Former Roundup reporter Erin Turner had never fired a handgun or rifle until she accepted an invitation to visit the Jim Jones Shooting Range.
The invite, which was issued in the summer of 2007, persuaded Turner to somewhat reluctantly visit the range — located at the Tonto Rim Sports Club — south of Payson.
There, Turner was officially introduced to handling firearms in a safe and professional manner.
TRSC Public Relations Officer Charlie Thompson, who escorted Turner and this reporter during the visit, brought along both revolvers and rifles for Turner to test fire.
Although Turner was a rookie on the range, she showed remarkable poise and marksmanship.
Later, she wrote about her experience, “While I was more than nervous, the whole experience was quite liberating.”
She also reaped some benefits from the training session, “My tattered target provides further proof that I am not one to be trifled with, which is an added bonus to the whole experience.”
During the tour, Thompson also showed off to the two reporters several new improvements to the range including six shooting bays, a 300-yard range, area covers and a field archery range, complete with 3-D targets.
Today, those facilities are not limited for use by just TRSC members.
Almost every law enforcement agency in Central Arizona including the Department of Public Safety, Payson Police Department, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S Forest Service, National Guard and the FBI use the range. Boy Scouts also frequent the facility.
Most recently, the Payson Parks and Recreation Department used the site for youth after-school archery programs.
Public use is allowed on Saturdays for a fee of $5.
If there has been a metamorphous of sorts at TRSC since it was founded in 1979, it is the people it attracts.
Thompson is the first to admit that in the early days, the club drew only a handful of select shooters and hunters.
But the past few years the emphasis has been to attract first-timers, novices and families.
“We want to get more families and kids out,” Thompson said. “That’s a goal of ours.”
In an effort to appeal to families, the TRSC governing board began in 2007 hosting annual summer shooting expos and open houses.
The first two were overwhelming successes attracting more than 200 curious residents including many families, just those Thompson had hoped to target.
“As our visitors left the first two, they told us they hoped this would remain an annual event as the whole family had a great time,” said Thompson.
The 2009 edition of the TRSC Expo is on the calendar for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 7.
“A myriad of activities will include demonstrations of recreation shooting in archery, cowboys, practical and tactical, black powder, small bore and large bore, as well as silhouette target events,” Thompson said. “Of course, a highlight is always the demonstration by Payson SWAT and the youth archery program.”
Following the demonstrations, visitors will have the opportunity — just as Turner did — to target shoot with both pistols and rifles.
Also vendors, outfitters and longtime TRSC members will be at the range to answer questions.
Among those TRSC members who might be on hand to lend a few hints is Rim Country rifleman Pat Taylor. In the fall of 2007, Taylor shot his way to a gold medal and a national record at the Black Powder Cartridge Rifle National Championships in Raton, N.M.
Participating in the prone shooting event, Taylor carded a score of 582-22X, which which represented a national mark.
He was also awarded the gold medal for being the high-point senior shooter.
In addition to his gold and national mark, Taylor was a member of the Arizona Target Rifle team that earned the gold medal at Raton.
For those who experience a few hunger pangs during the upcoming TRSC expo, Susie Q BBQ will be set up and cooking her tasty vittles.
Most importantly, newcomers might leave the event with newfound respect and skills, just as Turner did.
“Learning to handle a gun may be one of the more important tasks I’ve ever undertaken, because I conquered my fears in the process,” she said.
The event is free and open to the public.
The sports club was founded in 1979 with an 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.”
The club produces a monthly newsletter and hosts a number of organized monthly competitions.
Membership in the TRSC is open to any U.S. citizen, and the yearly dues are $50.
However, those who choose to join at the upcoming expo will receive a unique deal.
“Special memberships will be available, only at the open house, for $25 for the remainder of 2009,” Thompson said.
Members are encouraged to join the National Rifle Association.
The Northern Gila County 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 the “Jim Jones Shooting Range” about a decade ago, in honor of 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. The route will be clearly marked with signs.
For more information, call Thompson at (928) 468-1521.