WHITE CITY — Darrell Long peers through the scope perched atop his .30-caliber magnum expecting to see a target in the lens, but all he sees is dirt.
"Where's the darn target?" he says.
The Rogue Valley Shooting Sports Association will host a string of Big Game Sight-In Days at the historic, 600-yard Camp White rifle range at the Jackson County Sports Park.
The range will be open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 7 p.m., with the last shooting session running from 6 to 6:45 p.m. Also, the range is set to be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today through Sunday, and again Sept. 28-29.
New sessions begin on the hour, starting at 300 yards and extending in 100-yard increments up to 600 yards, then dropping down to 500 and 400 yards.
Cost for non RVSSA members is $5 a day, with everyone paying a $1 target fee. All fees go back into range upkeep and improvements.
For more information about range rules and schedules, see the RVSSA website at rvssa.org.
— Mark Freeman
It's the first time Long has ever tried to shoot his self-loaded .300 Win Mag cartridge at something 600 yards away, and it shows.
His first shot strikes the target, but only after it caroms off the dirt well in front of the target.
"I'll have to do some readjusting," he says.
But that's exactly why Long is at the old Camp White rifle range, to get comfortable and confident at shooting up to 600 yards away heading into the fall big-game hunting seasons.
Long doesn't want to take a shot he can't make, and he knows a day at the range is the best way to get there.
"I don't want to wound the animal," Long says. "I want a kill shot so the animal goes down and I can retrieve the meat."
Long isn't alone.
After years of being open mainly to competition shooters, the historic rifle range at the Jackson County Sports Park is now open for supervised public shooting at up to 600 yards — the only such public range north of Sacramento and south of Eugene, organizers say.
Public shooters will be welcomed Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 6:45 p.m., with times staggered every hour on the hour for the firing line to move from 300 yards in 100-yard increments up to 600 yards, then back down to 400 yards.
Hunters should sight in their rifles at 100 or 200 yards at the shorter ranges nearby on Kershaw Road, then dial in the longer distances at the 71-year-old range off Thunder Road, the access road to the sports park.
The facilities are run by the Rogue Valley Shooting Sports Association under a working agreement with the Jackson County Parks Department. RVSSA members can shoot using their passes, while the general public pays $5 a day. There also is a $1 target fee.
Many deer and elk hunters used to shooting 100 yards or less quickly discover that, at greater distances, they're swimming in an entirely different pool.
"It's an eye-opener for them to come out here," says Regina Hoffman, a competition shooter from Lake Creek and an RVSSA member who helps newbies. "They have no real experience at shooting 300 or 400 yards. They get the experience they need here to be a better hunter.
"The more hunters get out here, the better they will be," Hoffman says.
After that first shot, Long knew he had to be better.
He adjusts his scope to give his bullet the right arc to drop into the target at 600 yards. He studies the target from his shooting bench and fires.
This time, the dust pile rises from behind the target. It's a hit, but still low and to the left of a bullseye, which is called an "X" in shooting lingo. By two-way radio, he asks Phil Grammatica, a shooting instructor and range safety officer in the pit beneath the target, whether he should tweak his scope setting one more time.
In Western Oregon, most deer and elk hunters won't have to worry about how many "clicks" on a scope will set it dead-on at 600 yards. The region's notoriously thick brush prevents many shots at that distance.
But antelope and Rocky Mountain elk hunters regularly can't get closer than 300 or even 500 yards for a shot. Hunters heading out of state to desert locales can expect shots even farther.
"A lot of hunters so far are coming to shoot from 300 and 400 yards, and they're getting pretty good — with some coaching," Grammatica says.
Grammatica preaches good eyesight and trigger control, informing shooters to sight in their rifles at 25 yards. He can use bullet specifications and barrel measurements to calculate how much alteration in their optics will get them on target at various distances.
Hoffman points to the multicolored flags flying at the range. They're flickering right to left at 3 to 4 miles per hour, another factor for Long to consider.
"It's like gauging the wind in the trees," Hoffman says.
Long makes the smallest of adjustments, holds his breath and pulls the trigger.
Grammatica pulls the target down, then raises it for Long and a cadre of spectators to view through optics.
"That's an X, Darrell," Hoffman says.
Long pulls off his glasses, and his face rises into a grin that's half pride and half amazement.
"Well," he says, placing another cartridge in the chamber, "let's see if I can do that again."