KODIAK — Anderson Construction employees working to expand the Kodiak Island Borough landfill encountered an unpleasant surprise last month when the sky began to rain bullets.
The incident, caused by ricochets from the nearby Monashka Bay shooting range, has led to the range’s closure and a scramble by borough officials and range operators to find a solution that will keep Kodiak shooters in business.
For now, shooters are restricted to the Salonie Creek Rifle Range, farther away from town and more in demand from organizations like the Coast Guard and police, said Kodiak Island Sportsman’s Association president Jesse Glamann.
“It’s a bit more of a commitment for somebody who just wants to go shooting,” he said.
On Sept. 15, surveyors and heavy equipment operators were working at the far western edge of the landfill expansion.
“We were working down in the timber, putting in erosion control around the perimeter,” said Mike Anderson, owner of Anderson Construction. “It sounded like World War III over there at the rifle range, and then the bullets started coming down through the trees.”
A ricocheted round bounced off a surveyor’s hard hat, but no one realized what was happening until a low-velocity 9 mm slug hit operator Alvin Lochman in the back of the neck.
“He thought one of the other guys was throwing stuff at him,” Anderson said. But when Lochman picked up the spent bullet, he noticed it was warm, and the construction crew got out of the area quickly.
The bullet didn’t break Lochman’s skin, Anderson said, but the operator was left with a welt as a momento.
“It’s just lucky they weren’t shooting rifles or something more powerful that could have killed somebody,” Anderson said.
Shortly after the incident, the borough sent a letter to the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, which leases land from the borough and sub-leases the property to KISA to run the range. In part, the letter declared, “The outdoor range will be closed until the issue is resolved.”
Borough engineering and facilities director Woody Koning said it’s possible this isn’t a new occurrence.
“This may have been happening for a long time, but we didn’t know because nobody was out there to witness it,” he said.
Koning, Anderson and Glamann said the problem comes from the geology beneath the rifle range’s backstop, where targets are set up. That section of earth is particularly rocky, and the backstop berm angles like the front armor of a tank, meaning bullets can ricochet more easily.
“If they could fix that backstop, make it more vertical, less resilient — problem solved,” Anderson said.
The closure of the Monashka Bay range has had several ricochet effects of its own, Glamann said. KISA membership is down slightly, he said, caused by cancellations from people upset about the range’s closure.
“Some people (are) requiring a refund, unfortunately,” he said. “What I’m also hearing is more redneck ranges are popping up.”
“Redneck range” is the informal term given to an impromptu shooting space where gun owners set up a handful of targets, fire their weapons and leave, typically without any cleanup. Glamann said the illegal ranges can be unsafe, and the borough had worked with KISA in a successful effort to promote the Monashka Bay and Salonie Creek ranges as alternatives to trashing the environment with broken targets and spent ammunition.
“We’ve been trying for the last few years to develop a safe shooting environment here in Kodiak,” he said.
Though that effort is being partially undone by the closure, Glamann said he understands the borough’s action.
“The club’s motto is ‘safety first,’” he said.
Glamann said KISA is prepared to make changes to ensure the range is safe to use again, but no plan or instructions have been provided by the borough or drawn up by rifle range supporters.
Anderson said he is prepared to help out in whatever way possible.
“My dad and I built that rifle range in 1971, and I still remember it,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of shooting sports. I’ve taught my kids how to shoot. It’s an important asset to the community.”
Glamann said the range is entering its winter period, when fewer shooters would have been using it. That doesn’t mean its loss won’t be felt, especially among deer hunters who use it to sight in their rifles. He said KISA is determined to reopen the range, even if it means shortening it or spending money to rebuild the berm in the target area.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest to have the range,” Glamann said. “We won’t quit there.”