PGC To Charge for Public Range Use

Looks like the Game Commission is looking to require either a valid PA hunting license, or a range permit to be able to use PGC ranges throughout the state. Considering that PGC is funded with hunting license fees, and these ranges are maintained solely by the PGC, I think this is a fair move. Anyone who’s frequented Pennsylvania ranges knows they are crowded and poorly maintained. This strikes me as a fair way to manage the resource, provided the fees for the range permits are funneled into maintaining the ranges. Looks like there will be provisions for taking guests and kids too, without them also needing a range permit.

32 thoughts on “PGC To Charge for Public Range Use”

  1. I am not a hunter but I am all in on a range permit at a similar cost provided, as you say, the money goes to improve and maintain the ranges.

  2. I think this is fair. Go to the PGC range in Monroe county, it’s a bunch of dirty ne’er-do-wells from North Jersey and NY. I’m going to venture that some of them are prohibited persons. The ranges have gotten all shot to hell by people who were long ago kicked out of clubs or denied membership.

  3. Does Pa get any money from the excise tax on ammo and firearms?

    Then why require an additional payment?

  4. Speaking as someone who used to go to the state-run ranges in Florida, $30 a year is a lot better than $10 per visit. (Although the Indian River range I went to was pretty nicely run – the RSOs helped keep it clean and intact, and if you ran low on ammo, you could buy more at only a slight markup…)

    Is there an option to buy a day pass? If I’m bringing several of my friends to the range, the “one guest” isn’t going to cut it.

  5. cy: The Scotia Range up by State College is fenced-in and separate from the rest of the game lands. It would be a simple matter of having a RSO at the gate to check your license/pass. (I suppose you could sneak over the berm from the back side and not be noticed – but who’s going to come from a direction they know bullets are heading towards?)

    Also, as another note: Scotia has “auxiliary ranges” outside the main facility (read this as: here’s a couple of picnic benches, we dug into the hillside, there may be a target backer if someone hasn’t shredded it with buckshot; have fun!) that are open when the range itself isn’t – would these be covered in the range fee, I wonder?

  6. None of those conditions apply to the ranges I frequent in Luzerne County which are largely wide open, especially SGL 91, Suscon Road, and others as well.

  7. Yes, Pennsylvania receives Pittman-Robertson funds. However, the amount they get from that has to be spread across many expenses faced by the Game Commission. You can’t expect every dime to be spent on recreational shooting.

    Pennsylvania has gone without a license fee increase since 1998. In some ways, that’s a good thing for hunters. On the other hand, it’s not keeping up with the expenses of maintaining the land, programs, and facilities that we all use. Think about that – more than a decade without any adjustment for inflation. The report of the Game Commission to the Legislature last year noted that they’ve run all of the state programs on about $68 million for several years. If license fees had kept pace with inflation, their budget would be just over $92 million. (They weren’t making a case for keeping pace with inflation, just noting how much it makes a difference.)

    This is basically a user fee. It’s a reasonable fee, and they are creating a special license so you don’t have to try and track down a free hunter ed class (basically impossible – they are always full). It allows you to bring a guest, costs the same for non-residents, and even encourages bringing the kids along by allowing as many as you can bring for free. If you want a large party of guests, then just have a handful of them buy licenses. They are going to sell them online. You’ll only need passes for half of the group to cover every adult.

    Running a range ain’t cheap, especially when you have the volume that some of the state ranges see. Running many ranges, along with the expense of all of the other things the Game Commission has been charged with running, has a cost. If you want to use it, it’s not unreasonable to ask you to kick in a few bucks to make it run.

  8. As one who used to frequent a public range, I am somewhat concerned.

    Not being a hunter, limiting access could be problematic. At a minimum I’d like to see LTCF holders also have access.

    As for maintenance. I’m really not all that sympathetic to that declaration as I tried several times to volunteer to help maintain. I was willing to buy wood and materials and make a few improvements.

    No interest whatsoever in having my help.

    If they do go this route, then at a minimum they need to change the policies. No more of this 3 round crap. Fix the pistol ranges.

    90% of people want the 7 yd range (two lanes). But most of the range is 25 yds, and 75 yds (almost never used).

    The pistol range wouldn’t be half as busy if it didn’t have everyone waiting for two lanes while leaving the other 6 empty.

    1. You don’t have to be a hunter to access the ranges though.

      The new regulation requires all users of state game land shooting ranges to possess either a valid Pennsylvania hunting or furtaker license or a Game Commission-issued range permit, which will cost $30 per year for residents and nonresidents.

      Exceptions to this permit requirement are those 16 years of age and younger properly accompanied by a licensed or permitted person 18 years of age or older, and each licensed hunter or range permit holder could have one guest.

      For the first year, permits will be effective from April 1, 2011, until June 30, 2012.

      After the first year, each permit issued will be valid from July 1 until June 30.

      Permits will be able through the commission’s website at Following the purchase, which will require payment by credit or debit cards, a downloadable permit will be provided and permittee’s may print it on a home computer.

      Not a dime of the license to carry fee goes to maintain the ranges. If a license holder has a used or inherited gun, or rarely buys ammo, they aren’t contributing anything, either. The issue is that it costs money to maintain ranges. This merely asks that people using the facilities contribute to the expense of maintaining them. You want the pistol ranges fixed? That’s the kind of service this license money can buy.

      When I’ve gone shooting in Maryland, we used a state-run public facility that requires a permit. It was a reasonable fee, and not terribly hard to pick up at the local Wal-Mart. Being able to buy online is a huge improvement, in my opinion. In theory, Sebastian & I only need one permit to go shoot together, but we’ll probably buy two even though we haven’t used state ranges in years. The price is far less than most gun clubs or commercial public ranges. It’s reasonable to support the facilities, so we will.

      I can see why they wouldn’t respond to your efforts to volunteer, though. If they let every Tom, Dick & Harry do whatever they want to any state range, nothing would be consistent or even of known quality. You may do good work, but the next guy may not. If there’s no one available to closely supervise and organize, then it’s safer to not accept help than try to have a random volunteer army doing questionable work with mismatched equipment.

  9. This adds another layer of bureaucracy that a new shooter has to navigate to join our pass time.

    Never a good thing.

  10. Seriously? You all are complaining about an annual $30 fee you can pay for online that goes directly to the organization responsible for range maintenance?

    The local county mountie range by me charges $6 per visit and I think that’s pretty reasonable. The private (indoor) range I just went to charges $20 for an hour of lane time for a walk-on.

  11. Maryland uses this sort of system and it works. I’d be happy if it meant they could staff more WCOs to monitor the ranges. The last time I stopped by the public range in Allentown, shotgunning was great but the rifle/pistol range was full of total idiots.

  12. It may be fair at the macro level, but it’s just not correct to think of the PGC license fee income as actually paying for PGC. If that were true, it would be a slam-dunk move for the state to sell the lands to a private operator and make revenue off the enterprise.

    PGC has the huge benefit of being a monopoly and an immune state actor – the “cost” of that is borne by all taxpayers. Non-hunters subsidize hunters first, in my view, so it’s NOT really “fair” that non-hunter range users pay twice.

    And no, I don’t use state ranges so I’m not justifying self-interest here.

  13. Ian, no complaints here. We would love to have access to either of thefacillities you identify. Six or 20 dollars for a morning of shooting is much better than no dollars and no shooting.

  14. How on earth are the state ranges a monopoly? We are surrounded by gun ranges that are either private clubs that you are free to petition for membership or commercial public ranges. If you have enough land and are in an area where your township doesn’t restrict discharge, then you’re free to build yourself a gun range. Explain to me how the state has a monopoly on shooting ranges when other are options are allowed to exist and actually thrive, even alongside state owned ranges.

    As Ian points out, this is a deal. Sebastian’s private club charges between $70-$140 per year for a member. One local popular commercial public range costs $15-$20 per hour (plus another $9-$13 if you bring a guest of any age) for non-members. Memberships at that range cost between $165-$350 for an individual, and even more for family. Even as a member, you still have to pay for a single guest. There are no private or commercial public options that will allow you to shoot that cheaply in Pennsylvania anywhere in this area.

    The Game Commission is reliant upon hunting license fees & a small amount returned via Pittman-Robertson. Given the size & sporting (both hunting & shooting) community in Pennsylvania, it’s not nearly enough to maintain and improve every range. They are a public good of sorts, and an inexpensive user fee is a reasonable way to pay for that service. You don’t want the General Assembly to start looking at ways to fund it with tax dollars because then it becomes completely politicized.

  15. The PGC/state has a monopoly on game, not ranges.

    Citizens “let” the state entity control game under soverign immunity – that’s a form of subsidy where the primary benefit goes to hunters as a class.

    1. So let me get this straight, your opposition to the entire North American Wildlife Conservation Model makes you opposed to user fees paid by the people who use said facilities?

  16. Sebastian – no, although that’s a part of how citizens “let” the state monopolize game and get immunity.

    Bitter – no, I’m trying to say that hunters already free-ride on non-hunters, so it’s silly for them to complain about non-hunters “free-riding” on them. The public SGL property was NOT “bought” by hunters in the same sense as property is bought by private citizens.

    Frankly, I’d prefer the ranges were fenced and attended so the law-abiding got the greatest benefit and they could more easily be converted to private ownership at some point.

  17. @Ian – yes to pools, on principle. Passive parks seem more properly governmental.

    The bigger question is whether the pool/park patrons want everyone else to pay (more than a pool admission) to use the restrooms and drinking fountains?

  18. What’s the difference between a public park and a public pool, conceptually?

    Remember, they’re usually run by the most local government level – the town or county; so I don’t see an issue with the limitations imposed on higher-level governments by their constitutions. Usually, the pools at least charge user fees, so the whole cost isn’t borne by the tax base – unlike most public parks. In fact, the local “public” pool near me has an annual membership charge in the same ballpark as the “local” rifle & pistol club, and I’d get actual year-round use out of that fee.

  19. It’s not about constitutions – its about the mistake of assuming that because users pay SOME user fees for a public resource (even if the fees are the same as fees for similar private resources) that the users have the same right to exclude non-users as with private resources.

    Private ownership of pools works well – the users bear nearly all the burdens. Public pools shift liability risk away from the users to the public.

    Public parks have a long and fruitful history. Private ownership of passive parks doesn’t work, to my knowledge – I’ve never seen a private passive park that charges mandatory fees for admission or even that require residence/membership in the public entity that sponsors the park.

    Active parks (with a tennis court, ball field, or arboretum) should be private like pools, since people will willlingly pay to use them and to exclude others.

  20. Ah. There’s a subtle problem with that line of reasoning, though. The passive park with no admission only works because the demand for time in a park does not exceed the carrying capacity of most parks, so there is no need to allocate scarce resources. Admission cost is not necessary in that case. Let me illustrate with a counter-example. Gen*con charges a rather steep admission. This gets you in the building. But if you want to play most games, you have to expend tickets, which are a buck or two per. My wife didn’t understand why at first, but eventually realized that this was so that there was a market mechanic to manage scarcity. The nominal fee per session exists to make the attendees use the scare resources wisely.

    It is the same with any public resource that charges admission or otherwise limits access. The supply is less than the demand. This is not generally the case is a passive park, but could be, if it was, say, a beach.

    But the liability issue is a red herring – when the elm tree drops a widowmaker on the head of a picnicker, the government is on the hook as landowner.

  21. Liability is not a red herring – the government CAN be sued, but is immune from substantial liability that private parties can’t avoid.

    Whether parks are special because they always exceed demand or not doesn’t change the fact that it’s a reasonable function for even a very limited goverment to hold open property for the common good despite the fact that the market might allocate its use differently. There’s a very long tradition of parks, squares and greens.

  22. Liability accrues to the property owner, no matter the use the property is put to. You can’t use it to distinguish between a pool and a park.

    You boiled your argument down to “tradition”, then. But that’s hardly any kind of logical argument against public pools or other facilities. You seem to be against the idea of a government charging both user fees and paying for facilities out of the tax base, but accept that they might operate facilities that are only paid for out of the tax base.

  23. We’re far afield – here’s my bottom line.

    If you and your friends want to get together and start a private shooting range, you can incorporate and do just that. If your economics are good, you’ll can generate revenue to cover your costs (including acquisition, operations and insurance).

    On the other hand if you and your friends lobby the government to build you a range, don’t get hacked off if somebody other than your friends comes and uses it, even if you and your friends paid 100% the acquisition and operation cost that the government incurs (which is NOT true for PGC ranges).

    What’s the difference? First of all, that’s what “public property” is about – not excluding anyone. Second, the government pays the insurance. Third, the government has many advantages in acquiring land as compared to a private corporation (credit, threat of zoning, deductibility of dedicated property, and so on).

  24. OK, if the reanges weren’t in existence. But they already are – and the government is finding it difficult to maintain them from the tax base alone. The ranges exist on pubic land and it would be inconvenient to impossible to alienate them from the surrounding parks. The PGC is taking the eminently sensible action of charging the actual users for the use of the range rather than additionally burdening the tax base with more taxes. The choice isn’t between a potential new range being run by public or private interests, the public range already exists, and presumably has existed for long enough that the original instigators of the cration of the range are no longer the only benfactors.

    Sighting in a rifle is an important safety measure – ensuring that the point of impact is the point of aim. That alone would justify a public range – inasmuch as hunting shoudl not be limited to those who can afford to sight in their rifles at a priavte range. Once you have the range, why let it sit idle outside the hunting season?

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