All year long, hunters and others driving Shaw Road in Pender County have been watching the digging, grading and shaping of some massive mounds on the east side, just to the north of the Holly Shelter Game Land entrance and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Depot.
On April 19, Tommy Hughes, NCWRC Coastal Ecoregion Supervisor, visited the site to speak with Keith Morgan, Project Superintendent with Paragon Building Corp., the company doing the site work.
“Our goal is to have our new Holly Shelter Shooting Range open by mid-May,” Hughes said. “It is an outstanding amenity to our game lands and the result of a lot of effort, especially the site selection process.”
While under construction the NCWRC lands and water access section owned and managed the site work. The completed range will be turned over the agency’s marketing and hunter education section for management and maintenance.
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The initial schedule calls for the range to open 40 hours per week, with full-time staffing by a range safety officer furnished by Pender County. The range will be closed two days a week for maintenance. Hughes said Pender County is finalizing legal issues regarding its participation and shooters would be required to pay a small fee to use the range to help maintain it.
The range has a rifle range and a pistol range. The rifle range has 12 covered firing benches with target supports at intervals and a maximum range of 200 yards. The pistol range has a similar target support system out to 100 yards.
“Each range has a 12-foot high by 116-foot long backstop and lower berms on each side,” Morgan said. “We started work on Jan. 11, 2016 and will finish by May 11, despite the change order for an additional 3-D archery range.”
The 3-D archery range is along the entrance road on either side. Signs with numbers showing the future locations of 3-D animal targets were already in place. Hughes said the 3-D archery range was in the design process from the beginning, but money for it was finalized until after the construction had begun on the firearms ranges.
“The total cost is almost $1 million, with the funding coming from Pittman-Robertson,” he said. “We put down 25 percent of the cost and the feds put up the rest in matching funds. We are also building a new storage shed and heated equipment maintenance shed at the Holly Shelter Depot that cost about $250,000, funded by NCWRC.”
The impetus for the range goes back to hunter recruitment and retention seminars that the NCWRC hosted around a decade ago. Hunters who moved to North Carolina from other states said they stopped hunting because they could no longer find a place to sight-in or practice with hunting rifles.
A resulting change in the state’s hunting regulations ended a general prohibition against target shooting without landowner permission on game lands and that led to a situation that was getting out of control. Unsupervised shooting at Holly Shelter and Stone’s Creek game lands was becoming unsafe and trees were impacted. As a result, last fall, target shooting was banned on game lands within driving distance of the new range, including Holly Shelter, Angola Bay, Stone’s Creek and Cape Fear River Wetlands. Target shooting had already ended at Sutton Lake Game Land by request of the property owner.
“We end target shooting on game lands within a certain distance once a dedicated range becomes available,” Hughes said. “This range underwent an extensive site investigation, including sound studies for impact on nearby residences and finding appropriate soils with adequate drainage. We will probably use the retention pond behind the berms for a non-game species habitat project. The range will have portable toilets and a rest pavilion. It will have a mowed buffer zone and a buffer area reforested with longleaf pines.”
Hughes said the problems with locating a shooting range are not quite what the public would think. It is not just a case of pushing up some soil backstops and calling it a place to shoot.
The Holly Shelter site was selected because it has extensive pocosins, which are impenetrable swamps, beyond the backstops, an additional safety feature despite the high soil mounds and the rooflines that come down low enough to prevent bullets from going over the backstop without striking the roof. The range is also located within a 30-mile radius of high human populations at Wilmington, Jacksonville and Burgaw.
“We had to put the range where it would not adversely impact people,” he said. “But, we also had to put it where there are enough people to provide a demand. We anticipate this will be a high-use facility. The range has 60 parking spaces and concrete pads walkways to make it ADA-accessible.”
Morgan is a hunter and shooter. He is looking forward to using the new range.
“They gave me a set of drawings and a patch of woods and I turned the 2-D into 3-D range,” Morgan said. “We really enjoy working with the state, especially Wildlife Resources. We also did some recent upgrade work at Snow’s Cut Boating Access Area.”