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story.lead_photo.caption Mark Wyatt, who owned and operated restaurants in the Batesville area for 39 years, is the new range manager at the Paul H. “Rocky” Willmuth Shooting Sports Complex in Batesville. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

Mark Wyatt grew up hunting and fishing with his family, and after retiring from the restaurant business, he is using his knowledge of shooting in another way.

Wyatt, 63, is the new range manager at the Paul H. “Rocky” Willmuth Shooting Sports Complex in Batesville. He is replacing Bob Copeland of Romance, who is training Wyatt. Wyatt started the position Jan. 1.

“I was in the restaurant business for 39 years, and my father was in the restaurant business forever,” Wyatt said. “We had Kelley’s Restaurant and Kelley Wyatt’s Restaurant. That is what I did for 39 years; then I retired. I had to have a place to go.

“It was too much to stand on the concrete floor all day. I was going to hunt and fish and goof off, but I wasn’t happy doing that.”

Wyatt said his wife, Missy, who is a Batesville area hairdresser, had heard about the opening at the shooting complex, and he thought it might be something he’d like.

“It sounded like something for me because I love to shoot,” he said. “This opportunity came up, and I went out three or four times to visit with Bob Copeland and his wife, Phyllis. I still call him the manager because I’m in training.”

Copeland, who is leaving the range because of health considerations, said Wyatt will be good once he learns the process of running the shooting range.

“He’ll do fine when when we get through with the training,” Copeland said. “He’s got to learn the machinery, how everything runs, how the tournaments work and the bookkeeping that is involved, and the daily ledgers that have to be kept and the operation in itself.”

Copeland said Wyatt is energetic.

“He’s an avid shooter and is really ambitious to learn and become part of the range,” Copeland said. “He’s a great guy. He’s got a great personality. He’s an all-around good guy.”

The Rocky Willmuth Shooting Sports Complex opened in 2011 and was created through funding and cooperation between several agencies and individuals, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the city of Batesville, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Independence County and private donors.

Wyatt said the complex has a 10-month season, which started Feb. 1 and runs through November each year, and the range is open five days a week.

“December and January, we’re open on Sundays from 1-5 p.m., weather permitting,” he said. “It’s kind of a vacation time and a time to get prepped up for the next season.

“We’re getting ready to hit it hard. We’ve got a full schedule coming up.”

The complex has two archery fields that are free for children to use, Wyatt said.

“They can use the fields. … We don’t have any equipment for them to use,” he said. “They can bring their own equipment.”

The complex also has five trap fields and three skeet fields.

“Trap shooting is an up-and-coming thing,” Wyatt said. “A lot of schools have trap teams. Batesville has 60 students enrolled in its junior and senior trap program. We give out a scholarship for graduating high school seniors who shoot at the range. They can apply for it.”

Wyatt said he enjoys working with the youth in the area.

“I’m looking forward more to working with the kids than anything else,” he said. “When those kids bust those clays, … I can sit there all day and watch them do that. I see them go out and shoot and shoot and shoot, and if they break one, they are over the moon. It’s a skill set that you have to learn. It’s a fun thing.”

Wyatt said the opening weekend of the season was a good one.

“Since we opened for real, we’ve had quite a few people out there,” he said. “I think Sunday (Feb. 3), we had the parking lot full. It just keeps hopping.”

Wyatt has been around guns and hunting all his life.

“That was just our way of life,” he said. “Deer season was incredible. When my grandfather would take me quail hunting, that was special. He had dogs. This is a family thing.”

Wyatt said he was a small child when his grandfather took him hunting.

“I grew up hunting,” he said. “That’s where it came about. I love all guns. I love pheasant hunting, quail hunting and dove hunting.”

Wyatt is a 1973 graduate of Batesville High School. Following graduation, he attended Arkansas College, now Lyon College, in Batesville for a semester before leaving school. He drove a milk truck for six years before getting into the restaurant business.

“I washed dishes and everything for my daddy when I was a kid,” he said. “I had been around it all my life.”

Wyatt opened his first restaurant in 1978.

“Daddy got out of the business in 1978 and started selling equipment,” Wyatt said. “He knew all about that. This restaurant came open outside of town, and I made an offer on it. I went to the bank and borrowed $125,000. I was probably 23. I opened the restaurant up. Daddy came out to help me get it going.”

Wyatt’s father wanted to just work for him.

“I said, ‘We’ll split it and be partners,’” Wyatt said.

The original Kelley’s Restaurant opened in 1934, and it was owned by Wyatt’s great uncle Jeff Kelley.

“When Daddy got out of the Army, he went to work with Jeff,” Wyatt said, adding that his father left the restaurant and worked in several other cities out of state, including Union City, Tennessee.

“We were there when Jeff called and had made a deal on a restaurant in Batesville and wanted him to go in halves,” said Wyatt, who added that Kelley and his father would be partners if his father would run the restaurant for five years.

“That was about 1965,” Wyatt said. “I washed dishes and hung around there. The restaurant baby-sat me.”

At one point, Wyatt opened a restaurant that was previously known as Scenic View.

“I went up and leased it and ran it as Wyatt’s Scenic View Restaurant,” he said. “When Daddy was ready to retire, we combined the two restaurants and called it Kelley Wyatt’s until the end.”

When Wyatt retired, he closed the restaurant and liquidated the equipment and stock.

“It’s a hard business,” he said, adding that he does not miss owning a restaurant. “You get up early in the morning. It’s every day.

“Now, I still cook. I cook at the house.”

Wyatt said he’s got some ideas for the upcoming season at the shooting complex that he would like to implement, time permitting. They include a father-son and father-daughter shoot.

“We’re also going to have a women’s-only clinic with women instructors and try to bring some new people into this,” he said. “My wife is excited about this.”

He said that’s probably all the activities he will try to add this year.

“I hope we can get them done this year,” Wyatt said. “I want to take care of the things they’ve already got on the books and do it right. I’m working for the patrons. I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m looking forward to it.”

While he doesn’t fish and hunt as much as he did in the past, being out at the shooting complex gives him a purpose, he said.

“A man needs to get up in the morning and go some place, accomplish something so that he feels good,” Wyatt said. “Before I went out there, it was like, ‘What have I got to do today?’ or ‘What do I need to do today?’ I was looking for something to do.

“If I didn’t do anything, I’d sit here and watch television all day, like I wasted a whole day.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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