Bob Fralick, president of the Clark County Sportsman’s Club, says skeet shooting is generally on the wane.
But the club at has been tuning up target trajectories in three skeet fields reasoning that night-time shooting — skeet under the lights — might attract a summertime following.
The wobble stand is a bit of a novelty, requiring that teammates take turns firing and loading their .12-, .20-, .28-gauge or .410 shotguns as 50 clay birds spray across the yawning field in front of them.
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But it’s the sporting clays, which sharpen hunting skills, that interest most shotgun shooters these days.
The club’s open field course, with its greater distances, offers a higher level of challenge, and the sturdy five-stand platforms, built in Fralick’s garage, offer one-stop shooting for older shooters with mobility issues.
Still, the bread-and-butter — “really, the gem,” Fralick said — is the sporting clays woods course with it 50 targets, both imitation rabbits and clay birds, at nine varied stations.
Like other members of the club at 3450 Ballentine Pike, Fralick, who has risen from trustee to treasurer to president since his return to membership in September, wonders whether all the work will attract enough new blood to keep the club going and the shooting tradition they so love alive.
That tradition shines no more than when members done with their day’s shooting shoot the breeze in the shaded patio abutting the clubhouse.
The stories swapped there, “you can’t get that just anywhere,” Fralick said.
The freshest story 74-year-old Dave Evans offers involves being up to his neck in water three years ago while helping a friend drag a moose out of a lake in Idaho’s Selway Wilderness Area.
The annual trip, which he used to drive all 5,200 miles of, “is my vacation,” he said, a vacation he’s taken for 29 of the last 30 years, the exception being 2001, when he was supposed to drive out on Sept. 12, the day after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Evans, who lives outside of Alcony and has shot since his Tennessee boyhood, was looking for a place to shoot half a dozen years ago after retiring from GM Moraine when, “I came in (to the club) and everybody treated me like I’d been here forever.”
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One of those welcoming him was 81-year-old Bob Stimson, who as a youth hunted the 500 acres on his grandparents’ farmland, which now is home to the Prime Ohio Industrial Park.
A club stalwart and member since 1967, he belonged when it occupied ground that now sits at the bottom of the Clarence J. Brown Reservoir.
After some talking, members of the club brought their name with them when they migrated and merged with the Clark County Fish and Game Club on Ballentine Pike just south of Ohio 41, the land having been used before either club had been around by what might seem a contradiction in terms: an organized group of raccoon hunters.
In his wheelchair now, Stimson can’t swing a gun like he used to and loss of muscle has led him to give up his .12-gauge for a lighter, .28-gauge, just one notch down in power. But he still enjoys shooting.
Carl Johnson, 80 and a member for 22 years, can’t recall whether it was bacon or ham he won back in 1955 during a shooting contest near his Thorp, Wis., home.
He does know he had more strength in the legs that, a few years back, became unsteady enough that he had to give up hunting. But the Vietnam-era Air Force veteran and former police firearms instructor, hunting educator and NRA range safety officer still shoots, using a golf cart to get around.
He also helps with the mowing when he can.
“Either I get it done or I get someone else to get it done,” he said. “That’s the spirit we have out here.”
“Like I say,” he said for the second time in the conversation, “this keeps me alive.”
Although Creed Harrison, 71, doesn’t go that far, he shoots at both of the club’s available days, Tuesdays, and then Sundays after church. (Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. both days.)
Robin Berry, 62, had done a lot of handgun shooting before her retirement, and came out with Bob Ingoldsby, her good friend’s husband, to give shotguns a try.
“Four shotguns later, I got the gun I love,” she said.
She said the attraction of sporting clays “is the moving targets. It’s where you look and swing the gun and the amount of lead on the bird. It’s moving, and you’d better be in front of it.”
She’s hoping to attract more female shooters to the club that she found so welcoming, though offers an unusual appeal: “You’re going to hate (shooting) in the beginning because you’re going to miss. But somebody will work with you. I’m willing to teach anybody.”
To say that uber-friendly Bob Brown and his wife, Tricia, a teacher at Springfield High School, had a shotgun wedding isn’t quite right. But their first date was trap shooting.
“She’s a gun girl,” he said. “She knows her guns.”
And she doesn’t mind the time her husband spends reloading their spent shells. Doing so not only saves money in a sport that can be expensive, said Brown, a time competitive archer and toolmaker, but allows him to “dial in a specific load” that matches his swing and softens the recoil for his wife.
The cost of shells is just one of the things that weighs on Doug Irwin’s mind as the youth member considers the ongoing challenge he faced during his club presidency: retaining and recruiting members.
It’s a quest made more deeply personal by the sport’s connection with the important people in his life: his father, who was a raccoon hunter; his step-grandfather, who hunted squirrels and rabbits; former game warden Harold Blackwood, who taught him hunter safety.
Recalling a time when the club was robust enough to raise pheasants and take part in state game, he’s lobbying to get the state to raise hunting license fees to support a campaign that would breathe life back into the sport at a time when young people have so many choices in how to spend their time.
In some ways, the club’s challenge in that regard is illustrated by its location on Ballentine Pike: It’s slightly off the beaten path and on the far side of a soccer field.
For more information about the Clark County Sportsman’s Club, go to clarkcountysportsmansclub.com.