For eight long years, the Nantucket Hunting Association has been gunning for a shooting range to be built off Shadbush Road out by the airport. It’s been an uphill battle, but the project finally may be in their sights, possibly breaking ground as early as next spring. While the specifics of its construction are still being determined, the facility’s basic design calls for three open-air firing ranges, five trap-shooting stations, an archery range, as well as basic facilities for the shooters.
Considering the country’s polarity on the issue of firearms, it’s no surprise that some members of the community have gone slightly ballistic in opposing the range, particularly its would-be neighbors on nearby Wigwam Road. Their two major concerns were that of safety and noise, but negotiations have since resulted in amending the lease and building plans to ensure a quieter and safer abutter. “We’ve gone from opposing the range, to saying: ‘Let’s work together on this, so that it’s done in a way that it doesn’t affect us,’” says Dan Saevitz, a resident of Wigwam Road and spokesman for the neighborhood.
Shooting and hunting is a Nantucket pastime, and it doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. “I think there is a misconception about the percentage of people that are shooting here,” says Nantucket Hunting Association president, Steven Holdgate. “They think it’s only one percent of the population that shoots. It’s more like ten percent or more.” And that percentage is not made up entirely of men, as some might think. Women are one of the fastest growing segments in shooting.
Just ask Maria Carey, a physician’s assistant at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital and competitive target shooter. “Women are much less traditional than they used to be,” she says. “I think shooting is very empowering and gives us a sense of accomplishment because it has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. Three or four women together shooting is a real camaraderie-building experience.” Seeing Carey fuss over firearms with local female shooters like Susan Whitlock, Allyson Silverthorne, Jo Perkins, and Michele Letlaire, it’s easy to see her point. If they weren’t passing around rhinestone-bedazzled Smith & Wessons and .44 magnums, the women could almost seem to be at a Tupperware party. Almost.
Perhaps even more interesting is Carey’s perspective on firearms as someone in the medical profession. “I used to work in very big inner city ERs, so I was exposed to a lot of gun violence in my previous years before coming to Nantucket,” she says. “Shooting has changed my intimidation factor to one of curiosity and enthusiasm. I think you gain a better appreciation for what the danger is, but I also think you gain appreciation to be in awe of them and treat them with absolute respect.”
Not all firearm enthusiasts shoot to kill wildlife. Some just shoot to shoot, namely the Nantucket Shooters. Club chairman and year-round islander, Paige Buckley, leads the Nantucket Shooters off-island to try their hand in USPSA shooting competitions. If you’ve never seen one of these competitions, picture an obstacle course with a man or woman shuffling from station to station, unloading a hand cannon on plywood targets. The event seems a cross between a SWAT training exercise and a summer barbeque. If the range does indeed get built, it’s entirely feasible that similar competitions could be held on Nantucket.
Beyond recreational hunters and shooters, the range will also be made available to the Nantucket Police Department and the US Coast Guard, which has earned the Nantucket Hunting Association’s cause some influential support. “This facility will allow us to safely conduct our quarterly weapons qualifications, [and] allow our firearms instructors to conduct classroom training,” says Nantucket Police Chief, Bill Pittman. “Nantucket needs a place where residents and visitors who enjoy the shooting sports can safely engage in their pastime.”
Attend a Nantucket Hunting Association meeting, and you’ll be quick to see Pitman’s point. The association’s monthly meeting used to take place in the Kennedy Bunker out in Tom Nevers, but since their lease ran out, the group has convened in the rear garage of Homer Ray’s Refrigeration Repair Shop on Amelia Drive. “This is not a good old boys club where we sit and guzzle beer and shoot cans all day long, or drive around at night jacking deer under the moonlight,” says Luke Natsis, the Hunting Association’s vice president. Natsis is sitting in a lawn chair surrounded by ten other members of the association. The scene is a far cry from some of the regal hunting clubs off-island, but that all stands to change if the range gets built.
The debate over firearms is likely to continue for years and years to come in this country—and Nantucket will no be exception. All politics aside, the topic of safety is paramount to the discussion. So while a gun range might not be music to everybody’s ears, hopefully it will provide an increased level of safety, and perhaps a venue to become better educated on the topic. Ultimately, shooting can be viewed as a sport, and the Nantucket Hunting Association is aiming to provide its players with a facility not unlike a golf course for golfers. Except on this course, instead of yelling “Four!” they’ll be yelling, “Pull!”