Former cop aims high with shooting venture
Clients pay big bucks to fire AK-47, other exotic weapons.
Katherine Gulotta shares a laugh with Jackson Hole Shooting Experience owner Shepard Humpharies after firing an AR-15 rifle last week at the Jackson Hole Gun Club. BRADLY J. BONER / NEWS&GUIDE View our entire photo gallery >>
By Tram Whitehurst, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
November 2, 2000
The green metal cowboy head makes a satisfying “plink” every time it’s struck by a bullet.
Twenty-five yards away, in a stall at the Jackson Hole Gun Club, novice shooters are taking turns lining up their shots with a small .22 rifle and firing away.
“Our green cowboy is going to get shot to hell today,” said Katherine Gulotta, operations manager at Rocky Mountain Connections, after nailing him with her first shot.
She and two co-workers from the event-planning company gathered on a cold morning last week at the range to take part in the Jackson Hole Shooting Experience, a business that gives beginners and experts alike a chance to shoot everything from a Wild West-style revolver and .45 semi-automatic handgun to an AK-47 and sniper rifle.
Owner Shepard Humphries, who has 10 years of law enforcement experience and is NRA instructor-certified, started offering shooting opportunities full time in June after operating the business part time for more than a year. He said he got the idea after teaching a
retired CEO how to shoot some of the guns he inherited.
“He said I should make a business out of teaching city slickers how to shoot, and that’s what I did,” Humphries said.
His typical customers are wealthy visitors looking for something fun and different to do on their vacation, he said. Prices start at $625 for the multi-gun experience.
For that price, customers get the chance to shoot more than a thousand rounds from dozens of different rifles and handguns over the course of up to four hours. The uniqueness of the service has made it the No. 1-rated Jackson Hole attraction on the travel website TripAdvisor. Similar services exist in places like New York City and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“My hope is that, the more people know about what we offer, the more people will want to try it,” Humphries said.
Last week’s session started with a safety briefing for the three shooters in the group, none of whom had much experience with firearms. They were sent to the range by their employer so they could tell clients what the experience was like.
The main rules are to treat every gun as if it’s loaded, keep the finger outside the trigger area until ready to shoot (or, as Humphries says to teenage boys, “keep your booger hook off the bang switch”), be aware of the line of fire, and stay behind the firing line when the range is “hot.”
After a brief explanation of how to aim and shoot, Humphries said to the group, “Let’s go play.”
As with most groups, the shooters started on low-recoil .22 rifles, from single-shot bolt-actions to scoped semi-automatics. After plugging the green cowboy, they worked their way out to a small metal target at 200 yards, exceeding the maximum effective range of the weapon.
At that distance, the bullet, traveling at 1,200 feet per second, takes about two seconds to reach the target and drops more than three feet on its flight.
“At this distance, we’re basically lobbing the shots,” Humphries said.
Then, in a strange twist, two SUVs pulled up and dropped off 10 camouflaged, heavily armed men. They were Navy SEALs, in the area for high-altitude training in preparation for a deployment overseas. They were at the range to practice on their customized .300 Winchester Magnum sniper rifles and Special Forces combat assault rifles.
The group briefly considered challenging them to a shoot-off, but after the SEALs started nailing targets beyond 500 yards, they thought better of it.
As the women got comfortable with the rifles, Humphries offered tips: Squeeze the trigger gently — so that, when the gun fires, it’s a surprise — create a stable platform from which to shoot, breathe.
Gulotta tended to hold her breath while shooting. After firing a series of shots, she got up and inhaled.
“I can breathe now,” she said.
After an hour on the .22s, the three tried out bigger, more exotic firearms, including an LWRC AR-15 — a civilian version of the military’s M-16 assault rifle, with a red-dot sight for “fast target acquisition” — and an AK-47. The AK-47 was intimidating at first, with Humphries emphasizing its bone-jarring recoil.
“Do I have to put my cheek on it?” asked Lisa Baumgarner, sales and operations manager with Rocky Mountain Connections.
“If you want to hit something,” Humphries said.
The three also tried several handguns, working their way up to a brand-new .45 semi-automatic from CZ-USA, on loan from Bobby Holic, former NHL hockey player and current student of Humphries. Holic, who won two Stanley Cups during his 18-year career, is the celebrity spokesperson for the gun manufacturer and therefore has access to some of its products.
The day ended with an informal competition on the Remington 700. Gulotta and Baumgarner worked their way out to 300 yards, but Colleen Batty Davis, director of sales, won with a hit at 400 yards.
The group left happy, if a little sore.
“You might get a bruise out of this,” Humphries said. “It’s that fun.”