WATFORD CITY A bullet hole in a business building and a slug lying on the floor is never a good thing. Now consider that it was 10:30 a.m., the building was occupied and the bullet came through a window frame adjacent to a desk.
That's what happened at Taylor Ag Services of Watford City on Feb. 28. Owner Kent Taylor was in the business along with employees when they heard what sounded like something falling over. An inspection followed. Taylor discovered plastic window molding scattered on his desk and a bullet lying on the floor. The side of the window frame had a large hole in it too.
Taylor Ag Services is located east of Watford City, to the north of the Badlands Shooting Club range. Immediately after discovering the bullet, Taylor drove to the range and discovered two individuals engaged in target shooting.
The Badlands Shooting Club range has been in existence east of Watford City for about 30 years, but recent development in the area might place the range in jeopardy.
"I visited with them a little bit. They were on the rifle range and had pistols," said Taylor. "Right after that they skedaddled."
The distance from the shooting line to Taylor's business is slightly more than a half mile, well within range of even small caliber bullets. Targets at the Badlands Shooting Club are placed against earthen berms designed to keep bullets on the range.
"Somebody was fooling around with something they shouldn't be. That's my opinion," said Mike Jenks, a Taylor Ag employee who was in the building at the time of the incident. "I think the gun range has some monitoring to do."
Ron Roos has been a member of the Badlands Shooting Club for many years. He says the club has owned the land where the range is located for about 30 years. It has been an excellent location, close to town and void of any nearby buildings. However, with the boom in the Bakken and resulting transformation of Watford City, the range now finds itself in a different environment.
"The city is surrounding us," said Roos. "We were the last county in the world to zone. Everybody just built where they wanted."
"Watford City is obviously growing," added Jenks. "There's a water depot between us and the gun range."
The layout of the Badlands Shooting Club has two traphouses for shotgunners on the west side and a rifle and pistol range on the east side. Shotguns have very limited range and do not pose a threat to businesses built downrange, but rifles and pistols fire cartridges that can carry several miles. The club's rifle range is protected somewhat by a large hill beyond the shooting berms, but there's already one building located in that area that is in the line of fire.
The bullet that crashed through the window at Taylor Ag appeared to be a solid core 9 millimeter, a common handgun caliber. The bullet had a flat area near the cone, suggesting that it had ricocheted and tumbled far off the original line of fire. The bullet appeared to have entered the building at an angle, hitting the side of a window frame and then bouncing across a desk.
"It had no momentum left. It just fell on the floor," said Jenks.
While no one can say for certain where the bullet was fired from, the speculation obviously centered on the shooting range. The bullet could have come from a responsible shooter who had no control of a ricochet or it could have been the result of an irresponsible shooter not utilizing proper targets and backstops located on the range. Either way, the risk to businesses downrange remains the same.
"It's kind of scary. You think about it, that's for sure," said Taylor.
The Badlands Shooting Club remains open but it is beginning to feel the squeeze of area encroachment. According to Roos the club has already begun to explore other options.
"All the city has to do is annex the area and we're done shooting," said Roos. "We've been trying to find land farther out of town that is feasible and reasonable."
"We need some place for these guys to shoot," added Taylor. "We don't want to take that away from them."
The price of land in the Watford City region might make a move very difficult for a private club. According to Roos one promising location of 74 acres was priced at $2.2 million, far more than what fits the club's definition of "feasible."