UNICOI — Unicoi resident Jimmy Hinshaw said his home’s proximity to the Scioto Shooting Range has been a cause for some concern since he moved there around two years ago. But after an incident he said occurred last week, Hinshaw’s level of concern has been elevated.
HInshaw said on May 7, his one-year-old cat, Grey, was found badly injured.
“We walked out on the front porch, there’s blood all over my deck,” Hinshaw said. “We discovered it was coming from my cat who was missing half of his paw. I figured he may have got run over or whatnot.”
Hinshaw said his cat was taken to the Unicoi Animal Hospital and, after X-rays were taken, bullet fragments were found in the cat’s injured paw. Hinshaw, who lives just across the road from the Scioto Shooting Range, also said he heard shooting at the range on the morning that his cat was found injured. He feels the bullet that injured his pet originated from the nearby range.
“Once the animal got shot that doesn’t cross the road, I mean, either it was shot in my yard or at the edge of the road, he doesn’t go to the range,” he said. “That’s when it really got real that bullets are coming this way. Then when you walk over to the range and you can see the holes in the garbage can from where they enter and where they pass through, it’s headed directly toward my house.”
While the federally-operated range predates the residences located across from it, and he said the once-secluded range provided an ideal location for marksmen to practice, Hinshaw said several homes are now in the “line of fire” and that he and several neighbors feel possible abuse of the range must be addressed.
But the threat of injury to those living near the range isn’t Hinshaw’s only concern. He said signs and trash receptacles at the site bear bullet holes from range abusers and spent shell casings litter the range property. He also said locals have complained about explosions coming from the range, and that the remnants of the legal explosive Tannerite are present on the grounds.
Hinshaw also said animals are sometimes left abandoned at the range, adding that he found Grey wondering near the grounds before taking the cat in.
“It’s always a concern,” Hinshaw said. “You kind of get used to the gun range. It’s kind of like living next to train tracks. It’s not a big deal. The concern that we all have is when things are exploding, when animals are getting shot, when animals are getting abandoned, we all get kind of ticked off about that.
“I’d say chances are good everybody on that road is a gun owner. I mean, chances are pretty good that they are. None of us are anti-gun. We’re just anti-violence and destruction.”
Furthering the concerns shared by nearby residents is the lack of a gate into the range or attendant there, Hinshaw said. While shooting is only supposed to occur from “sunrise to sunset” per the range’s rules, Hinshaw said shooting goes on at all hours.
“Nine times out of 10, you don’t notice,” Hinshaw said. “Like I said, it’s like living next to a train. You get used to it. It’s not that big a distraction. But when it is a distraction, it’s potentially lethal.”
The Scioto Shooting Range is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. District Ranger Terry Bowerman said the shooting range has been located in the Scioto area for several decades, and the site where the homes are located was also once Forest Service property. Several years back, late Congressman Jimmy Quillen arranged a land exchange, and the property became private, Bowerman said. The homes were subsequently constructed there.
“That’s what we always say first when people complain about that, that people moved in knowing that shooting range had been there,” Bowerman said.
Bowerman said the Forest Service has made efforts to alleviate some concerns associated with the range. He said berm work was completed several years back to address noise issues.
“We get complaints occasionally for the noise,” Bowerman said. “We’ve never had any complaints like this where there was any kind of injury to either a person or an animal. We’ve never had any complaints that I know of about that, but we do get complaints occasionally about the noise.”
While Bowerman said he was familiar with the matter involving Hinshaw’s cat, he said he is unfamiliar with the circumstances, such as the cat’s location relative to the range at the time of its injury.
Bowerman said there is no gate at the range, as this would require someone to open and close it daily, which the Forest Service does not have staff to do. However, Bowerman said technicians regularly visit the range for cleanup and will repair any vandalism onsite. He also said local law enforcement regularly visits the range to make sure users are abiding by the rules.
Like Bowerman, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said his department has received noise complaints in the past due to the range. He said the sheriff’s department “co-ops” with the Forest Service to patrol the range property and other Forest Service areas. He also said his department has received no reports of explosions from the gun range.
“The people that we’ve come in contact with up there, they’ve been real nice,” Hensley said. “They always cooperate with us. If we asked them to leave, they would leave. It’s an asset to the community to have that shooting range. It’s in a good area up there, and all the targets are in an area where there’s no danger.”
Bowerman said law enforcement with the Forest Service is currently looking into complaints of explosions at the range. He said this investigation could lead to the banning of substances such as Tannerite on the grounds. “We’ve heard something about that, and our law enforcement is taking care of working on that issue,” Bowerman said. “I don’t know what the results of that will be.”
Bowerman said other issues alleged by Hinshaw — including the abandonment of animals, vandalism and litter — are problems across the National Forest and are not confined to Forest Service gun ranges.
But because the Forest Service does receive noise complaints on the Scioto range, Bowerman said officials have discussed its relocation in the past. However, he said this could prove difficult, as the northern portion of the Cherokee National Forest is fragmented and finding another location without homes or other neighbors nearby may be unlikely.
Closure of the range has also been a previous topic of discussion for Forest Service officials, Bowerman said. But, he said this is unlikely to occur.
“We’re not really considering closing it because it does serve a very useful purpose to the public to allow the public a place to safely shoot,” he said.
Hinshaw said he does not want to see the range closed but instead either relocated or more heavily regulated.
“I’m not anti-gun,” Hinshaw said. “I’m quite the opposite. I’m a huge supporter. I have several friends who are enthusiasts, and they come over to the range all the time because I live right there. I do think the range needs to exist, but it needs relocated. When it was put there, it was a great spot. ... I think now that the area has progressed and got housed, now it’s just not appropriate.”