It doesn’t really sound like fireworks. The firing of a shotgun is a special sound; a brief bang, often a little deep toned or flat, depending on the load. In the right atmospheric conditions, the sound can travel some but it’s the sound of sport and nothing new to South County. Sven Soderberg, who along with his cousin James, is one of new owners of the Peace Dale Shooting Preserve in South Kingstown. That sound means business to them and they are just at the beginning of building one that serves all types of people. They have completely redesigned and modernized the course, attracted six thousand new “unique” customers and launched 2.5 million targets. That was just in the first year.
This preserve has been in continuous operation since 1949 and while it’s the state’s oldest public shooting preserve, it looks nothing like it did years ago. The pro shop displays shooting clothing and accessories along with new and used guns from Rizzini, which you can rent for just twenty dollars when you visit, Caesar Guerini and Fabarm. They sell Fiocchi ammunition and have quickly become the state’s largest shotgun shell dealer. In addition, they are the state’s only dealer for Syren shotguns which are designed and built just for women. Syren long guns are also used with younger shooters, as they are lighter and produce less recoil. Having access to a line of guns tailored to female shooters enables them to host women’s shooting groups and bachelorette parties. Brilliant.
Sven served seven years in the Army National Guard, protecting our freedoms by serving overseas and earning a Purple Heart. Three fundraisers at the Preserve have raised thirteen thousand dollars, including seventy-five hundred dollars raised for The Unquiet Professionals, a foundation in memory of SSG Michael H. Simpson, a Green Beret killed in action supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. They have instructors ready to help in addition to a major automation upgrade at the stands. Once you have completed your paperwork with Rachael DiJulio at the front desk, which may require leaning over the preserve’s mascot, Anya, you head to the stands. A key card identifies you, shows how many clays you have shot and allows you to set the throwers timing for each station. This means you can proceed at your own pace on your own or with a group.
Over the past years, it was always a great place to shoot, it really just needed some attention. These guys have taken command of those 125 acres, siting stands to take advantage of the rolling landscape, seasonal ponds and steep walls, all remnants of its gravel bank former life. They regularly change the course to keep the preserve challenging and new. All this is a reflection of not just good business practices but understanding the needs of your customers. “We bring a shooters perspective, we designed a course that’s fun to shoot” Sven said, pointing out a warming hut they are building in the middle of the course, providing shooters with a place to take a break and get a coffee. “We run a safe environment without being a sterile environment”.
They clearly respect their customers and understand the importance of alternating the levels of difficulty for the more skilled shooters while catering to those new to the sport. The average new customer to the NSCA course falls somewhere between, “novice to extreme beginner”, Sven told me. They offer lessons tailored for the first time shooter and are happy to provide instructions for young people. The first half of the course is slightly less challenging than the second half, offering new shooters a positive experience on their first rounds. When it comes to firearms and safety, building on the fundamentals, like respect for the gun, the course and those around you, helps people appreciate and enjoy shooting. Sven said that the majority of novice’s book another visit. “It’s a cool thing to be part of.”
A while back, someone broke in to steal some parts and pieces, all largely useless outside the preserve. It was petty theft and low grade vandalism with the likely objective of slowing them down, of causing a disruption. Two things happened after the crime. First, new parts were overnighted from the manufacturer so the preserve didn’t skip a beat. Second, there was an overwhelming response from members and customers that “their club” had been robbed, that someone had vandalized “their club”. In just over a year the Peace Dale Shooting Preserve has built a clientele, a membership so taken by their business, so pleased to have a safe, challenging place to shoot, that collectively they took it personally. That’s really something.
Sven and his cousin James have very quickly taken possession of a big swath of South County, transformed an existing range, inserted new concepts and styles and created a business that clearly was needed to address a pent up demand. Construction has even started on an indoor shooting range, to be built in the classic post and beam style. Shooting orange clays, swinging a 12 gage through a 5 stand, practicing for duck season, competing on a national level, having someone knowledgeable and responsible to help teach your child the basics of safe gun handling all the way to shooting solo at a stand; all these are important parts of the outdoors life. These are also parts of life in South County and based on my visit, their loudest sound you hear may be the telephone ringing off the hook.
This piece originally appeared in the Southern RI Newspapers. © 2017 todd corayer