A new gun range opens this weekend at a popular outdoor destination near Wichita

El Dorado State Park’s new shooting range

Seth Turner, state park manager, talks about what the new range will offer, and what is being done to guarantee safety and minimize noise. (2016)
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Seth Turner, state park manager, talks about what the new range will offer, and what is being done to guarantee safety and minimize noise. (2016)

No matter the weather, the El Dorado Lake Shooting Range will have its grand opening this weekend.

The range opens to the public Saturday after construction delays moved its opening date to the day before the end of firearms deer season.

An official with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism said it will be the best shooting range in the state.

“It’s going to be a great range,” said Alan Stark, parks supervisor for the department. “I know the demand is there because we’ve been getting calls for years asking for a place to shoot. It’s hard to find that opportunity on public land.”

The day’s events will begin at 10 a.m. with remarks from leaders involved in the development of the range, followed by guided tours of the range, Stark said.

Around noon, a “burger-and-chips-type” lunch will be available, Stark said. The public can start shooting at 1 p.m. on Saturday at 2980 N.E. Shady Creek Access Road, east of the dam on the south end of the lake.

The state-owned shooting range will be managed by a nonprofit called Friends of El Dorado Shooting Range, which has a paid director and a volunteer staff to monitor the range. It includes 12 shooting positions at 100 yards for rifle shooters, 14 positions at 25 yards for rifles and pistols and 30 positions at 15 yards for pistol shooting, according to information available on the range’s website.

Lucky for area shooters looking to stay sharp through the winter at an outdoor range, El Dorado’s facility opens at the same time Cheney Lake’s shooting range closes for the season on Sunday.

Unlike Cheney’s range — which is free to the public but on the wildlife area instead of a state park — El Dorado’s new range will cost $10 a day for shooters who have not purchased a membership. A three-month membership costs $50. A one-year membership to the range costs $200, its website says.

State park vehicle permits are required by any vehicle entering the range, except for the opening when permit requirements will be waived, Stark said. A daily vehicle permit costs $5. Year passes can be purchased at park offices and tag offices.

If no one is waiting to shoot, there’s no time limit on the range. If anyone is waiting, shooters are limited to one hour, according to the range’s rules.

The $2.3 million gun range, which features state-of-the-art shooting facilities and sound retention, was largely funded with money from the federal Wildlife Restoration Program, which collects excise taxes from purchases of firearms, bows, ammunition, fishing lures, some boat engines and small engine fuel. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributes the funds to support conservation, education and access to the public, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

The state’s share of the cost of the gun range came from taxes collected on fishing and hunting license sales. The federal grant covered 75 percent of the cost and the wildlife department covered the other 25 percent from funds designated for education.

One-year memberships to the range give access to a member’s entire immediate family. Children must be living at home and under the age of 21. Once a child turns 21 or leaves for college, they are no long included in a parent’s membership. Shooters must be able to legally own a firearm to get a membership, the range’s website says.

Membership fees go to the nonprofit to maintain and manage the range, Stark said.

The range will be open this winter on weekends with warmer weather, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. If temperatures at noon drop below 45 degrees, the range will close.

In April, its hours extend to noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

“As far as expectations for this winter, we really don’t know right now. Our other ranges (at Hillsdale and Tuttle Creek) get used during the winter, but this being a new range, it’s hard to tell,” Stark said.

“It should give a good idea of what to expect and get a good routine down before it’s swamped with people.”

Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.