MSU Hits the Bull's-Eye on Accessible Shooting Sports

December 13th, 2011

MaryKate Carter

MSU is distinct in many ways, but one of the most unique special features is nearly unheard of on a college campus: a shooting range. The John and Marnie Demmer Shooting Sports Education and Training Center on Jolly road offers MSU students and the greater East Lansing community a safe way to enjoy recreational and competetive shooting sports.  

The center was constructed with accessibility in mind. It is wheelchair accessible, and the sports themselves are adaptable for various disability accommodations. With support from the RCPD, Demmer has purchased and installed multiple laser sensing targets for people with low vision to use. Those with mobility impairments may enjoy using adapted crossbows.

RCPD Director Michael Hudson envisions the center as an opportunity for those with disabilities to break stereotypes and become pioneers in competetive shooting sports.

"This should be a showcase for an accessible university," Hudson said.

"This is an opportunity for individuals who are typically exluded from shooting sports to get involved and to learn a new recreational skill while building community."

The RCPD, with support from the Emerging Opportunities Endowment, hosted seven students with mobility and sensory disabilities at the Demmer Center for an afternoon of fun and learning new skills on Friday, Dec. 2. The students learned to shoot air pellet guns, .22 caliber rifles and handguns, recurve bows and a crossbow.

Some participants had been hunting for years and others were shooting for the first time. The Demmer center staff gave a safety briefing before each activity and accommodated individual needs. They can also accommodate various interests with two firearm ranges, one indoor archery range and four outdoor archery ranges, including one designed exclusively for children.

Shelley, a senior geography major, used to hunt and fish when she was growing up, but as a person with a mobility impairment, she was curious to learn about adaptive shooting sports.

Shelley and Holly practice with Recurve Bows.

Shelley, Geography Senior, and Holly, Marketing Junior, practice with Recurve bows. 

"It will be interesting to see how this all works and how much longer I can keep shooting," Shelley said at the beginning of the outing.

By the end of the day, Shelley had practiced with each type of equipment available at the center. Shooting sports are well within the realm of possibility for many students with disabilities. Whether it is using a tripod to shoot a rifle, having more opportunities to sit down or using audio feedback targets, there are ways to make each sport available to individuals with a wide range of challenges.

Jennifer Curtis, an agricultural industries sophomore, has a lot of hunting experience with rifles, but she learned new skills at the center.

"My favorite part today was working with the crossbow," Curtis said.

With no prior experience at all, each student who tried the crossbow hit the center, or at least very near the center of the target. The Demmer Center is ready and willing to help people with all levels of previous experience have a great time and excell in a new sport.

Jordyn Castor, a freshman engineering major who is blind, said her favorite part of the day was shooting a .22 caliber pistol.

Not many people expect individuals who are blind to become talented in shooting, but Castor's target has seven bullet holes in it. Eric Jickling, Demmer staff member, coached Castor to better aim her gun, but she is responsible for every shot, including the one that hit the center of the target.

In the future, people with visual impairments like Jordyn should be able to shoot with even more independence. Demmer and the RCPD have teamed up to search for targets that give audio feedback with varying tones to tell the shooter how close a gun's aim is to the center bull's-eye.

Robbert Gaddie, Finance Junior, checks out his targets after shooting a .22 caliber pistol.

Robert Gaddie, Finance Junior, checks out his targets after shooting a .22 caliber pistol. 

"We've found an opportunity for growth," Michael Hudson said.

"If we cannot find a suitable target, we will work with our partners in the College of Engineering to develop a new adaptive technology."

Michigan State University was once Michigan Agricultural College. Our academics have expanded to make MSU a leader in many various fields, but the great outdoors and recreational sports will continue to be distinctive of Spartan life. The Demmer Shooting Center is proof of MSU's continued passion for outdoor recreation, but it also demonstrates MSU's commitment to innovation and accessibility.  Shooting sports are a Michigan tradition, and MSU makes sure the opportunity to participate remains open to all Spartans.