Outdoorsmen and women from around the Rim Country are penning letters to Santa asking for the newest in firearms, whether it’s a single shot. 22 or a high-tech, custom-built rifle.
Those lucky enough to be on the receiving end of one of these much-anticipated gifts will undoubtedly be looking for a safe place to test fire and sight the rifle or pistol.
That’s where the Tonto Rim Sports Club and Jim Jones Range has been filling the bill for decades.
The range, located just south of Payson in the Tonto National Forest, is the perfect location to improve marksmanship and operate firearms safely.
The range is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day to members and their guests.
The covered, general-purpose range is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday.
During that time, a volunteer Range Safety Officer (RSO) is on duty to assist shooters.
Other portions of the range are open to members on Saturday, but closed to the public.
Visitors will find five separate ranges, including a 100-yard public range for rifles, pistols and shotguns.
Longtime TRSC member Charlie Thompson, also the club’s public relations liaison, calls that well-used range the most popular because it is a multi-purpose shooting facility.
Adjacent is the high-powered rifle range, where target frames are set up at 100, 200 and 300 yards.
Any caliber rifles may be used on that range, where last fall the TRSC hosted two “sight-ins” for hunters to calibrate their firearms.
For those with handguns, there are pistol ranges with six shooting bays. No rifles are allowed, except for match shooting.
Also, there are two archery ranges — one for target shooting and another designed for 14 archery.
No firearms are allowed on either of those ranges.
Since the construction of the field archery range a few years ago, it’s become a popular spot for 3D and Clout shoots.
Last summer, 26 adults and 15 children turned out for a shoot hosted by TRSC member Les Conner.
Among those to wow onlookers with his feats was Chance Randall. In the Clout shoot, the teenager scored a perfect bull’s eye from 95 yards away.
Conner called it “a great shot.”
The field shoots are unique in that archers walk an outdoor course firing at McKenzie life-sized foam targets of bear, deer and mountain lions.
The target range has been used for the National Archery in the Schools program and another youth after-school program co-sponsored by Arizona Game and Fish and the town parks and recreation department.
In 2007, the Arizona State Archery Championships were held at the range.
TRSC has also held a variety of other programs at the Jim Jones Range, including the Women’s Step Outside Weekend, annual open houses/expos, Cowboy Action Shooting competition and the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Academy.
The open houses/expos have drawn upwards of 300 visitors, who come to fire .22 rifles free of charge and observe a number of demonstrations including the explosion of a diversionary device, sometimes called “Flash-Bang” by the Payson Police SWAT team.
The Cowboy Action Shooting, one of the country’s fastest-growing sports, is also a big draw, partly because it involves fashionably dressed cowboys toting single action pistols and lever action rifles reminiscent of the Old West.
At the range, the competitions are hosted by the Tonto Rim Marauders.
In 2006, a popular draw was the newly constructed metal silhouette targets set up from 40 to 100 yards.
“The young kids, women and first-time shooters like those type of targets, Thompson said. “If you hit them, there’s a instant gratification because they give off a ‘clank’ sound.”
The targets are silhouettes of a chicken, javelina and ram.
TRSC also hosts high-powered rifle matches, basic pistol instruction, junior rifle instruction and hunter safety classes at the range.
The Jim Jones Shooting Range has served as a training site for some of TRSC’s most accomplished marksmen.
Last fall, Pat Taylor shot his way to a gold medal and a national record in the Black Powder Cartridge Rife National Championships.
In addition to Taylor being a TRSC member, he is on the Arizona Target Rifle team.
Also last fall, Lee Bumbalow, Wayne Liezeit and Smokey Slaughter shot their way to gold medal finishes in the Arizona Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette Championship matches held near Phoenix.
Other TRSC members have also gone on to state and national fame after building their skills at the Jim Jones Range.
The sports club was founded in 1979 with the expressed purpose of encouraging organized and safe shooting among Rim Country sportsmen.
Members are taught safe handling and proper care of firearms, and have the opportunity to improve marksmanship on the range.
The club’s mission statement says, “It is a further purpose of the club to foster the development of those characteristics of honesty, good fellowship, self-discipline, team play and self-reliance. These are the essentials of good sportsmanship and the foundation of patriotism.”
Membership is open to all adult citizens of the United States.
The club produces a monthly newsletter, and members are encouraged to join the National Rifle Association.
Thompson calls the next few days an ideal time of year to join because the $50 fee includes a full year of membership.
“It (membership) goes from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of each year,” he said.
Membership applications are available online at: http://www.tontorim sportsclub.com or at several local businesses including Walmart and the chamber of commerce.
The Northern Gila County Shooting Range, now known as the Jim Jones Shooting Range, began operating in 1981 under a U.S. Forest Service Special Use Permit.
Since its inception, the range has been developed, maintained and operated by TRSC.
The facility was renamed more than a decade ago in honor of Jones, the late Gila County supervisor who helped secure the permit and design the facility.
The range is located 2.2 miles south of the Mazatzal Casino off the Beeline Highway. To reach it, turn left onto a gravel road and drive 1.5 miles to the entrance.
For more information, call Thompson at (928) 468-1521.