On target

Gun range gets revamped, sees new patrons
By Kyle Perrotti | Jan 03, 2017
Photo by: Kyle Perrotti Range officer Aaron Jones monitors the firing line, offering help wherever people may need it.

CANTON — The Wayne E. Smith Shooting Range, sometimes known as the Cold Mountain shooting range, used to be something like the O.K. Corral in 1881.

But now, after operating for about 11 years without any kind of direct supervision, thanks to a grant given to the N.C. Wildlife Commission by the National Rifle Association, Cold Mountain now has an experienced range officer to make sure things go smoothly. Because of the revenue generated by taxes on ammunition, Jones's new role will be a permanent addition.

Range Officer Aaron Jones is a lifelong shooter who spent four years in the Marine Corps, which included a deployment as part of an infantry unit to the tumultuous city of Fallujah, Iraq. But beyond being an expert in firearms and range control, Jones is looking to revamp the range, an effort which has already yielded results.

Since taking the place over, he has installed benches in each lane, as well as firing tubes and sound dampening equipment to reduce noise.

The range used to be under game warden protection, but it now falls under the education division of the Wildlife Commission. Jones said so far, with the exception of people being upset with the reduced hours of operation, he has received a warm reception.

“I think it’s been much appreciated,” he said.

Before Jones took over operations there in April, the hours were not set, but rather the place was open sunrise to sunset — hours which were frequently abused. Jones said sometimes people would go there late at night, drinking, partying and firing guns in every direction, hitting signs, the office building and even the range structure itself.

“Everything and anything on this property we have had shot before we had people monitoring the range,” Jones said. “There were lots of bullet holes in the roof, some you can still see.”

Even when people kept their bullets downrange, their targets varied wildly. Although now shooters can only use proper paper or steel targets, people used to shoot at everything from car doors to commodes.

There is a deer herd nearby that has become used to the sound of gunshots, something that has emboldened many of the animals to come nearer to the range than is safe. If a deer wonders near the range, shooters are supposed to not fire their weapons until it is clear. However, as one doe came near the range with its yearlings, a man intentionally killed it, an act which is illegal and often met with jail time.

Additionally, Jones noted several times that people fired while others were downrange collecting their targets. And one time, Jones — who shot at the range regularly prior to monitoring it— said once a group using tracers ignited the hemp carpet laid over the backstop.

“Who knows what may have happened here that never got reported,” Jones said.

Larry Robinson, who has shot at the range for the last eight years and is a seasoned competition shooter, said beyond being dangerous, the range was unkempt.

“I’ve hauled off pickup-loads of trash, just so I could shoot some mornings,” he said.

Jones wants to assure people that those issues are in the past. Not only will his presence help reduce irresponsible behavior, but a newly installed 24-hour CCTV system will help catch people who try to use the range after hours.

Robinson said that although people used to shoot all kinds of guns up there they shouldn’t have been, since April, he hasn’t seen or even heard of any issues.

“Having a range officer up here got rid of the riff-raff,” he said. “It’s the best thing the’ve ever done.”

And now that things have been cleaned up and the range has been made safer, Jones said people are coming from all over the region — not just Haywood County – to shoot. He added that every day, he sees a consistent flow of shooters and on Saturdays, long lines of people waiting to shoot are as consistent as the echoing booms of rifles and the smell of gunpowder.

“People are coming back that quit coming a while ago,” he said. “And now people are bringing their kids and families to teach them how to shoot.”

Jones is looking to make further improvements to the range. In addition to potentially widening it, he would like to install a 25-yard pistol range on the premises, which would free up more room on the existing 100-yard range for rifle practice.

The range, which is located 8252 Lake Logan Road in Canton, is free for the public and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Shooters are allowed to bring any gun they want, except automatic weapons, .50 calibers and tracers.