Jennifer Potter of Shelby jumped at the chance to do some free shooting Tuesday at the grand opening in Cleveland County of North Carolina’s largest public shooting range.
Potter fired a loaner shotgun at orange clay discs whizzing toward a grassy berm at the Foothills Public Shooting Complex. As a target shooter, she liked what she saw at the complex, about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte.
Three 50-yard pistol ranges, two skeet/trap and pistol ranges, a 250-yard rifle range and a 3-D archery range.
“It gives us a place to learn how to shoot safely and efficiently,” said Potter, who came by herself to check out the complex for her family. Since she turned 41 Tuesday, it was a kind of celebration. “This is what I wanted to do on my birthday.”
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Some 500 people showed up for the open house for the state’s fifth public outdoors range that, according to the National Rifle Association, is also the largest in the Southeast. The $3.5-million project is a collaboration between Cleveland County, which provided 82 acres plus office and concession facilities, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which provided $1.9 million. The money came from interest earned on the commission’s endowment fund.
“Hunters need a place to go and shoot and practice,” said Gordon Myers, the commission’s executive director, one of the speakers.
The wildlife commission counted about 225,000 N.C. hunters in 2015; the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported 577,000 N.C. target shooters in 2011, its most recent data.
Johnny Hutchins, a Cleveland County commissioner who came up with the idea for a shooting range seven years ago, believes it will become an economic driver for the county.
“I’m hoping we can attract a national archery and a national pistol match in the next 12 months,” he said. “We will see start seeing local matches coming up pretty quick.”
All told, 60 people can shoot at once from multiple stands. Safety officers oversee the ranges. The complex has an office and classroom, concession building and restrooms. Cost is $10 a day for adults; $5 for children 17 and under; seniors, veterans and law enforcement officers also pay $5. The public on Wednesday began bringing their own firearms for shooting.
“Man, this is nice,” said Larry Harrington of Claremont in Catawba County, waiting to shoot at the skeet range. Visitors shot for free Tuesday with provided firearms. “It would be a good place for new shooters to learn to shoot.”
The wildlife commission in the past two years has paid for the construction or renovation of three of the four other public ranges, including Flintlock Valley in the Uwharrie National Forest east of Charlotte; a sixth is to open in two weeks in Pender County near Wilmington. The ranges help funnel hunters seeking target practice away from state game lands, where safety and noise concerns have come from adjacent homeowners.
The Foothills complex will also provide a welcome venue for sport shooters like Paul Eeds, 80, of Shelby.
“I haven’t done any shooting in a good while because I didn’t have any place convenient to go,” Eeds said. “I think it’ll be a big plus for the county.”
Spring through October, the complex will operate 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday. From November through February, the complex will be open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday. The range will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.