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More bang for your buck

Matt DeYoung • Jan 11, 2019 at 1:00 PM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — A new challenge awaits local shooting sports enthusiasts — a sporting clays course was unveiled at the North Ottawa Rod and Gun Club last week.

Club officials hope the sporting clays course can provide a boost to dwindling membership numbers, in addition to giving current club members more bang for their buck. 

“We obviously want more members. The more members we can get, the better,” said board member Dave Scott.

The sporting clays course was, in part, Scott’s brainchild. He’s been wanting to add one to the club for 15 years. 

“This really came into fruition with our president, Curt Walberg,” Scott said. “He really put in the effort behind it, and got the whole board behind it, as well. That was maybe four or five months ago.”

Excavating work was required to put a path around the outside perimeter of the club’s property, then ‘build days’ were held, allowing club members to help construct wooden booths and gun rests at each of the 12 stations. 

The club hosted Michigan State University shooting coach Matthew Gay to help design the course, with safety obviously being a top concern. 

“(Gay) helped us design a course that would be safe and challenging,” Scott said. “He’s also a state inspector, so he came out and verified the course once it was completed.”

The course forms a semicircle around the outside perimeter of the club, with all shots going back toward the center of the club. That means no shots have the potential to leave the club’s property. At first glance, it would appear unsafe to shoot back toward the clubhouse, the parking lot or other stations, but Scott said the course is completely safe due to the very limited range of a shotgun. 

“Most of the shots are either way up in the air or at a lower target, but even at a 30-degree angle, you’re well out of the shot-fall zone,” Scott explained. “It’s not uncommon to see a lot of smaller clubs ... with sporting clays courses set up in a horseshoe shape shooting back toward the center of the club.”

What is sporting clays? 

Unlike trap and skeet, where the shots are the same every time and thus very predictable, sporting clays courses can be altered to offer a great variety of shots. 

Sporting clays is the closest thing to actual field shooting of all shotgun sports. Rather than having clay birds thrown from standardized distances and angles, as with skeet or trap, sporting clays courses are designed to simulate the hunting of ducks, pheasants, other upland birds and even rabbits. Targets can be thrown from any angle or distance to simulate wing-shooting, and six different sizes of clay targets are used to further give the shooter the experience of actual hunting conditions.

“You can set it up any way you want to,” Scott said. “As you see more and more successful sporting clays courses, you can get your ideas from them. 

“Sporting clays are the golf of the shooting community,” he added. “People will travel up and down the Lakeshore, around Michigan and to other states just to shoot another course. And, like golf, every course is different.”

The North Ottawa course was set up to be challenging but fair. 

“The feedback has been positive,” Scott said. “We had 13 people out here on New Year’s Day to do a trial, and everyone loved the course. It’s challenging, but definitely shootable. We had a family come out with a limited amount of experience shooting clay targets, and they enjoyed it. They said they wouldn’t change a thing.”

Giving the club a boost

Membership numbers at the gun club took a dip following the closure of its outdoor rifle range in 2011, following an incident in which an errant bullet fired at the range struck a worker in a nearby subdivision.

An investigation by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office revealed that a bullet fired during a training exercise by a Grand Valley State University police officer left the range, traveled more than a half-mile to the east and hit the man as he worked in the driveway of a home in the Cutter Park subdivision. A further investigation revealed that some bullets also landed on the roofs or lodged in the siding of some of the homes.

GVSU police cooperated with the investigation and no criminal charges were filed.

The club reopened its trap- and skeet-shooting range within a few days of the incident. Its indoor pistol range was also opened, as was the outdoor archery range.

The outdoor rifle range remained closed for the next several years as the gun club board worked with Grand Haven Township officials, Cutter Park residents and a professional range developer. The range is now open on a very limited basis. 

Board member Mike Walling said membership has dropped from a high of around 700 to around 200 members today. 

Other offerings

In addition to sporting clays, the club offers trap and skeet, an outdoor 3-D archery range, an indoor pistol range and the outdoor range. 

Hunter safety courses are offered at the club, along with basic and advanced pistol classes; a Michigan concealed pistol license; and instruction in skeet, trap and sporting clays. 

Adding the sporting clays is a big boost for local scholastic shooting programs. 

“Grand Haven High School has a trap team, and we’re hoping to get them more involved on skeet, trap and sporting clays,” Scott said. “Collegiate shooters have to shoot three disciplines, so as we get more high school shooters, we’d like to have them well-versed on the other types of shooting so if they want to pursue a shooting scholarship at a university that offers that, they’ll be able to do so.”

The sporting clays course is also open to the public.

For more information, including club hours and membership details, visit norgc.org. 

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