Once Upon a Time in a Dirt Pit


Buying a piece of land is a big deal, especially when there’s nothing on it; no grass, no roads, no bushes, not even a tree. In our case, there were actually two trees, but one was dead. This is a story about our family of four buying an inconspicuous piece of barren land and turning it into a Caswell County destination visited by thousands.

I remember the moment of my epiphany. It all began on the day we got to “revisit” our brand-new chunk of land in North Carolina after purchasing it in February of 2008. Like a finger snap in time, several years had flown by after our closing date and we were as anxious as children on Christmas morning to see our land again. We were still living in Los Angeles at the time, and it took us two weeks to travel from California to the Carolinas. I’ll never forget that special day when we returned in 2011; we had just driven across the country and had a good night’s rest at the end of our trip. It was our first morning waking up again in our home state of North Carolina … yeah! It was a gorgeous fall day, and the air was cool and breezy.

We parked the minivan on the roadside, (a.k.a. the goat trail) and walked deep into the acreage looking for a small patch of grass on which to have a fun picnic. Yup, right in the middle of our newly purchased property… a vast, logged wasteland of 60 acres stained by piles of rotten wood and decaying tree stumps surrounded by deep mud-squished tire ruts from the heavy logging equipment, now filled with stagnant mosquito water. The smell of decayed leaves, fresh dirt, and swamp gas filled the air. Mmmm! What was once perhaps a beautiful mature forest had been turned, without a doubt, into the ugliest piece of land in Caswell County.

But the price was right, so we bought it, and with time…all things get better, right?  Aaah! The sweet smell of land ownership. And, the tiny loblolly pines we planted in 2008 were now four feet tall. Okay, I just thought I’d throw that in for dramatic effect.

We successfully found a small patch of grass for our picnic, but before my wife, Tomiko, prepared our lunch from the basket, we ventured into the middle of the land with our kids, Clint and Marina. It wasn’t until the four of us reached the very center of what seemed like an endless huge dirt field that I realized how quiet it was. In fact, I yelled at the kids to stop running around and be quiet and listen. “Why are you yelling at the kids to be quiet?” whispered Tomiko. “But we don’t hear anything, daddy!” they said. And I barked back, “Exactly! That’s my point! BE QUIET!” I mean – it was really quiet.

After working and living in big cities for 15 years, I had forgotten what it was like to truly have a quiet moment with no airplanes, helicopters, ambulance sirens, police cars, honking traffic, grinding construction work, and all the mind-numbing background clatter. So, there in the midst of our dirt pit, the four of us stood, silently, without moving, in total, utter silence. It was so quiet.

“Are you okay, dad?” one of the kids asked. Never missing an opportunity to impart some of her motherly sarcasm, Tomiko said, “Don’t bother your father, he’s going nuts!” “Yes, son, I’m okay,” I said. And it was precisely at that moment that something inside me clicked, and I knew I could never return with my family to live in a big city again, ever. For real, I said that inside my head.

Nonetheless, Tomiko and the kids led me back to the picnic spot where we enjoyed the rest of our day admiring our mud streak. Now, here’s where things turned interesting. When we got back to the hotel, I shared my desire to stay on our land, and explained that deep down in my heart, I really didn’t want to go back to LA. To my surprise, they agreed with me. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than at the moment I heard my whole family say they wanted to stay here in Caswell County. But, without a big-city job, how were we ever going to survive as a family?

Later that evening, we gathered around the coffee table in our hotel room and started tossing around all kinds of ideas, like some sort of crazy think tank. Our only rules were that we had to make a business on our land and that we all had to participate. We continued bouncing a bunch of ideas back and forth. We talked about everything from campgrounds to an RV park to paintball fields to self-storage buildings, all of which are great businesses and are definitely needed in our area, but none of these ideas seemed to get us excited. It wasn’t until I mentioned a gun range, and that’s when we all started jumping up and down.

As a retired military veteran, I was able to share my knowledge of marksmanship training with my family, and together we designed our first fully permitted shooting range and eventually opened the Distinguished Pistol Outdoor Shooting Range in March of 2016. The purpose of our range business is to teach new shooters how to safely and responsibly handle firearms and enjoy the sport of marksmanship. Our secondary mission is to get people to go outdoors. Put that dang phone down, turn off the television, and go outside.

Once we got started, one thing led to another, and Tomiko came up with the idea of supplementing the range business by opening the DP Café, which caters to the members and offers great food and libations in an outdoor venue. More outdoor stuff! Marina operates the DP Pro Shop and helps support our café and range events. Clint Jr. is the range safety officer and instructor for the rifle and shotgun ranges, while I support the pistol range and provide training. Since our opening in 2016, we’ve expanded our ranges to include a 300-yard high-power rifle range, a multi-purpose five-stand shotgun range, a pro-series 3D animal archery range, and more than four miles of manicured hiking trails.

Interestingly, through the creative use of recycled transfer trailers, we gained usable space for bathrooms, a classroom, a store front, and even the DP Café – in fact, our mantra is to enhance our land through recycling, repurposing, and environmental stewardship. Yes, we recover and recycle almost all the metals deposited on our ranges, which surprisingly are in high demand – cha-ching. So, what was once a butt-ugly mud slick has changed over time into something green, lush, beautiful, and welcoming for all who come and play in the wonderful outdoors Now, get your boots on and we’ll see you at the ranch!

Once Upon a Time in a Dirt Pit
Distinguished Pistol

Distinguished Pistol Outdoor Shooting Range
Bassi Ranch at Hightowers
431 New Castle Farm Road
Mebane, NC 27302
(336) 421-9136
[email protected]

Learn about the author a https://ncvamedia.com/authors/clint-hilbert/