Energy & Environment

Bursts of gunfire collide with other uses on 825-acre property in Windsor

Michael Quinn, of Windsor, points to the bank where people used to set up targets that they would shoot from across the pond at the Windsor Grasslands Wildlife Management Area on Tuesday, Nov. 15. Target shooting was prohibited after the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department acquired the property. Photo by Alex Driehaus/Valley News/Report For America

Editor’s note: This story by Frances Mize first appeared in the Valley News on Nov. 20.

State officials are warning against illegal target shooting in the Windsor Grasslands Wildlife Management Area.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department acquired the property in 2017, and has managed the 825 acres, accessible from Marton Road, for wildlife habitat since then. The site draws a number of human visitors too.

“It’s become a place where a lot of people like to go for a variety of different recreational activities,” Chris Bernier, manager of the Windsor Grasslands, said. The area is a popular destination for bird watchers, hikers, and even hunters. But target practice, which typically involves more rounds fired in a quicker succession, requires additional infrastructure to mitigate safety and environmental hazards.

Windsor resident John McGovern, who has lived adjacent to the property for over 20 years, said that people are “shooting off their firearms in every direction and at any time of the day.”

“It doesn’t happen all the time but it has been happening frequently enough, so that the people using the area for walking and birdwatching, which is definitely increasing, are concerned,” McGovern said.

Beginning at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vermonters have turned to the state’s parks and management areas in greater numbers than ever before. “There are more ears out there,” Springfield Game Warden David Lockerby said. “People hear target practicing and have gotten alarmed.”

The Fish & Wildlife Department promotes hunting in wildlife management areas, “but you can’t go up there and shoot to shoot,” Lockerby said.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife prohibits target practice at any location on their properties apart from a designated shooting range. Bernier, the Windsor Grasslands manager, directs would-be target shooters in the wildlife management area to the nearby Hammond Cove shooting range, a 15-minute drive away, located at the end of Ferry Road in Hartland.

The Windsor Grasslands Wildlife Management Area, an 826-acre property managed by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department in Windsor. The WMA is open to activities like birding, hiking and hunting, but target shooting, which requires additional safety infrastructure, is prohibited. Photo by Alex Driehaus/Valley News/Report For America

Hammond Cove underwent a $30,000 renovation to increase security and reduce gunfire after its 2013 opening elicited uproar from neighbors across the river in Plainfield. The renovations accompanied a new series of rules requiring hunting licenses for some range-users and instituting a “one round per second” cap on shooting frequency. 

But those rules frustrated some Hammond Cove visitors, who found them too restrictive. 

The Windsor Grasslands property, formerly a part of the Southeast State Correctional Facility, was acquired by Fish & Wildlife when the state announced plans to liquidate some of the facility’s land holdings. Target practice on the land, which had long been called “Windsor Prison Farm” by locals, is a tradition that appears hard to shake. Despite warnings and tickets from game wardens, the practice persists.

“People have been target practicing up there for as long as the property’s been open,” Bernier said. “To the extent that it has been going on for generations prior to our ownership we understand, and we’re trying to make people aware of this change.”

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