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Some residents claim the “pop” of the nearby Defender Outdoors shooting range hurts their quality of life. Photo by Edward Brown.

Locals would be hard pressed to stumble upon Clay Sports Ranch, although it’s only a few hundred yards from Loop 820 and near several housing developments. The shooting range skirts Fort Worth’s southwestern city limits. After a short drive on Loop 820’s service road, the exit to the ranch opens to a southerly dusty road that is just wide enough to fit two passing cars.

A large yellow “Re-elect Betsy PRICE” banner almost obscured Defender Outdoors Shooting Center’s welcome sign on my recent visit. As I drove through, several passengers on a passing golf cart smiled and waved. Sportsmen in one of 24 covered shooting stations were taking aim at bright orange clay targets lobbed nearby. The booming “pop!” of shotguns reminded me to roll up my windows on this otherwise pristine day. The visitors were participating in a charity event to raise funds for student scholarships. 

Inside the main facility, Travis Mears, a manager with Defender Outdoors (the parent company of the ranch), greeted me. After a brief pause to help a curious customer, Mears sat down to describe his year-old business (which sits on unincorporated land near Fort Worth and Benbrook) and respond to concerns raised by area residents who are upset about the noise. 

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“We do a lot of charity events,” he said. “A lot of [our events] raise funds for scholarships, kids’ charities, and cancer awareness.”

A recent event for leukemia and lymphoma raised more than $100,000, he said. Sporting clays, he added, is beginning to replace charity golf tournaments because the shooting events are shorter (two-and-a-half hours on average) while still allowing adequate time for team-building and award ceremonies. Last summer, Mears said his range began fielding numerous complaints from nearby residents upset about the noise emanating from his business. 

“We made drastic changes and improvements,” he said. “We [now host] a lot of the neighbors who came to that meeting. They know that we’re doing a lot of good” in this community.

Mears flipped the shooting stations away from the nearest residents to the south and toward the highway to the north. One Benbrook resident voiced concern that a shooting range visitor might inadvertently aim a long-range rifle toward passing motorists. Not possible, Mears said.

“Not only do we pre-safety, we have people constantly checking [our shooters],” he said. “We do a 20-minute safety meeting” before each event.

After reorienting the direction of the range, starting a strict no-shooting policy before 9 a.m., and being mindful of weather conditions (wind and low clouds can influence noise levels), Mears said he has seen a “99-percent” drop in complaints.  

I chatted with four residents of Skyline Ranch, a Fort Worth neighborhood just south of the range. Ken Wilson said he enjoys the neighborhood and has resigned to put up with the “noisy” and “bothersome” pop of shotguns. Wilson’s granddaughter, now 22, attended the Las Vagas Route 91 Harvest music festival in 2017 that ended with the killing of 59 individuals by a single shooter. Wilson worries how his granddaughter would handle hearing repetitive gunshots if she were to visit. Another gentleman, John, who did not want his last name used to protect his privacy, said the gun range noise was not disclosed to him when he bought his current home. 

“I probably still would have bought the home,” he said, “but I could have negotiated a better price.”

Alexis and Greg Gross, both public school teachers, said the noise taints an otherwise peaceful and beautiful neighborhood. A pond across the street from their home attracts ducks and all sorts of waterfowl. The couple was seeking a bit of the tranquility that only Mother Nature can afford. 

“You can hear wildlife,” Greg said, referring to birds and the occasional coyote. “The noise keeps us from enjoying it.”

The muted thud of gunfire was audible throughout our conversations. The neighbors said the noise level that day fell somewhere in the middle range of what they normally experience. Some days, the noise is barely noticeable. On other days, the pops and booms can reverberate throughout their homes. The closed Facebook group Benbrook Citizens Against Shotgun Noises has 100 members who use the forum to share updates about efforts to contact elected officials, simply commiserate about the noise, or discuss possible legal actions. The phrase “war zone” is often used. 

The neighborhood networking app Nextdoor draws more heated debates, one resident told me. There are plenty of supporters of the gun range who are quick to lump concerns about noise into attacks on the Second Amendment. The four residents I spoke with said they have no qualms with firearms, just with the noise. 

“Benbrook city officials have been here multiple times,” Mears said. “We have a great relationship with them. I talked to the city manager about a month ago. He said, ‘Man, it’s a non-subject for us.’ Whatever you’re doing, you’re not a concern for us.”

Not true, said Benbrook city manager Andy Wayman in an email.

“I have never said it is a non-issue,” he continued. “It is clearly an issue as our residents have contacted us with their concerns. I have conveyed our concerns in person, as has our mayor and assistant city manager.”  

Jim Hinderaker, Benbrook assistant city manager, said in an email that he and other city officials met with Mears to discuss the possibility of relocating the shooting range. When Mears said that wasn’t an option, the city suggested reorienting the direction of the range, which Mears did. State laws exempt gun range noise from city nuisance laws, meaning Benbrook has no recourse. Hinderaker said that there is no clear legal remedy and Benbrook is not currently pursuing the matter further. I reached out to Fort Worth councilmember Brian Byrd, whose district borders the shooting range, but did not hear back. 

One Benbrook resident who asked not to be named to protect his privacy said the litigation option is far from off the table. Last month, he attended a meeting at a Benbrook Public Library where volunteer directors with four neighborhood associations spoke with a Fort Worth lawyer who fielded their questions. The estimated cost of pursuing a lawsuit, the resident told me, would be around $40,000. The neighborhood association leaders left the meeting to discuss the possibility of pooling membership dues to cover the legal costs.

Mears said he is preparing to host a charity event organized by Mayor Price, whom he said frequents the range. Fort Worth has a live and vibrant outdoorsy culture, he added.

“I always wanted something bigger and better” for them, he said. “Our people love it. We feel like we’re doing a good thing and benefiting this community. Fort Worth needed it.”

As for the complaints, Mears said he fields about one phone call per month. One concerned neighbor told me that might well be the case.

“How often should I have to tell you” about a noise complaint, Alexis asked. “The complaints have already been made.”

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