The province’s premier long-distance shooting range has been closed indefinitely.
Chilliwack’s General Vokes Range, up Chilliwack Lake Road, had to be closed at the beginning of the year due to safety issues, according to The B.C. Rifle Association (BCRA).
That group informed its members earlier this month about the closure in a notice on its website, stating it “will have a major impact on our members from the Lower Mainland Region.”
However, BCRA president Peter Dobell says they are finding ways to work around the closure, by locating different venues for practices and events they would normally hold at Vokes. The BCRA is the only civilian user group of the range, he adds. The other users are the Department of National Defence (DND), who leases the 1284-hectare site through a ten-year learse, and other government agencies including the RCMP.
Dobell said he strongly believes the range will open sometime again, but has no idea how long the closure will last.
“I’m not privy to those decisions,” Dobell says. “It’s their bailiwick and they would be the ones to say. It is the premier range in B.C. as far as a range goes… and it is fairly substantial loss for not having it.”
The Progress sent queries to the DND and the Ministry of Forests for confirmation on the closure.
The Ministry of Forests confirms that the closure is because DND learned an additional space was required around Vokes Range and the Slesse Demolition area for a safety buffer. A new application is currently under review, the ministry has confirmed.
It’s very likely that the closure is also affecting government groups who use the range. It’s the only 600m range with a concrete bunker in the field. It’s unique location allows for loud noises that aren’t possible in other locations, and it’s length is important for long-distance rifle shooting and other activities that require annual re-certification and regular practice.
Dobell underlines, that as the sole civilian user group, they will patiently wait it out as the government finds a solution.
“We’re not mad because we can’t use it, because part of our mandate is basically safety in shooting,” Dobell says. “And if the range is closed for a safety reason, well, how can you get mad at that? We’re just a user on the range, and we realize DND is doing everything they can to bring it back into operation.”
As for the BCRA, they are looking at multiple ways of still eking out the shooting season. General Vokes Range is home to many annual events, including the BC Target Rifle Championships. It’s also home to a handful of national and international long-range competitive shooters, who will be forced to look for new ranges to practice on in order to practice for this year’s competitions.
But that will be a challenge, Dobell says, as there aren’t any ranges that are long enough in the province.
Ryan Steacy is a former military member who used to practice at Vokes Range when in service. He lives in Mission but was still shooting there as a member of the BCRA until it closed, and says the range is normally busy every weekend with events and practice times.
“Vokes Range is the only 600 m range in B.C. that has a butt, an undercover area where people can hold the targets,” he says.
Steacy said military units may have to travel to a location on Vancouver Island in the meantime — and that militia units have to shoot at least once a year to qualify.
He added that the military did not publish a release about the closure, and that the news traveled by word of mouth.
General Vokes Range is named after Retired Major General Chris Vokes, who served from 1925 to 1959, and was dedicated as a new military firing range by a federal defense minister in November 1977. (Progress Archives, Nov. 30, 1977).