June 21, 2018
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Heated enclosures help Midwestern gun club stay busy year round

By Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Winter was dishing up some of its meanest weather, including a single-digit temperature and a double-digit wind.

But Kevin Carl was quite comfortable shooting a round of 5-stand wearing a thin jacket and jeans. Nary a stocking cap or pair of gloves could be seen.

“Pull,” Carl said, and a pair of orange clay targets sliced into the sky.

The next sounds were shotgun reports. Carl shared a wry smile with his business associates — wind is not a friend to target shooters — and the next person in line took a bead on a pair.

Winter can’t be wished away. Often it just requires a little ingenuity to make it, well, more livable.

Like many outdoors events that peak in summer, target shooting is discontinued by most in the coldest months of the Wisconsin winter.

Leagues take a break for the season. Some clubs cease operations.

But the members and management of Waukesha Gun Club were looking for a solution to the winter woes, both to increase use of the facilities and increase membership.

Put a group that includes carpenters and engineers and construction company owners in a room, ask them to provide an answer to the lack of winter shooting, and what do you get?

Heated, enclosed shooting structures.

It’s not rocket science. But it is extremely rare. Waukesha is the only club with such facilities in the state.

“It’s made a night-and-day difference in winter use of the club,” said club president Pat Gerbensky.

The first enclosure was built for the winter of 2009-10. The club built it from scratch; it features hinged shooting windows, gas heaters and a sliding entry door.

Five shooters can shoot at once. The central window and seating area is designed for the scoretaker.

“And it’s only 100 feet from the clubhouse,” said Terry Neuhaus, who now shoots at Waukesha two to three times a week year-round.

The club paid for materials. Members donated their time for design and construction.

According to a study conducted by Responsive Management, 34.4 million Americans went target shooting in 2009.

For comparison, 28.6 million Americans golfed (a minimum of one round) in 2008, according to the National Golf Foundation.

The Responsive Management study included a wide spectrum of shooting activities at gun clubs and ranges, including hunters sighting in rifles, trap and skeet shooters and handgun owners practicing marksmanship.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with golf,” said Lowell Carl, a club member who has worked on various committees over the years. “In fact, I love the game. But I know many people who don’t golf and would prefer to go shooting.

“If it’s cold, though, it’s hard to get people to come out. Unless you have this.”

Business for last winter increased 59 percent at the club, Gerbensky said. Membership also has increased and now stands at about 1,000.

The first enclosure was such a hit, the club built another five-stand structure this summer, as well as a cover for one of the trap fields.

Shooters can now come, rain or shine, snow or cold.

The five-stand enclosures are 30-by-12 feet and look like mobile homes or construction trailers. One, in fact, has wheels.

The trap “house” is 40-by-10 feet and protects all five shooting positions from the elements. It can be dismantled and stored when winter is over.

The shooting discipline of five-stand is a “mini sporting clays” setup for shotgunners.

Instead of walking a course, five-stand can be run on the space of a typical trap field.

It utilizes eight machines to throw targets. Shooters take aim at 50 targets, divided into five pairs from each of five positions.

“In my mind, it’s the best game for someone who hunts,” Gerbensky said.

The new facilities have been popular with all, Gerbensky said, but may be especially attractive to business people as a way to entertain clients in winter.

Rob McIntyre, branch president of The Horton Group, an insurance and benefits firm with an office in Waukesha, said he tried to do “unique” things with customers to help build the client relationship.

“Ball games and golf don’t really cut it for everybody,” McIntyre said. “And the customer has to commit at least three hours and often a whole day.

“Here we can come out and shoot for an hour, side-by-side, hit some targets and miss others, and then go in the clubhouse for a while. The whole outing can be two hours or less.”

Gerbensky said, smiling, that shooters who “want to endure” can still shoot out in the elements.

But no member has declined to shoot from inside the heated 5-stand units.

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