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Article originally appeared in the Times Colonist. Photo of Mike Gilmour by Daily News photographer Aaron Hinks

Photo by Aaron Hinks

Photo by Aaron Hinks

Cara McKenna/Nanaimo Daily News

Members of a Nanaimo biking group claim they have had to drop and cover to avoid dozens of flying bullets while using a popular series of trails just outside city limits.

Lee Venables and Mike Gilmour — who have been frequenting the forest trails at the end of Doumont Road for years — said they feared for their lives as bullets zoomed above their heads during a walk last Thursday.

The Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club plans to take the issue up with Vancouver Island University, which is leasing the land from TimberWest for its biosolids project and has full control of the area.

Gilmour said the area is popular with bikers because it is a way to access remote trails on the side of Mount Benson. He thought he was doing well at avoiding shots as he heard them from afar — until they were flying at his head.

“We were yelling, we were screaming, branches were falling down on us,” he said.

“For a minute there it felt like they were aiming right at us because the bullets were so close to us. There was more than one gun being shot. It was pretty constant.”

On a Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club Facebook page, many others recount experiences about gunshots in the area.

But Nanaimo RCMP Sgt. Sheryl Armstrong said an officer responded to Gilmour’s 911 complaint on Thursday, and let the people go after a search because they weren’t doing anything illegal.

“[According to a report] they’re allowed to target shoot out there and they had the proper permits and everything,” she said. “As long as it’s in a permitted area.”

One trail in the area called “Fine China” is provincially approved and built on Crown land, but most of the trails are privately controlled by VIU.

On Thursday morning, open spaces adjoining the trails were littered with hundreds of 12-gauge bullet shells, various handgun and hunting rifle shells and empty boxes of .22 and 30/30 hiking rifle bullets, along with well shot targets posted on trees and empty alcohol bottles.

Venables said he calls the area “the wild wild west” because of how frequently guns are fired.

There is currently no signage indicating a shooting zone or gates blocking the area off to traffic.

Federal regulations on shooting clubs and shooting ranges state the operator of an approved shooting range must make sure the discharge of firearms does not endanger people’s safety, including signage.

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