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Stay off the range

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Hay River (Jan 23/06) - In more than 20 years of existence, there has never been an accident at the Hay River Shooting Range. And Ray Gonzales wants to keep it that way.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Ray Gonzales, the president of the Hay River Shooting Club, stands next to one of the new signs warning of danger on the club's shooting range. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Gonzales, the president of the Hay River Shooting Club, initiated more safety precautions after he spotted snowmobilers on the range just before Christmas.

"Out of the blue, a group of snowmobilers were coming down the centre of the range," Gonzales says of the Dec. 18 incident.

He waved them down and asked what they were doing there.

"They thought they were on the Trans Canada Trail," he says.

Gonzales says there were five snowmobiles, followed 15 minutes later by two more.

"I asked them to leave, politely."

The club president had been preparing to fire a pistol when the snowmobiles arrived. Afterwards, he packed up his gear and left.

The incident sparked moves by the club and the Town of Hay River to keep snowmobilers off the privately-leased range.

On Jan. 17, the first of four new large warning signs was erected by the town.

Since shooting occurs in only a section of the range, most people don't realize it actually stretches 1.6 km long and 800 metres wide, Gonzales says.

"That is our safety zone. That's why it's so big."

One 50-km snowmobile trail from Enterprise to Hay River passes by the gun range and was marked with four or five signs left over from a Trans Canada Trail relay in 2000. The relay was taking Arctic water to Ottawa for the national trail's official opening.

Greg Stevens, the senior administrative officer with the Town of Hay River, says the signs referring to the Trans Canada Trail have now been taken down.

"I think the signage was kind of confusing," Stevens says.

The snowmobile trails never became an issue in the past because the range is not normally used by shooters in the winter. However, the recent mild winter has allowed the 50 club members to be on the range more often.

"Regardless if the weather is mild or not, this is a shooting range," Gonzales says. "If you enter this area, you're putting yourself in potential harm."

Rifles and pistols are fired at the range, which also has trap shooting.

Gonzales says he was aware people sometimes wandered onto the range, both in summer and winter.

There have always been signs on the range, warning against trespassing, advising trespassers they would be prosecuted, and indicating the private range was for club members only.

Gonzales says, in his discussions with the town, he listed three options for dealing with the safety issue - building a fence around the range, public education and closing the range. He says the only realistic option is public education. A fence would cost about $200,000, while closing the range would just move shooters into the bush and create more danger.

However, Gonzales says a fence has not been entirely ruled out, if the public ignores warnings to stay off the range.

Coun. Dean McMeekin, an avid snowmobiler, says he and Gonzales inspected the range on Jan. 15 to see the several ways snowmobilers are getting in.

McMeekin explains the back access is on a trail that runs between Hay River and Enterprise. It cuts behind the containment berm on the range.

"It's a trail that's been there for years and years," he says, noting he has used the trail and never knew it crossed the shooting range, which is about 10 km from downtown Hay River. At a town council meeting in early January, Coun. Ron Cook suggested the solution might be to create a trail around the range.

"That's the only way we're going to control that in such a manner that people won't go through there."