Shooting range grows popular Sport: Enthusiasts from the region travel to Carroll County to use the two-year-old facility.

October 29, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

As a boy, Russell Calder first shot a rifle in countryside trash heaps and stone quarries, popping soda cans and handmade targets propped up with old telephone books.

But nowadays, firing a gun in the suburbs is a sure way to startle neighbors and get a visit from the police, says the 34-year-old ex-Marine from Baltimore.

So this hunting season Calder is perfecting his aim at Carroll County's shooting range, where for $7 a day he can unload as many rounds as he likes with no fear of neighbors or police. He can leave the telephone books and soda cans at home.

"Everything's much easier now," he said. And safer, range officials say.

Opened two years ago over budget and under attack from neighbors, the public firing range -- the only county-owned facility of its kind in the state -- has developed into one of the most popular ranges in the region as gun enthusiasts look for a peaceful place to pursue their sport.

About 40 to 50 people a day -- men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children -- drive down the gravel road that winds through the county landfill to reach the range, a rough wooden outpost set against a steep embankment. More arrive on weekends, when the 10 firing lanes are so crowded that range officials pass out numbers.

"It has taken off like you wouldn't believe," said Jim Cole, a white-bearded range officer who oversees the facility. "The days of shooting out your back door into the trees is over."

The county has earmarked $74,000 to add five 50-yard firing lanes to the facility. These lanes will help accommodate the range's mainstay -- recreational shooters such as Calvin Colajezzi.

The 52-year-old Hampstead resident, who is studying to be a minister, never took an interest in hunting. But peering through the scope of his .22-caliber rifle and squeezing the trigger is a source of relief.

"It relaxes me," he said.

Like Calder, Colajezzi once pumped lead into old milk jugs near his home.

"I used to go out the door and across the street to shoot in the woods," Colajezzi said. "You can't do that anymore."

A growing number of small-business owners who want to learn how to handle a gun are visiting the range.

"Doctors, lawyers, small-business owners, anybody who handles money," Cole said.

Others, like Dan Blucher, a member of the Baltimore County Police Department who fires antique weapons, visit the firing range as a history lesson.

"The appeal is that some of these guns are 50 to 60 years old and they are just as effective as modern weapons," said Blucher, who was using a selection of World War II rifles on a recent afternoon.

"This is the gun that won the war," he said.

Built with funds from the county, state Department of Natural Resources, the Carroll County Sportsmen's Association and the National Rifle Association, the $60,000 range opened in November 1996 at double the anticipated cost after designers added safety and noise-reducing features.

It was named in honor of Clair D. "Hap" Baker, a member of the county sportsmen's association who lobbied against gun-control laws. Baker died in 1997.

Complaints

No sooner had the first gun been fired than residents of nearby Tannery Manor community complained, concerned about noise and safety. County commissioners voted to spend $12,000 to muffle the noise of gunfire.

In the two years since its troubled start, the range has grown, drawing visitors from Virginia, Pennsylvania and as far south in Maryland as Charles County. It has started to make a modest profit for the county as well.

Noise, however, remains a problem for neighbors, even after the construction of sound barriers.

"You can't tell any difference in the sound," said Marsha Raines, whose Naugahyde Road home is about 1 mile from the range. "I would like to see the money spent on sound improvements," she said.

In the last four years, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources awarded $165,000 in grants to improve private and public ranges throughout the state, including Carroll's. The ranges are in demand as hunters and casual shooters find they are not welcome in other areas, said Bob Beyer, chairman of the DNR's shooting range committee.

"Hunters are under a lot of pressure," he said. "They know they are being watched. It's important for them to be as proficient as they can so they can do it cleanly and quickly."

"It" is the kill, or harvest of deer.

Most hunting injuries do not occur from shootings, but from hunters falling out of tree stands, he said.

On a recent weekday afternoon, a bright red flag snapped in the wind above the range, a signal that the range is "hot" with gunfire.

Precision

Cole, who wears an equally bright red baseball cap with "range officer" written in white block lettering, ran the outfit with military precision.

He snapped at shooters who didn't have the required eye protection and earplugs, and caught another shooter handling a rifle during a "cease-fire," a break when shooters replace targets. "Safety. Safety. Safety," he repeated like a rapid-fire pistol. "That's a part of my life."

Cole said he knows many people do not support hunters or recreational shooters. So making sure the range operates without mishaps is of upmost importance, he said.

Baffling, constructed with lumber 2 inches thick and filled with stone, lines the entire 200 yards of the range, making it impossible for stray bullets to escape, he said.

Inside the range office, a giant check for $1,000 from the NRA is propped up against the wall. Money for more improvements, he said.

But many people, even his son, take no interest in firearms. "A lot of people from the city, when they hear a gunshot, they think someone's life is in danger," he said.

"It's hard to say why some people shoot and why they don't. You have to go back to our heritage," he said. "I go back to the Revolutionary War. All my kinfolk had to live off the land."

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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