Bryce Simons (copy)

Bryce Simons of West Ashley High School competes in a 2017 state skeet competition in Edgefield for his school's team.  File/Provided. 

COLUMBIA — Advocates of building a new $4 million range for skeet and trap shooting say increased demand for range space means state and federal tax dollars should fund the site in eastern Richland County.

The range in Eastover would provide a space for competitive skeet and trap shooting that also would be available at times for public practice and recreational use, said Maj. Billy Downer of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, which would oversee the facility.

A leading reason for the facility, Downer said, was the increased demand for tournament space. The state has more than 45 public and private high schools that have shooting teams, Downer said. Some schools are fielding both junior-varsity and varsity teams. Overall, clay shooting programs in schools are "growing like wildfire," he said.

Both skeet and trap involve shooting at clay targets. Skeet has one or two clay targets moving across the shooter's view, while trap features clay discs moving away from the shooter.

The demand for space to hold competitions is so high that some statewide events now have to be split between two ranges, one in the Edgefield area and another in Sumter County, about .5-miles from where the Eastover range will be built, Downer said.

The two adjacent facilities will allow for hosting of large shooting events, with 12 shooting fields available for skeet and trap, he said. 

A state budget set-aside for the 2020 fiscal year allocated $60,000 for the initial development of the Eastover facility, part of $1 million that the state will have to spend to bring the facility online. States can use money they collect as part of excise taxes on gun and ammunition makers to fund their range improvements under federal law.

DNR also is seeking to raise private funds to help cover the costs of the $1 million, which will be matched by $3 million in federal funds as part of a policy to encourage the construction of ranges. 

The facility is needed to handle the huge recent increase in interest in team shooting sports, said Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.

"Ten years ago, you hardly knew anyone doing this," Smith said.

Ranges help provide areas for the teaching of gun safety and allow residents to have a safe and affordable place for practice without having to join a hunt club or own a swath of land, Smith said. 

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The state needs to offer such facilities as part of the mission of the DNR, Smith said, which includes promoting outdoor recreation, including shooting sports. The department operates six shooting ranges and two archery ranges across the state. 

Facilities such as the new one in Eastover, which Downer hopes will be open in 2021, are a good economic development opportunity for rural areas to draw visitors to their restaurants and motels, just in the way that soccer or baseball facilities do, Smith said. 

Smith said, as a father, he wants young people to get out and enjoy outdoor sports.

"I think that's better than sitting in front of a TV or an iPad," he said. 

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikefittsat140