By Sean Ryan
Brian Rudy has heard enough.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, with a brief respite during the gun deer hunting season, Rudy hears the shotgun blasts, rifle cracks and pistol claps float along the breeze to his home. Rudy is a neighbor of the McMiller Shooting Range in Eagle, and he’s taking a stand against what he argues is the state’s failure to keep a 15-year-old promise.
“The noise is absolutely just terrible coming from that range,” he said. “The noise is absolutely, completely unnecessary.”
Range neighbors have long complained about the noise, and the state is searching for ways to muffle the muzzles, said Paul Sandgren, state Department of Natural Resources forest superintendent at the Kettle Moraine State Forest. It’s the DNR’s fulfillment of a promise made in 1994 to try to minimize the noise whenever there is a project at the range, he said.
The DNR needs to replace the hutches around the shooting areas and is studying the noise as part of the planning.
“This I would classify as an old issue,” Sandgren said, “and I think it was an issue when the range was constructed back in 1974.”
But there is only so much that can be done to silence the racket of an outdoor range, said Mike Hankard, president of Verona-based sound engineer Hankard Environmental, which is the DNR’s consultant on the project.
“We researched what’s being done in other ranges of the country, and I’ve never seen anything that goes this far,” he said of the DNR’s latest plans to reduce the noise.
Rudy, who worked as an electrician for 30 years before retiring seven years ago, lives about 2,400 feet from one of the many ranges at the McMiller course. He said he has become a student of gauging the way sound travels and has boxes of files about the history of the range and measurements he has taken of the gunshot noise on his property. The problem is the wind, Rudy said. The breeze lifts the sounds of gunshots and carries them over the range’s berms and walls and onto his property.
Hankard agreed and said the DNR is considering construction of three-walled hutches around the areas where the guns are fired. He said it’s the most effective way to prevent the wind from picking up the sounds.
Existing sheds at the range were not designed and insulated to absorb sound, but the new designs for the range will soak up some of the noise, Hankard said. Gunshots are measured at about 50 decibels, he said, and insulated sheds would catch between 5 and 15 decibels.
But, he said, the sheds can’t stop sound from escaping in front of shooters.
“There is not much you can do in that direction,” Hankard said. “You can only have three sides.”
The DNR has other options, such as requiring gun muzzles or covering the ground with gravel or sand to absorb sound.
“You could put a roof over the whole thing,” Hankard said, “but then it’s not an outdoor range anymore.”
Hankard on Wednesday will present to range neighbors his noise-reduction plans at a meeting in the town of Eagle.
Rudy, who is skeptical of the project, said he will be there to pepper planners with questions about whether the work will live up to the DNR’s promise.
“Am I bitter?” he said. “Yeah.”