Once winter arrives in West Michigan and fields get blanketed with snow, shooting sports enthusiasts turn to area clubs for fun and camaraderie. Regardless of their shooting preference, trap, skeet and sporting clays or dressing up like a cowboy for a Wild-West experience, most say winter target shooting is a great way to beat cabin fever.
Cowboy Action Shooting participants enjoy a winter day. Photo by Tintype Charlie.
Gordon Pickerd, vice president of Rockford Sportsman’s Club, said its Cowboy Action shooting events have become very popular. Participants dress in western garb and come with lever-action rifles and other turn-of-the-century guns and spend blustery winter days shooting at metal targets.
“Teasingly, I say it’s a bunch of guys (and gals) that never grew up and still play cowboys and Indians,” Pickerd notes. “They take on aliases like ‘Tucson Stew’ and wear cowboy hats and shoot 20th century firearms and have a lot of fun.”
Rockford Sportsman's Club, 11115 Northland Dr. NE, Rockford, is one four shooting venues found within 30 minutes of downtown Grand Rapids. It was founded in 1945 and boasts a clubhouse and banquet facility set on 40 acres. The Cowboy Action League is held the first Saturday of every month. Trap and skeet winter leagues begin January 3, 2016. Public non-league shooting times are scheduled on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.
“People don’t need to be a member to shoot here,” Pickerd explains. “They can just come out. If someone wants to bring a group, we’d like them to call and reserve a time. We have private groups out here often, including bachelor and bachelorette parties, who shoot trap and skeet.”
Shooting skeet as the snow flies. Photo by Ron Parker.
Public shooting hours vary from club to club so it’s a good idea to check their websites for times. Most have weekday and weekend open-shooting hours. Nominal fees are charged for each line of trap and skeet, which consists of 25 clay pigeons, or “birds.” Target load ammunition is usually available for purchase. Some clubs rent guns and offer lessons.
“Clay target sports and handgun shooting are two of the fastest growing shooting sports in the U.S.,” notes Ken Wiley, manager for Kent County Conservation League, the oldest club in the region. It was founded in 1930. “I give a lot of lessons to women who want to shoot clay targets. The demographic really has changed. Five to eight years ago it was really unusual to see women shooting.”
KCCL, 8461 Conservation NE, Ada, is a full-service club that offers lessons. It has skeet fields, trap fields, five-stand and sporting clays. The public is welcome every day. Non-members pay a $10 daily fee along with standard line fees.
“We get a fair number of calls from out-of-state people or business people who want to come out and use the facility,” Wiley says. “We run this like a business. We have guns for rent and give lessons.”
A nice over/under skeet gun. Photo by Ron Parker.
Sporting Clay enthusiasts have another excellent area option at Blendon Pines Gun Club, 8455 88th Ave., in Zeeland. The popular shooting sport involves shooting clay pigeons with different characteristics. Some float in like a landing duck, Others cross like a flying pheasant. Still others bounce along the ground like a hopping rabbit. Each shot requires quick thinking.
“It is fun and different from trap and skeet,” says Russ Grassman, Blendon Pines’ owner. “Those are the same no matter where you go. My wife likes to call this golf with a gun.”
Blendon Pines is open Wednesday through Saturday and for group shoots on Tuesday. Lessons are offered and target loads are available. Shooting a round costs $23. Two boxes of shotgun shells are required for each round.
“We have a lot of corporate shoots here, Grassman said. "We had one company come out with 36 employees, 30 of which were women. Twenty eight of those never shot a gun before. The very next week a number of them came back out with their husbands and did a couples shoot. My wife provided the appetizers.”
Char Willyard, who heads-up the shooting desk at West Walker Sportsmans Club, 599 Leonard St NW, Grand Rapids, approximately 15 minutes from downtown, said she’d like to see more women shooting there. The club has public shooting hours on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Shooters are welcome on its trap and skeet fields and can warm up inside. It’s a friendly place, she said, where people often bring snacks.