Gun range suddenly a tourist destination
While most people have certainly heard of agritourism, ecotourism and even necrotourism (visiting famous cemeteries and gravesites), most may not have heard of so-called “gun tourism.”
That may be changing, thanks to one local indoor firing range.
“We’ve been turning into quite a destination for visitors that come in to the county,” said Jule Morrow, owner of Mountain Range, a retail firearms shop and firing range on Palmer Road just outside Waynesville. “A lot of people come from places where they don’t have good safe places to shoot, or the environment is not as gun-friendly as North Carolina is.”
A series of news stories — including one in Forbes detailing Japanese tourists flying to Hawaii simply to pay for the opportunity to fire a gun as well as a Las Vegas operation that will let customers fire a machine gun from a helicopter in flight for $1,600 — demonstrate the popularity of the phenomenon. But what’s happening at Mountain Range is far from that.
“We get a lot of foreign tourists from Europe, where you have no options,” Morrow said.
When they arrive, said Morrow, they enter one of the cleanest, safest ranges in the country.
“It helps people feel secure when they’re shooting,” he said.
The firing booths are wider than most ranges, and lined with two inches of a Kevlar-DuPont product that in turn covers five-eighths inch armor plating.
“A .308 armor-piercing round will not go through it into another booth with any fatal velocity left,” said Morrow. “That’s well above what the industry standard is. When you’re in that booth, you’re completely encased, ceiling and both sides.”
The approaches to the six rifle and eight pistol lanes, all of which are 30 yards long, are also laid out with safety in mind.
“From the benches to the firing line, there’s a lot of space. Most places it’s more compact,” Morrow said. “The places that had problems with discharges were places where they were really crowded. The environment we’re working towards is providing a very good place to shoot. No bullets leave this building except in a recycling bucket.”
Safety and cleanliness are industry watchwords; Morrow’s been conscious of casting a small footprint in the rural Francis Farm community after stirring up a barrage of complaints when he announced his plans to build the range back in 2015.
Worries about aesthetics, acoustics and attracting a criminal element to the rural community have so far proven unfounded after what was the latest test of Haywood County’s non-existent zoning policy.
“We hadn’t had a call [since opening in late 2016],” Morrow said. “Sheriff hadn’t had to come out here one time.”
To keep it that way, Morrow said he took pains to ensure the environmental impact of the facility would be as low as possible.
“We filter the air coming in, filter the pollen out, and then at high-speed it’s pushed through the range where it’s pulling on the other end,” he said. “We take that and filter it before the air is returned to the environment.”
As to the environmental hazards of the range, located just below the crest of a small hill in a pastoral valley, they’re practically nonexistent.
“We recycle everything we possibly can, the cardboard from the targets, the lead and copper from the bullets is all trapped,” he said. “We recycle all the brass. So for the industry, we’re actually pretty efficient and non-polluting.”
For the community — as well as customers from more restrictive jurisdictions — education is among the most important products sold at Mountain Range.
The concealed carry curriculum, for example, exceeds state-mandated minimums by almost half.
“You have to have eight hours of classroom instruction, of that two hours minimum has to be on state law,” Morrow said. “The rest of it is basic care, cleaning, handling and shooting. You’ve got to be fairly proficient with it, and safe. Safe is number one. The number one thing we teach more than anything else is safety.”
Morrow’s desire to provide a safe, clean environment in which to learn and practice means he goes above and beyond what’s required, for residents and visitors alike.
“What we do is about four hours of the eight in learning the laws, and then you have your range qualification time,” he said. “We require 50 shots. Most everybody else is 30. That’s the state minimum.”