A new shooting range opened at Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County on Nov. 4, 2016. Located at 8717 Shaw Highway, Rocky Point, N.C., the new range is just north of the WRC's Holly Shelter Depot.

It took Paragon Building Corp. 11 months to complete the facility, which has a 200-yard rifle range, 50-yard pistol range and 3-D archery range. The entrance road has several 3-D archery target lanes. Funding for the $1.5-million project came from the state Wildlife Endowment Fund and federal Pittman-Robertson funds.

Cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony were several dignitaries, including Commissioner Demetrice Keith, Commissioner David Piepermeyer, Commission Chairman Fred McCoy, Dist. 19 Rep. Ted Davis and WRC legislative liaison, Ashton Godwin.

Last year, the WRC prohibited target shooting at Holly Shelter, Stone's Creek, Angola Bay and Cape Fear River Wetlands game lands because uncontrolled target shooting was beginning to interfere with other game land uses. Once the WRC opens a shooting range, it has become a standard practice to close nearby game lands to target shooting.

WRC Engineering Section Chief Gary Gardner said he was happy to see the range completed. At one time, North Carolina was in last place among the southeastern states in the number of public shooting ranges.

"In 2012, we had no public ranges in North Carolina," he said. "But, with the Holly Shelter Range opening, we now have 10 ranges. We operate all of our ranges in partnerships with local governments that provide the staff after we build the ranges. Our goal is having a public range within a 35- to 40-minute drive for anyone in the state. Without Pender County staff, this range could not have happened.”

Dee Turner, Pender County Parks Manager, said the range has been her main priority the last few months.

"I worked closely with Steve Bailey, the WRC engineer who designed the facilities," she said. "We will operate the range just like a county park. It is a great asset to this county because it will attract shooters from all over.”

The shooters and visiting dignitaries selected Cooper Brown from among their ranks to take the first shot. The 11-year-old lives in Burgaw, and was brought to the range by his grandfather, Pete Brown.

"I shot five times at a target with my Ruger Blackout .22 rifle," Cooper Brown said. "I think I hit it every time.”

"We found the information about the grand opening online," Pete Brown said. "We thought we would come to see it. I usually sight-in my deer rifles once a year. At the other places where we have permission to shoot, people won't let us sight-in our rifles during deer season. Now that this new range is only 20 miles away, we may shoot more often."

Pender County hired nine part-time range safety officers. Three RSO's are on duty anytime the range is open, with one at the office, one at the pistol range and one at the rifle range. Shooters are encouraged to bring their own paper targets and staplers or pins to attach them up to the target stands. Pender County staff will also sell some targets at the office.

Before using the range, all shooters must watch an orientation video once per year. The fee for shooting all day is $5. The range is open 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Wednesday - Saturday and 11:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Sunday.