April 28, 2013 at 6:11 AM ET
The Sumner clan is getting a national boost thanks to "Guntucky," a new reality show on CMT, but the stars of the family-run Knob Creek Gun Range has been famous among gun lovers for years.
The word started spreading in 1963 when Biff Sumner, Sr., first bought land on the edge of the woods surrounding Fort Knox Army Base about 20 miles south of Louisville, Ky., and invited a few friends over to fire off machine guns into the trees. Now, more than 16,000 people choke the gravel entrance to the property during its bi-annual Machine Gun Shoot, traveling from around the world to squeeze exotic triggers.
“Everybody likes to see something blow up,” the burly and mohawked Steven Sumner, 54, Biff Jr.'s son and the Knob Creek range supervisor, told NBC News in a phone interview this week. “They're not into paper targets.”
I was terrified inside my pink pullover Under Armour jacket as I grasped the Tommy Gun under the eye of the range officer when I attended one of Knob Creek's recent shoots. Living less than an hour away, I had been curious to see what all the fuss was about.
I reluctantly put my finger on the trigger of the Tommy gun. Then I squeezed a spray of bullets in the general direction of some old boats and cars they use as targets.
I emptied the $40 magazine in seconds, but I was shaking with peak levels of adrenaline. I was exhilarated as I stepped away and the next person in the more than two-hour-long line, nearly all men, stepped up. Brass from the dozens of different machine guns and semi-automatics available -- like water-cooled Brownings, AK-47s, MG-42s, M-16s, belt-fed Vickers guns, Uzis, and MP5s -- piled up on the Bullitt County dirt. There was also a cannon.
As seen on the TV show, during regular business hours the range works hard to accommodate requests from customers who travel a mile down from Highway 44 with requests for very specific things they want to shoot up. That can include bargaining for Civil War era weapons and rigging up a zombie apocalypse shootout. They've even staged a "shotgun wedding," marrying a couple on the firing line.
“As long as it's not illegal or doesn’t interfere with the neighbors, we're up for it,” said Steven.
Still, the range has strict controls. No gun may be carried loaded. Each gun must be zip-tied and declared before entry. Steven carries a metal coin in his pocket, its silver-dollar heft a constant reminder of the importance of the word SAFETY stamped on one side. But within the confines of the scrupulously-followed rules, and under the supervision of range control officers ready to intervene in a split-second, the bullets from high-speed assault weapons fly freely. Tucked in among the edges of the Army base, local government land, and one private neighbor, nobody pays them much mind.
The family wouldn't discuss how much they were getting from the show but they don't plan on changing much with the earnings. Maybe expand the store a bit, and put in a double-lane bridge over the creek.
Amidst the national debate on gun control, Steven is matter-of-fact about the family business which also employs his daughter Stephanie, 22, as office manager, teenage son Payton as maintenance clerk, and his cousin Chad as sales manager. His dad owns it and his brother Kenny runs day-to-day operations.
“We're just average believers in the Second Amendment,” said Steven. “It doesn't matter how long that gun sits in a corner, it will never kill anyone. It takes an irresponsible operator.”
If you go...
Machine Gun Shoot admission is $10 a day, $5 for kids under than 12. Bring eye protection and earplugs, and don't count on much conversation. Camping with no water or electricity is available on-site for $50/person for the week.
Down the road in Shepherdsville is a clutch of hotels and places to eat. Lil' Biff's Motel, run by Grandpa Sumner, is nearby at 12706 Dixie Hwy, with singles for $44 and doubles for $64/night.
While you're there, consider keeping with the theme and eat at Bonnie & Clyde's pizza parlor, 7611 Dixie Hwy, cash only.