The road winds up the hillside, making several tight curves before running past the county landfill, then climbs higher and takes a few more turns before ending at the Summit County shooting range.
Shooters face downrange, into the carved out hillside, to aim at the paper targets attached to tall wooden stands, but they only need to turn around to take in a breathtaking mountain view of lofty peaks.
The fact that the range is outside, not to mention with stunning views, is one reason that it draws so many visitors from outside of Summit County, particularly from the Front Range, said Summit Range Association president Brian Denison.
The Summit Range Association is a local nonprofit group made up entirely of volunteers who work to maintain the range. The group is fairly new, less than a year old, but already it has had a large hand in recent improvements.
Previously, things were a lot less organized, with very little policing of rules and even less cleaning efforts. The site was littered with trash and objects brought up to shoot at — televisions, monitors, refrigerators, cans and bottles.
“The first thing we did was clean it up,” Denison said, once the Summit Range Association got involved.
Now, only paper targets or spinning metal targets called “gongs” are allowed on the 50- and 100-yard ranges. Clay is only allowed on the shotgun range. This keeps cleanup simple and manageable for SRA volunteers, as well as preserves the professional look of the site, which more and more visitors are coming to use.
The range is open to the public and free to use. Free paper targets are often available in boxes on the range sidelines, as are free ear plugs and duct tape for putting up targets. Several target stands are at each range, and the shotgun range has several trap machines for public use, although the SRA encourages people to bring their own stands and clay throwers if they have them. A small box next to the target suggests donations, but they are by no means necessary, Denison said.
“It’s absolutely not required. This is a free range and that’s the way everybody wants it to stay.”
Also new at the range since the SRA’s inception are range safety officers. Each officer is an unpaid volunteer, wears a neon yellow vest and is trained by NRA-certified members in gun safety.
“They’ve really taken it to another level. They are really organized, really efficient,” said Summit County sheriff John Minor, about the Summit Range Association. “They’re friendly, warm and they’re also very conscientious of safety and keeping that range clean.”
Range safety officers will let people know when a range is “hot” — meaning guns are being fired — or “cold,” when it is safe to put up and replace targets. They keep an eye on safe gun practices and are available to answer questions and offer tips and advice, particularly to any young shooters.
“I love to see the next couple generations coming up and doing it,” Denison said. He learned about gun safety from his father, a police officer and later a federal agent, after receiving his first gun at age 12. “That’s something I’ve carried with me my whole life.”
While anyone can come up and use the range during its open hours, often groups will call to book a time to shoot. Recently, it was a group of teenaged girls from Oklahoma City, out on vacation. They used the range under the watchful eyes of the range safety officers, some of them firing a gun for the first time in their life.
“It was great seeing 50 girls with big broad smiles and stories to tell,” said Brad Deats, chief range safety officer with the SRA.
As many as 300 people may visit the range during the week, Denison estimates, while that number can more than double over the weekends. During Fourth of July this year, for example, Denison recalled that safety range officers were working around the clock to keep up with the high level of use.
Because the range is free to use, the SRA maintains it with help from user donations as well as grants from the Friends of the NRA and money from recycling the brass casings the group sweeps up off the ground.
Recently, the SRA was awarded a $100,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which Denison said will result in a handful of improvements in the future. Such additions may include restroom facilities (currently there is a Porta-Potty, but no electricity or running water), re-pouring concrete, overhead covering and a traphouse for the shotgun range, among others.
“I think what’s going to happen now is you’re going to see this range go from good to great,” Minor said, “and these folks (at the SRA) are the driving force behind that.”