearby residents
2005 — The department begins another search for a shooting range site, ultimately deciding in spring 2006 that Willard Springs near Munds Park is the best option. Construction will begin in 2008, say consultants working for Game and Fish. It does not.
2007 — The Coconino National Forest begins studying the feasibility of trading Forest Service land for a Game and Fish-run shooting range. The feasibility study has yet to be completed.
2009 — The local Forest Service office gives estimates of 2019 for construction of a large shooting range with camping. Arizona Game and Fish surveys hunters and its commission decides to look for a smaller, closer shooting range instead.
— Sources: Arizona Game and Fish, Arizona Daily Sun archives