The first time I took my wife to the Juneau indoor shooting range to fire her brand new .22 pistol, range manager Zmuda offered a piece of excellent advice.
“Bring that target in closer,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be out 50 feet.”
Shooting bulls-eyes at close range proved to be far more rewarding than missing at distance. Watchful but not hovering, he was quick to offer help with eye dominance and shooting tips.
Zmuda ensures the indoor shooting range is a warm, safe and friendly place for beginners and experienced shooters. Officially known as the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Juneau Hunter Education Shooting Complex, the seven-lane live-fire range includes an archery range and a classroom and hosts a wide array of activities, from hunter education and youth clinics to competitive league shooting.
Zmuda’s customers range from boy scouts earning merit badges to families to police officers practicing.
“I have at least six families that shoot together; three are coast guard families that are currently stationed in Juneau,” he said. “There are fathers who bring out the kids, and there’s one family that has three generation of the family shooting together.”
He also sees some unusual firearms.
“I have a couple individuals that bring out older heirloom-type firearms from family-owned collections,” he said. “One individual who emigrated from Russia with a large collection of foreign firearms brings unusual firearms from around the world — many from Eastern Europe.“
Zmuda came on eight years ago when the range first opened. He came to Juneau, “from the army,” he said, where he spent 28 years before retiring, and for a great deal of that time he trained people in the use of firearms. He serves as a range safety officer on the firearms side, and facilities manager of the archery side. In addition, he is the Southeast Alaska coordinator for hunter education and the National Archery in the Schools Program. He ensures that courses are offered, volunteer instructors are available, handles the student sign up, and make sure all the instructional materials are available.
“Some of the other things I do are to develop, publicize and actually run league shooting,” he said. “We have an open league with three categories of youth shooters, and then adult. Competition is by age, and the leagues are divided by ammunition style, rim fire or center fire, and either single hand or two hands.”
He said someone with a .25 caliber pistol might compete against someone with a .45.
“It all comes down to how well they use their firearm,” he said.
League shooting is taking place this winter, and a high school shooting team and a middle school shooting team are active at the range as well.
Part of managing the range includes recycling the metals.
“The lead is going to the Alaska Bullet Works, it is recycled,” he said. “The people who use the range are welcome to take brass for reloading. Part of it (the brass) goes to the Alaska Bullet Works, and part goes to the recycling here in town for money that goes back into the system.”
Lead is a hazardous material and another aspect of range management is dealing with particulate lead.
“I have state-required hazmat training, and a hazmat protocol I follow,” he said. “We have a state-of-the-art ventilation and bullet trap system. The ventilation system clears all the air off the range every five minutes, and the air is then filtered.”
Archery is a big draw for the facility.
“Archery has been popular and fairly stable since I’ve come to the community,” Zmuda said. “The local archery club is well established and the clientele is consistent. Friday night is strictly youth, although youth are welcome all other days of the week as well. On Fridays we’ll get as many as 30 youth shooters in a three hour period. There is gear available for loan, but many bring their own tackle.”
The classroom facility is used for hunter education, firearm safety classes, concealed carry and other classes. A muzzle loader class is offered, but those firearms are not appropriate for the indoor range. Shooting takes place about a mile farther down the road at the city-managed outdoor shooting range. The Juneau indoor range is also right next door to the private shotgun range.
The indoor range accommodates .22 caliber rifles (no center fire rifles) and pistols up through .450 calibers, as opposed to .457, which can damage the equipment. A first time visitor will get a safety briefing and range orientation, and be issued a card to verify they’ve had the briefing. The cost is $5 for an adult to shoot for an hour. Two people can share a lane at a better rate. Youth shoot for $3.
For more information and operating hours see the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Juneau Hunter Education Shooting Complex (JHESC) web page at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=juneaurange.main. To contact the range call 586-4101, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Riley Woodford is the editor of Alaska Fish and Wildlife News, the online publication of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.