Keeping Clubs Open — One Curtain At A Time
It’s an all too familiar story. A small local shooting club has been operating at the same location for more years than the members can remember. They’ve used the same two or four trap-and-skeet fields for that entire time. The shooters have enjoyed being able to shoot at a familiar club close to home.
But, urban encroachment has slowly been taking over. Eventually, someone moves into the neighborhood who doesn’t like the noise of the shooting. When the new neighbor discovers the noise isn’t enough of a nuisance to close the club, they look for another reason and soon learn they can complain about the fact the club is depositing lead onto neighboring property or into a sensitive area. So, they contact the right government agencies and soon have created a major issue for the small local gun club.
Jim Tyner, one of the founders of ShotStop, has seen this scenario played out at dozens of gun clubs all across the country. The first time he experienced the issue was in 2011, when his friend, Terry Bilbey, owner of the Redland Shooting Park in Redlands, CA, called to tell him he had received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency telling them to cease and desist operations. The EPA wanted to close the Redlands, one of the more successful clubs on the West Coast, because they were depositing lead into the Santa Ana riverbed, which was designated as endangered species habitat.
After 45 years, it looked like Redlands was going to suffer the fate of so many other clubs. “It couldn’t get any worse. If you are putting lead into an endangered species habitat that is also a wetlands, it doesn’t get any worse than that,” Tyner said. “So I had read about some clubs back East that put a shot curtain as a test and some guys working on a system to collect shot. I read about that a couple of years before so I went back to look at that.”
As part of the process, Tyner said they even took government agency representatives on field trips to see shot curtains at other facilities. “Long story short, we actually got 14 government agencies to sign off that the shot curtain would be an acceptable solution to putting lead into the endangered species habitat,” he said.
With permission obtained from the agencies, Tyner contacted the shot curtain company to place an order. And, he was told they had decided not to make that material any longer. Faced with a new challenge, Tyner looked at many different materials. “We looked at all the materials off the shelf out there, and there is nothing else that can sit out there at 90 yards and take millions of pellet impacts,” he said.
Finally, the company that had previously sold the curtains put him in touch with the company that knits the material for the curtains. “So I got in touch with them, and they said they could improve it actually. So we worked on a different formula for making the fabric and came up with a better one and started making it,” he said.
After installing the curtain at the Redlands, Tyner said they began to get calls from other clubs that were facing the same problem. Finally, he and Bilbey and another trapshooting buddy, Gary Bombalicki, decided to pursue the production of curtains as a business venture.
While ShotStop is a business, for Tyner it’s more of a calling than a job. He’s been shooting trap for more than 15 years and has a passion for the shooting sports.
“About three dozen clubs have actually installed the curtains. But the other thing is we got into this not as a business but as a necessity. It turned out to be a bigger necessity than we ever envisioned. I do this as an avocation and not as a business. And so it’s very rewarding to see a club that is still running,” he said.
“I shot at Redlands recently, for instance, and as I was driving up my approach was from the back side of the curtain, and I could see the whole curtain. It was very gratifying to see the club open and 100+ shooters shooting there, having a great time enjoying their Second Amendment rights and realizing I was a part of making that continuation possible,” Tyner added.
Tyner has consulted with many other clubs which inquired about a curtain. In many cases, they were able to find other alternatives for the club as opposed to putting up a shot curtain. He explained, “With my background in real estate development law and those lines, we’ve often been able to find a less-expensive solution for the club to control their lead or work an agreement with the landowner, or whatever it might be, so the club doesn’t have to put up a shot curtain and is able to continue shooting on a continual basis that way.”
One of the other clubs that has installed a ShotStop curtain is Newman Swamp Rats in Newman, CA. Secretary/Treasurer Esther Puckett said the club, which has eight trap fields where they hold fun shoots and ATA registered events, said they were facing closure as well.
The club, which was founded in the 1930s, had been surrounded by pasture land. When new neighbors, an almond grower, purchased the neighboring land, they did not want the lead falling on their property.
“Putting in the curtain was something that made our neighbors happy and kept our club open. It’s been a win-win for our club and for shooting,” Puckett said.
In addition to preventing the lead shot from leaving their property, the curtain also enables the Newman Swamp Rats to pick up any lead and reuse it. Puckett estimates they recover 120,000 to 125,000 pounds of lead each year. “We put down tarps to pick up the lead. We sweep it up, clean it and sell it to our members as reclaimed shot,” Puckett explained.
Money raised by selling the shot is used to maintain the ShotStop curtain, she added.
Perhaps one of the largest installations of ShotStop curtains is at the Cardinal Shooting Center in Marengo, OH. They have 52 trap fields that extend east and west for more than a mile and throw thousands of targets each year. Two years ago, the club became one of the first to install a ShotStop Curtain for business reasons, rather than for preservation of the club. Luke Spengler, Trap Shooting Manager & Tournament Director at Cardinal, said the reclamation of shot was one factor in their decision-making.
“There were a number of factors. The economic factor certainly. The other factor was the even background for all the shooters. Nobody really sees it but behind the scenes, Banks 5, 6 and 7, nobody wanted to shoot them because of the background. Now they are the favorite banks,” he explained.
In addition, recent commercial development has impacted the background behind the trap line. A large distribution center was built adjacent to the club, and the curtain helps to block that out.
“In the future, there will be other stuff built over there as well. But it will never be an issue for us as long as we have the curtain up,” Spengler said.
In addition to installing the curtain, Cardinal Center paved the area in front of the curtain where the shot falls. This makes it easier to collect shot often. “We traditionally do it at the end of every event, every shoot,“ he explained. “It doesn’t really take long. We have a broom and a hopper on the front of a skid loader. You just sweep it up. Then we pile it up and run it through magnets and bag it and ship it off to recycle.”
He said Cardinal Center collected more than 170,000 pounds in the first year of using the curtain. They, too, are using the funds from sales of lead shot to maintain the curtain. Spengler said the ShotStop curtain has held up well against Ohio’s windy winter weather. When they had a number of the poles snap in a wind, the curtain itself was not damaged.
While ShotStop curtains have many advantages, and selling shot helps to recover some of the cost, installation can be expensive. However, Tyner notes it is still less expensive than spending thousands of dollars for lawyers, legal fees or government penalties.
Ultimately, clubs that could be facing closure must consider the installation of a curtain to be a long-term investment for their future.
“So the real story or the moral of the story is we have managed to keep a lot of clubs open that would be closed now. That has the same effect as if you were opening new clubs. If you had a company that was building two to four new trap clubs every year that would be quite the story. Of course, that has a very positive effect for tens of thousands of existing members. More importantly, it allows these clubs to pass along the legacy of that club to future generations,” Tyner concluded.
Editor’s note: For more information on ShotStop, see their ad on page 15. SS
Maggie Kelch is an avid outdoorswoman who enjoys fishing, camping, hunting and shooting. With a degree in Journalism from Ohio State University, she spent more than 40 years in communications. She has written for numerous local, state and national publications.