Into the Wild
By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography by Karen Ott Mayer
Mississippi’s largest outdoor shooting range to open in Panola County in 2018.
Driving down Davis Chapel Road just west of Sardis, Mississippi, the rural road would appear to lead to another road, town or landscape. In this case, however, the road ends at a set of double gates. Unbeknownst to many, what lies behind the gates is one of the state’s newest and most significant projects that promises increased tourism, recreation and a nod to Mississippi’s longstanding firearms tradition.
With the 2018 planned opening of the McIvor Creek Shooting Facility at Charles Ray Nix Wildlife Management Area, sports enthusiasts who enjoy sport shooting activities like skeet, clay, pistol and rifle will soon have a world-class facility right in their North Mississippi backyard. The new all-outdoor range, one of three in the state built in the last 10 years, will be the biggest range in the state.
“We’re about to have a world-class state-of-the-art shooting facility right here in Panola County. There is nothing like it around here, and quite possibly, not anything like it in the Southeast,” said Joe Azar, director of economic development for the Panola Partnership.
In August 2016, state leaders including Governor Phil Bryant, attended a groundbreaking ceremony at the site, a 300-acre parcel sponsored by Winchester Ammunition which has a local manufacturing facility in Oxford and is owned by Olin Corporation. The entire wildlife management area totals 4,000 acres. The $3 million dollar project results from the collaborative works of The Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, Winchester Ammunition and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
“We secured federal dollars through the Pittman-Robertson Act and partnered with Winchester for the matching funds, so the state didn’t finance this project,” said Jones.
In 1937, Congress passed the act, now known as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration, which places a tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition. In return, those funds help conservation efforts, hunter education programs and archery/shooting operations across the country.
The shooting facility will include a 15-station sporting clay range, two skeet ranges with a trap range overlaid in each, a five-stand range, a pistol range, 100-yard and 300-yard rifle ranges, and a 3D archery range.
“The land is diverse with a mixture of dense woods and open clearings,” said Captain Scottie Jones, the shooting range coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks. “This will be the third and largest range in the state.” Turcotte was the first shooting range built near Canton in 2006 while McHenry followed in 2013 near Perkinston in south Mississippi.
Jones says sport shooting is growing in the state and that each facility welcomes approximately 15,000 visitors each year. The Sardis range will be able to accommodate 200 visitors at the same time, depending on the chosen activity. Visitors, children and adults, can look forward to other educational opportunities like handgun classes and shotgun instruction.
“Our programs are focused on adults and children. We hope to encourage more kids to get outside and learn to enjoy hunting, fishing and shooting,” said Jones.
The Mississippi Scholastic Shooting Program (MSSP) is a youth development program that uses the shotgun sports to instill life skills such as discipline, safety, teamwork, ethics, self-confidence, and other life values.
Azar agrees that Mississippians still value outdoor sporting and hunting and that the facility is already having a local influence. “We started a shooting team at North Delta Academy and had a great first year,” he said.
In addition, the expected influx of tourists and visitors has led Azar and his team to create a tourism position especially to help the Sardis area with the anticipated activity.
“This gives people a safe place to shoot and we’re excited about getting the word out to as many people as we can,” said Azar.
Another strong benefit to locals and visitors is the reasonable costs, making it a highly-accessible destination for families. “I believe the base fee per person is $5.50 per hour.” Jones says that anyone under 21 must be with an adult and encourages all visitors to read and understand all the range rules—which are available online.
Because it can be almost a mile from one point to another, golf carts will be available as well. At the entrance, a new pro-shop and registration building serves as the primary gathering point for visitors.
Range-master Gary Holcomb who has been shooting his entire life will lead instruction at the site. A recent graduate of Mississippi State University, Holcomb traveled the country in shooting tournaments. “This range is really great for this part of the state.”
While the opening date has yet to be set, Jones says all the construction should be complete by spring 2018 depending on the weather with the facility opening to the public by summer or fall 2018.
A Mississippi native himself, Jones receives many calls from people in north Mississippi asking about a shooting facility. Soon, he can send them to the biggest shooting range in the state, helping to carry on a Mississippi tradition.
To learn about the great outdoors in Mississippi, including shooting ranges, visit www.mdwfp.comRead More in DeSoto Magazine online.