Long-held rural values at odds in South Dakota gun range debate

Effort to build a huge gun range and shooting complex north of Rapid City has created divisiveness and hard feelings

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Joe Norman stands outside his ranch home in western Meade County on a quiet day in April. Norman is fighting a state government plan to open a large gun range across the road from his property that he says will bring near-constant sounds of gunfire into his rural lifestyle.
Bart Pfankuch / South Dakota News Watch

RAPID CITY — An effort to build a huge gun range and shooting complex north of Rapid City has created divisiveness and hard feelings between two of South Dakota’s most iconic populations.

The values run deep and histories stretch long among people in the two groups – those devoted to hunting and shooting, and rugged ranchers who have run cattle on the same rangelands for generations – but they are at odds on the gun range issue.

Other players include a well-heeled business owner who’s a frequent donor to the governor and the dominant Republican Party and a family that runs a rural Bible ranch for children.

It has all the makings of an epic battle that has raged for more than two years and will likely cause consternation that lingers long after the first rifle round is fired.

“We have a big stake in this,” said rancher Joe Norman, who lives closest to the proposed gun range site. “This is about our quality of life, and our livelihood.”


So far, no dirt has been turned on the proposed South Dakota Shooting Sports Complex.

It would include 175 shooting lanes and be the largest gun range in the state and possibly the nation. The project was proposed by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department with strong support by Gov. Kristi Noem.

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Joe Norman and his family have 700 cows on the 7,600-acre Meade County ranch that has been in his family since the 1880s, but which is now facing the prospect of a large state-run gun range and shooting complex just across a rural road from his property line.
Bart Pfankuch / South Dakota News Watch

Supporters say the complex will fill a great need for a formal shooting range in the Rapid City area, where hunting and shooting is popular. They say it will provide a safe, well-managed venue for children and adults to learn hunter safety, practice safe shooting skills and help uphold the state’s legacy of gun ownership. Backers say the range will also provide a training site for military and law enforcement and generate millions in local economic revenue.

But neighbors say the project will bring unwanted noise, traffic, pollution and possibly crime to their remote, rural region. A few opponents say the project is being driven by political concerns and is being pushed by people seeking to profit on the backs of longtime rural South Dakota residents.

GFP hoped to break ground in May 2023 and finish construction in 2024. GFP has purchased 400 acres for the site, generated an environmental impact statement, received permission from the Meade County Commission and raised nearly $3 million in private funds to build the range.

The Legislature in 2022 rejected a bill to provide $2.5 million in state funding. And in late April 2023, the GFP was forced to pause the project when its call for bids attracted only one offer – a $19 million bid by Scull Construction Service of Rapid City that was more than double the $9 million estimated cost.

GFP has rejected the bid and will seek new bids in the coming months, a spokesman told News Watch.

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A flowing stretch of Elk Creek runs not far to the south of the proposed gun range and shooting complex proposed for Meade County 12 miles north of Rapid City.
Bart Pfankuch / South Dakota News Watch

As designed on paper, the shooting complex would be built on 400 acres of open prairie east of Elk Vale Road in Meade County, about 12 miles north of a fast-growing section of Rapid City. The complex would include three separate firing ranges up to 1,200 yards long, with 175 individual shooting bays and a hunter education building set amid a plaza with parking and restroom facilities.


GFP Director Kevin Robling told a legislative committee in 2022 there is a shortage of safe, managed shooting ranges in the Rapid City area.

“We’re a pro-gun state, and gun owners want a safe, secure, controlled environment to shoot,” Robling testified.

The complex would also provide training opportunities for law enforcement and military personnel from the National Guard and nearby Ellsworth Air Force base, he said.

Robling said the range plan includes sound-muffling features and will have berms to ensure no bullets leave the site.

But the project and the way it has evolved have angered a handful of neighboring ranch families.

Norman said the range could attract dozens of people firing guns for eight hours a day or more all year round.

Such a large, loud shooting facility doesn’t belong in an area where families raise their kids, run their ranches and will eventually retire in solitude, Norman said.

“My wife and I aren’t against a gun range, we’re just against the location,” said Norman, whose home is about a mile from the shooting site.


Larry Reinhold and his family run the Lonetree Ranch and operate the Rainbow Bible Ranch about three miles north of the shooting range location.

The Reinhold family has run the Bible ranch for children ages 6 to 18 for more than 40 years. “The quiet, the beauty and openness, that’s what we live here for, and that’s what we provide to the kids, and why would we want to impede that?”

Norman questions the motivations of Noem and Rapid City businessman Jim Scull.

Noem, he said, wants the massive range to use as part of her platform to build a national profile among conservatives and to potentially seek higher office.

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Larry and Robin Reinhold run the Rainbow Bible Ranch in Meade County and say that the proposed gun range may affect the dozens of children who attend their camps each year.
Photo Courtesy Reinhold family

Her spokesman, Ian Fury, told News Watch that the governor’s support for the range is not related to politics. Instead, he said, it is part of her longstanding efforts to support gun ownership and the culture and history of shooting sports in South Dakota.

In March 2023, Scull Construction submitted the only bid to build the range, though it was rejected.

Scull and his family are frequent donors to GOP political caused and candidates, including Noem.

Scull testified before a state Senate committee in 2022 that he supports the project because it would provide a safe place to shoot for dozens of disadvantaged children who participate in the annual South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures, a charitable outdoors group Scull helped found and continues to operate.


"We have to have a place for these kids to go,” he said.

— This article was produced by South Dakota News Watch, a non-profit journalism organization located online at

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