Derek Jones has a dream. For the past three years, in addition to his job making cameras for military drones, he has been meeting designers, planners, politicians, regulators, architects and investors to build Canada’s snazziest shooting club.
Jones has a tentative agreement to buy 1,350 acres (5.5 square km) of land about 90 minutes northeast of Toronto where he plans to develop Premier Shooting Center. He wants to start with a 25-m handgun range and 100-m rifle range, followed by a 1,000-m rifle range, with a system to set up and retrieve targets at every firing point so people can shoot at their own pace. He plans a clubhouse, gear shop and facilities to host classes, courses and competitions. Crucial for Jones is supporting military veterans and having shooting bays equipped for people with injured or missing arms and legs.
“We’re going to offer something that is not available,” Jones, 52, said in an interview in Toronto on July 13. “I’m not providing a shooting range, I’m providing an experience.”
Jones, a native of Wales, knows he faces challenges and skeptics. He needs money; the land; studies of ecosystems, noise and transportation; approvals from the town council and regulators including Ontario’s Chief Firearms Office; plus detailed designs and work plans. Jones said his biggest hurdle is getting municipal permission, and he’s meeting with officials about how to satisfy their conditions.
A month ago, he had hoped the club would open in late summer 2017. As of this week, he said it looks more like early 2018. He began a newsletter two weeks ago to provide updates on the project.
“It could be never,” said Jones. “It depends on the zoning.”
This is the second major range promoted to Toronto-area shooters in the past 2 years. In April last year, Kent Nicolson and Daniel Balofsky asked for money and support for an $80 million shooting complex about 30 minutes north of Toronto. They raised $2,775 out of a goal of $100,000 via GoFundMe.com. Then news dried up, and critics questioned their credibility and motives. The project is mired in red tape, but moving forward, Nicolson said July 26 in a message on CanadianGunNutz.com, where he pitched the project.
Jones said he and his partner for Premier Shooting Center, his wife, Deborah, need less than $10 million to complete the project. The site is planned east of Lake Simcoe, some distance east of Beaverton, and the agreement to buy the land hinges on zoning approval. Jones is looking for investors to finance the land purchase, and said he has a wealthy friend who offered to pay for everything else, including landscaping, construction and equipment.
“We are so desperately in need of new ranges,” Alison de Groot, managing director of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, said by telephone. “We have some great ranges in Canada. It would be great to see a few more, especially at the level Derek is proposing.”
Jones aims for the high levels of professionalism, service and attention to detail he experienced at ranges such as Athena Gun Club in Houston, Texas, and Scottsdale Gun Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and wants to avoid the poor quality that plagues many clubs in Canada. If Premier Shooting Center matches what Jones presents on the website, it will be the the country’s nicest, best-equipped and most comprehensive shooting club.
A certified firearms instructor and recreational competitor who has been shooting since he was a boy, Jones plans to charge $500 per year for standard memberships, and to welcome visitors on day passes.
“I want to wow them,” Jones said. “What I’m trying to do is build it in an economical way, with a sense of style.”
For now, Jones continues to contact politicians and municipal officials in the hope of getting zoning approval by next spring so his project can advance. He outlined his plans to Ontario’s Chief Firearms Office about 18 months ago, but hasn’t submitted a formal application.
“It’s all doable,” Sergeant Peter Niedermaier, who supervises Ontario’s roughly 230 clubs and ranges for the province’s Chief Firearms Office, said by telephone, referring to the application process for new ranges. “I’ve seen ranges take upwards of five years. I’ve seen them completed in less than a year. It’s nice to see these places up and running.”