Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Jerry Packard of Bremen, with fellow shooters at the Lincoln County Rifle Club in Damariscotta, fires at a “clay pigeon” target tossed in the air by an Old Western trap machine. The 400-member club is 80 years old, but many are concerned it could someday be threatened by development on adjacent lots.
Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
Gunnar Gundersen, the Lincoln County Rifle Club president, shows an old photo of the club’s land. “We try to be good neighbors,” said Gundersen, a member for 40 years.
If you run a gun range that has not been contacted by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, call 287-5248.
Yet you barely notice this 80-year-old club in the coastal town that thrives on tourism. Certainly, not on Sundays before 9 a.m. And not at times that would disrupt the crowds during parades or holidays.
"We try to be good neighbors," said president and 40-year member Gunnar Gundersen.
The Lincoln County Rifle Club is one of the oldest of Maine's roughly 80 gun clubs, yet it's still one of many with worries about the future – despite its state-of-the-art facilities, safety features and generous 37-acre home.
A 12-acre parcel on the other side of the club's high dirt shooting berms could be bought up and developed at any time.
If that happened, despite going strong in its current location since 1950, the 400-member club would be at risk of getting shut down.
But hope has just appeared on the horizon for the Damariscotta club.
A federal grant for $750,000 won by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife a week ago means that shooting ranges like Lincoln County's can apply to upgrade their facilities and improve access to make sure their doors stay open.
The gun-range grant will involve a match from qualifying gun ranges, bringing the total spent in the program over five years to $1 million, said Mike Sawyer, IFW's recreational and vehicle safety coordinator.
"The reason for this is to increase the opportunity for the public to have the chance to shoot firearms, whether for shooting sport or for hunting. Many years ago people would go into gravel pits or to an open area and randomly shoot or to site in their rifles for hunting season. Now there are landowner concerns about the safety," Sawyer said.
The gun-range grant application process likely won't be worked out until next spring, Sawyer said, but gun clubs already are excited.
Jeff Boudreau, contracted by the department to help with the new gun-range grant program, said he has confirmed 76 shooting ranges, and he knows more exist.
The grant should help keep many open and increase access to the public, said Sportsman's Alliance of Maine director David Trahan, who will sit on the grant's steering committee.
"Clubs were really naked in the process. When someone knocked on the door and said, 'My client wants to take you to court. Your club is unsafe,' clubs didn't have the resources to go to court or make $30,000 to $50,000 in improvements. At last now, the clubs are not vulnerable. They have a fighting chance," Trahan said.
At least in Damariscotta, a complaint could shut down an institution that has served hunters and shooting sport fans for generations, and still does.
Kolton McKenney of Bremen was at the weekly trap shoot Thursday night as a guest of his grandfather. And while the youth enjoys soccer, basketball and baseball, he said he loves shooting with his grandfather more.
And the 13-year-old is a good shot.
"I shoot on my own property, but this is way more fancy. And there is pressure on me here. I like the pressure," said Kolton, who hit 14 of 25 clay targets, as his grandfather smiled proudly.
Kolton is just one example of the new talent the tight-knit club welcomes at open shoots, where members help teach, mentor and coach members of the public who are new to shooting.
"The club has grown significantly. I used to come out on a Thursday to trap shoot and there would be seven of us. Tonight there were 30. It's hard to believe,"said Don Shiminski, a 30-year member.
Constant upgrades in the form of warning lights at the outdoor range and an improved ventilation system in the indoor range make the club a more suitable public venue, Gundersen said.
But club members who pay $85 annual dues still worry that something unforeseen could close the doors of their beloved old log cabin.
"I always worry. I worry about having a place to shoot. We own enough land, but we don't own enough so that we're free from the worry of someone moving in next door who would not be compatible with the site," said Shiminski.
"I'd like to think we were here first, but it doesn't always work that way."
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:
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Jack Studley, left, Nick Wright and Ross MacKinnon load the trap-shooting machine with new disks at the Lincoln County Rifle Club.