Curt Walburg, president of the club’s Board of Directors, said the rifle range opened in October 2016 so area residents could sight-in their hunting guns.
That area of the property continues to be used only for sight-in purposes and is open only to club members.
However, Walburg said the club now sells a one-day membership for $15. There is also a $5 range fee. People with annual memberships pay only the $5 range fee.
The entire facility, located at 13084 160th Ave. in Grand Haven Township, was shut down after a Sept. 29, 2011, incident in which an errant bullet struck a worker in a nearby subdivision in the arm.
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 landed in the man’s arm as he worked in the driveway of a home in the Cutter Park subdivision.
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 re-opened its trap and skeet-shooting range within a few days of the incident. Its indoor pistol range was also opened. The outdoor archery range is also open.
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.
Gun club members presented the township with plans for a state-of-the-art rifle range, complete with several sets of baffles and new shooting sheds. In March 2015, gun club officials said the $480,000 proposal was more than the club could reasonably handle, so modifications were requested and a fundraising campaign was planned.
Since then, club officials eliminated the plans for an outdoor pistol range, instead choosing to enhance their indoor facility so that all pistol calibers could be used. Why?
“Basically, rifle shooting isn’t the sport it once was,” Walburg said. “They like to sight-in, but there’s not as many who want to sit here for hours and shoot.”
Walburg said there also aren’t the teams anymore that local businesses used to sponsor.
“It was really just evaluating the needs of the membership,” he said.
Thus, the improvements that were made to the indoor pistol range. And that helped increase membership and allowed the club to put a new roof on the building.
By October 2015, the gun club board decided to focus on just re-opening the range.
The previous design for the new rifle range allowed shooting from many positions, Walburg said at the time.
“We’re looking at something that’s just a bench rest position,” he said in October 2015. “It won’t be a full sports range like we once had.”
Sight-in days for hunters at the club are Oct. 21-22 and 28-29, as well as Nov. 4-5 and 11-12. The range will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each of those days.
“The key thing we did was have 12 of us go take and become fully trained NRA safety officers,” Walberg said.
During the sight-ins, there will be two safety officers there at all times. Walburg said there will be only three shooting stations and all shooters will be seated.
“Back in the day, we would have 48 people sighting at the same time,” he said. “They would be stretched out all along here,” he added, pointing to the other outdoor range areas that are no longer in use.
The shooters will be required to use a lead sled or sandbags. The rifles must be safely secured on the shooting devices and checked by the range officer before they can be fired, Walburg said.
An experienced shooter will only need 3-5 shots to sight-in his rifle, Walburg said, so he anticipates people won’t have to wait long to get their turn.
Despite the limited use of the outdoor range areas, Walburg said the future looks good for the gun club. Membership is holding steady at around 225.
Last fall, the club contracted to have trees cleared back another 100 yards behind the skeet and trap shooting areas. This allows the club to harvest the lead shot, which is better for the environment and a financial boost to the club.
Walburg said the lead harvested last summer brought in $50,000. And that was before the trees were cleared, which will allow them to access more of the lead.
The club’s share of the money was used to help pay for improvements to the pistol range, put a new roof on the clubhouse and pay for other maintenance projects. The club will probably do such a harvest every few years, Walburg said.
The club is also working on plans to build a sporting clay course, which is popular at Blandon Pines to the south and Muskegon’s Seaway Club to the north, Walburg said. Club members have mapped out 12 stations throughout the woods. These stations would be designed to be more challenging for the shooters and to simulate hunting.
All rounds would be fired toward the interior of the property, so that no rounds go off the property. That is still safe, because you use shotguns and they have a much more limited range, Walburg said.
“This is an activity they can do in 30-45 minutes,” he said. “It still gives you an outdoor experience.”
Walburg said they are in the fundraising stage for the project.
“We would love to open it in the spring,” he said.
The North Ottawa Rod and Gun Club is a non-profit organization. It also has a non-profit foundation, which helps fund youth projects.
“From June 2016 to June 2017, we had 430 youths who participated in one of the programs,” Walburg said.
The programs included hunter safety classes, youth archery and BB gun leagues, 911 Academy, Sportsmen for Youth, and Grand Haven High School’s Outdoor Education Class.
More information on the gun club can be found at norgc.org/.