For decades – like, four or five of them – the old municipal shooting range in Jamestown North Dakota was where people went to plink, to practice their skeet, or to polish their aim or, in my case thirty years ago this summer, learn how to shoot.
Now, when we say “Municipal Range”, that may conjure up images of grandeur. Or civilizaation. Not so with the Jamestown range, located by the Pipestem Reservoir, about seven miles north of town on US 281. There was a firing line with a couple of rough wooden stands and a log hot line. There were some target stands downrange, and, 300 or so yards out, a big berm that someone had bulldozed into place.
And for decades, it sufficed; most people followed the rules, because someone would teach them. One of my friends from the neighborhood, an Air Force veteran of sorts, hauled me out there when I was 22, lugging my Remington Nylon 66 that I’d just bought with my returned dorm key deposit ($50 at Gun and Reel Sports), and showed me the unbreakable rules, and started me plinking.
Some didn’t have the same benefit, or just lacked common sense; when we were downrange setting our targets once, a couple of moron kids with a 20-gauge shotgun started popping off at clay pigeons. They were off on the right side of the range, away from the rest of us (me and a couple of other guys who were off to my left, and also downrange with me). Yes, I remember what birdshot sounds like passing by 20 yards away from me. I also remember the sound of the guy who’d been to my left, apparently a service veteran, barreling across the field yelling like all the hounds of hell turned loose on the kid with the shotgun, who I’m going to bet has never made that mistake again.
And there the range sat, decade after decade, without any problems – until now:
Shooting sports enthusiasts will be without a range to shoot here after July 1. Bob Martin, manager of Pipestem Dam for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the rifle range located west of the dam will close on that date due to safety issues.
“The safety concerns started popping up eight years ago,” he said. “There have been additional buildings adjacent to the down-range area. Outbuildings there have three or four (bullet) holes in them”
Larry Kukla, secretary of the Jamestown United Sportsmen, said it was unfortunate the range had to close.
“It is a sad day, but for safety reasons we have to close the range,” he said.
Kukla – father of a classmate and a former teaching colleague of my dad’s – and his group did all the caretaking on the range for years and years. Which is how a lot of stuff got done back there; local groups taking care of things of local interest, without much need for governement.
But always, always, there’s gotta be idiots; even though they adjusted the range, nearby buildings and even the range’s safety signs kept turning up with bullet holes:
“Between careless, inexperienced and just being stupid,” Martin said, referring to the source or sources of the stray bullets. “If you are shooting at the proper targets, it’s impossible to shoot off the range. But you know they’re not just shooting at the targets by looking at the (damaged) signs.”
And so America’s real one percent – the one percent of people who can’t be trusted to use a public toilet without smearing something on the wall – as ruined everything for everyone else, yet again.