Hitting the bullseye!
State-of-the-art marksmanship facility opens in Talladega
Story and photos by John N. Felsher
On June 6, 2015, 71 years to the day after Allied soldiers stormed the Normandy beaches to liberate Europe from the Nazis, marksmen gathered to compete at a one-of-a-kind shooting facility in Talladega.
“The Talladega Marksmanship Park opened to the public in May 2015, but we had our grand opening ceremonies on June 6 in conjunction with a two-day rifle and pistol shooting match that weekend,” recalls Sarah Hall, the park operations supervisor. “We brought in close to 500 people each day. About 300 of them were competitors.”
Run by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, the opening of the state-of-the-art park culminated a long effort to create a world-class shooting facility in Alabama. The CMP bought 500 acres and turned it into the only complex like it in the United States, possibly the world, all in a beautiful forested setting. About three years and $20 million later, the CMP opened an impressive range.
Located about three miles from the Talladega Superspeedway between Anniston and Talladega, the complex includes five ranges for rifle and pistol shooting plus three fields for shotgun users. It opens to the public every Wednesday through Sunday when it is not being used for a major shooting match. Before shooting, all visitors must attend a safety orientation and rules briefing from a range officer. When shooters go to their selected ranges, they receive more guidance for that specific range.
“Anyone can come out here to learn firearms safety and to shoot,” Hall says. “Whenever we’re open, there’s always a certified range officer on duty at each range overseeing the shooting and ensuring safety. Almost everyone working at the range is still an active competitor. Some shot in World Cup events. They are very knowledgeable about firearms.”
Even during foul weather, shooters can remain dry and protected under roofs on the rifle and pistol ranges. The shooter doesn’t even need to look through a spotting scope at a paper target to check for the most recent hole or walk downrange to physically examine or change a severely damaged paper target, a major advantage when shooting the longer ranges. The park uses 247 KTS, or Kongsberg Targeting System, electronic targets, the most anywhere in the world. The electronic targets can handle calibers up to .338.
Developed by the Norwegian firm Kongsberg Mikroelektronikk AS, these targets electronically record where a bullet goes and reflect that position on a computer monitor next to the firing station. The target face consists of a semi self-healing rubberized material. Microelectronic sensors accurately detect where the bullet passes through the target and provide instant feedback to the shooter on the monitor. The system can even update shots live on the Internet for people all over the world who want to follow the action of a shooting match.
“The target has a sound chamber with microphones so that it hears the shot pass through it and triangulates to record the coordinates accurately,” Hall explains. “The electronic monitor beside every shooting station on the firing line gives the shooter a picture of the target. It shows where the shot hits and gives a score value. It even adds up the total and gives the group size almost instantly. In a match that would normally take all day, we can now complete it in two hours because nobody needs to go downrange to the target during a day of shooting. The targets can take about 10,000 hits before we have to do any maintenance on them.”
Range 1, the premier range at the Talladega Marksmanship Park, allows 54 shooters to fire at targets 200, 300 or 600 yards away. Individual targets can pop up at the desired range line for each station. One person might shoot at a target 200 yards away. The person on the right might shoot at 600 yards while another shooter on the left might fire at a 300-yard electronic target. Shooters control everything from the firing line.
The other rifle and pistol ranges, except for the multipurpose range, all use the same electronic targeting system. A 100-yard rifle range can accommodate 35 shooters at one time. The 25- and 50-yard pistol ranges can each allow 25 shooters at a time. The facility also includes space for 15 action pistol shooters. People can drive their cars directly to all the ranges, except the 600-yard range, but it’s just down the hill from the complex clubhouse.
For shotgun enthusiasts, the park offers trap and 5-stand stations for shooting clay targets. For shooting trap, all clay targets go away from the shooter and one round includes 25 targets. When shooting the 5-stand, shooters move through five different stations and fire from a covered stand. The 25 clays in one round pass the shooter from many different directions depending upon the station.
People may also take the sporting clays mile-long loop, which encloses 40 acres. For “shooting the loop,” gunners can rent golf carts from the park. With a golf cart, the 15-station sporting clays loop takes about 90 minutes to complete and the shooters try to hit 100 targets. Shotgun shooters can only use Number 7.5 or smaller bird shot at clays, but can shoot buckshot or slugs in the multipurpose range.
“Shotgun shooters can load up a card like a debit card and pay for the number of clays they want to shoot,” Hall says. “When they prepare to shoot a station, they put the card in the machine. The card keeps track of the number of clays remaining. If people want to shoot more clays, they just reload the card with more credits.”
With such a fine facility, the staff naturally wants to show it off. The park already hosted shooting matches, but will host a major national event from Dec. 8-13. Dubbed the Talladega 600, this event will feature many marksmanship competitions involving shooters from all over the country. Some events will feature shooting M1 Garand, M1903 Springfield and other vintage military rifles. Several firearms experts will also hold clinics on various topics. Pistol events will feature everything from .22 rimfires to Model 1911 .45 military and police matches as well as shotgun events.
“We are a state-of-the-art facility,” Hall emphasizes. “Many national shooting matches are held at Camp Perry, Ohio in the summer. We want to be able to hold some major events here in the winter. Anyone can compete in the Talladega 600. When we have matches lasting more than one day, competitors often bring their families and stay in the area. That creates a significant economic impact to the area. While a major event brings in many people, we also bring in a lot of people just for everyday shooting. Some people come from several states away just to shoot.”
When not shooting, park visitors might enjoy the 13,000-square foot clubhouse overlooking Range 1. During matches, people can keep up with the action live on monitors in the clubhouse. The park also rents out training rooms for meetings, luncheons or other events. The rooms can seat more than 100 people. However, event organizers must cater their food. The clubhouse does not sell any food or refreshments on the property.
While inside the clubhouse, visitors might also want to browse the store. Operated by Creedmoor Armory under contract with the CMP, the store sells a variety of firearms, ammunition, accessories and clothing items. On behalf of the CMP, the Creedmoor Store also sells vintage military rifles, such as M1 Garand rifles and carbines from World War II, M14s, M1903 Springfields and other weapons.
For more information on the Talladega Marksmanship Park, call Hall at 256-474-4408 or see thecmp.org/competitions/talladega-marksmanship-park.
Civilian Marksmanship Program promotes firearm safety, training
By John N. Felsher
With fresh memories of his combat experience during the Spanish-American War, President Theodore Roosevelt came up with a 20th century version of the Revolutionary War minutemen.
The 1903 War Department Appropriations Act created the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Under the program, civilians could obtain surplus military rifles and ammunition to practice their marksmanship skills. Roosevelt hoped these marksmen would use their skills if another war began.
Over the years, the emphasis shifted to teaching youths how to safely handle firearms. Today, the CMP works closely with the Boy Scouts, 4H clubs, Junior ROTC units and similar organizations. The CMP also conducts firearms safety classes for adults.
“The CMP mission is to promote firearm safety and marksmanship training with an emphasis on youth,” explains Sarah Hall, the Talladega Marksmanship Park operations supervisor. “Our vision is that every youth in America has the opportunity to participate in firearm safety and marksmanship programs.”
The Civilian Marksmanship Program remained under the U.S. Army until 1996 when CMP became a non-profit corporation. The CMP still receives surplus military weapons and ammunition, such as M1 Garand rifles from World War II, but no longer receives tax dollars. American citizens not legally prohibited from owning firearms, such as felons, may buy surplus rifles from the CMP staff in Anniston if they belong to a CMP-affiliated club. These rifle and ammunition sales help fund firearm safety, marksmanship training and shooting competition programs.
For more information, see thecmp.org.