- J. Adrian Stanley
- Manager Greg Lent is proud of the range at Whistling Pines Gun Club.
I know a place where the sidewalk ends ... and where the gunfire begins.
Follow U.S. 24 east to Marksheffel Road, and you'll stumble upon the area's only private indoor shooting range, the swanky Whistling Pines Gun Club. Go farther east, six miles down Colorado 94, and you'll find the more outdoorsman-friendly Izaak Walton Range.
Just a few more miles, and you'll run into the property of a guy known as "Dragon Man," who runs several shooting ranges open to the public.
Dragon Man will even let you blow up cars on special occasions.
Most of Colorado Springs' shooting ranges are clustered in this area, for a reason. There isn't too much going on. Plains stretch out, their rich yellow grass a sole offering in late summer. Here and there, you'll see a tractor. The city dump is nearby.
Each shooting range claims to never have had an accident.
Charming in his busybody way, Dragon Man wipes grease from his hands with a rag inside his motorcycle shop, and offers that boisterous greeting so common with folks who grew up in the Big Apple, a welcome both warm and alarming.
This middle-aged husband and father is, in a sense, typical. And then he's not.
"I'm the most armed person in Colorado," says Dragon Man (aka Mel Bernstein), his eyes hungry for a reaction.
Take a tour of his 220-acre lot, and the gun shop with walls, floors and cupboards armed to the teeth. There is enough ammo here to take over a neighborhood. But this is just the beginning.
There's a warehouse museum holding millions in treasure, from Jeeps to a torpedo to antiaircraft missiles. He also has a paintball course, a dirt-bike track and three shooting ranges.
For 27 years, Dragon Man has been buying, selling and building on this property. He's piled dirt into berms that block the ranges in on four sides, creating an earthen safety net that bullets rarely escape. Those rare projectiles that jump the berms end up flying harmlessly into the dump.
Dragon Man rakes his ranges to keep them free of trash and shells. Every year, he scrapes the bullet-packed surface dirt off his mounds and sends it to the dump.
He points off in the distance to a flag-waving range master.
"He's the first one to get here and the last one to leave," Dragon Man says.
A day's shooting at Dragon Man's will run you $8 to $10. That's cheap for a managed range, and Dragon Man gets plenty of customers. He says he might get even more if Rampart Range Road shooting area closed, but that's not why he wants it shut down.
Ranges, he says, need supervision.
The most armed man in Colorado a guy who makes headlines every year for blowing up cars with machine guns; a man who, at this very moment, is within an arm's length of 30 guns says he won't go to Rampart.
It's just too dangerous.
Izaak Walton Range
Monica Gwinner doesn't bat an eye, doesn't twitch the cigarette that hangs in her lips.
Swish, bam, crunch! Swish, bam, crunch!
It's the standard racket. Clay pigeons rarely have good days at Izaak Walton Range.
The Izaak Walton League of America has ranges across the country. At the local site, people mostly shoot skeet, trap and sporting clays, but Walton's also features a members-only pistol and rifle range.
Most of the folks who come are experienced, including Pikes Peak Gun Club members. Nonmembers can shoot a round of skeet or trap for $5.50, or shoot sporting clays for $6.50.
Gwinner, who manages the range, says she rarely has a safety problem with anyone.
"Everybody's kind of a range master here," she says, motioning to the workers scuttling about.
After a while, it's easier to understand how Gwinner ignores the gunshots. The sun is out. The prairie stretches wide and far. Parents and kids come in and out of the office. Old men just hang out.
The range is clean. Every five years, they scrape up the land here and rid the place of bullets. Staffers regularly collect shells and trash left behind.
Gwinner says she went up to Rampart once, and it gave her the creeps. She doesn't like the idea of people drinking and using firearms.
"They need to get control over it," she says.
Robin Speiser, a regular, suggests that the city pays for that. After all, he says, if the range is closed, shooters will find other, less predictable places to fire their guns.
"[The city] might as well bite the bullet and pay for it," he says.
Whistling Pines Gun Club is the only shooting club in town that makes you feel like sitting down and sipping an espresso.
It's also the only shooting club that can accommodate this desire. Heck, you can even drink your yuppie brew while reclining on a leather sofa by the fireplace and checking your e-mail wirelessly.
Manager Greg Lent says the place goes for this "country-club atmosphere."
"Some people choose not to play golf," he says.
The people who come here are often upper-class, and Lent says they're often interested in guns as a way to protect their considerable assets.
Whistling Pines allows members and their guests only. The club charges a one-time $350 fee, and $25 monthly dues. Members get discounts for the club's open-to-the-public gun shop and gunsmith services, and they have access to rental guns and gun-related courses. The range is big on education, with a variety of courses offered, including gun safety and self-defense.
In the armored, soundproof, indoor range, shooters are separated in bulletproof stalls. A computer lets each shooter position a target at a chosen distance.
Lead bullets and copper shells are recycled; an advanced circulation and filtration system moves air away from shooters.
Lent doesn't think he'll see any new customers if Rampart closes; this is a different kind of gig. He calls Rampart "an accident waiting to happen." It could be better with supervision, he says, if the Forest Service could afford forest rangers advanced enough in rank to be allowed to carry a gun.
From a safety standpoint, he says, it would be worthwhile.
"At least if they keep Rampart open, it will keep it contained."