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Rifle club hits mark with varied programs

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SNOQUALMIE - Tom Maxwell was the first person to show up at the Snoqualmie Valley Rifle Club's shooting range last Wednesday, but he wasn't by himself for long.

By 10 a.m. nearly a half dozen other shooters came with their homemade targets and some, like Maxwell, with their homemade guns. Maxwell was going to try out his Thompson Contender, a pistol with one of his own muzzles. He can change the muzzle to one of the 12 different caliber he has and saves money by making his own bullets out of spent casings. For a serious, yet thrifty, gun enthusiast, the Snoqualmie Valley Rifle Club shooting range is perfect.

"I'm glad it's here," Maxwell said.

Few clubs could get such a spontaneous draw on a weekday morning, but must clubs are not the Snoqualmie Rifle Club, which has a membership hovering around 500. The club is an opportunity for both experienced and novice shooters to learn about the safety and fun of shooting.

"I get to meet people from all walks of life," said gun club president Tom Gordon.

The club began in 1946 as an informal group of Valley riflemen who had a firing range near Fall City. Later on, the club began leasing a plot of land from Weyerhaeuser,Co. off State Route 202 at the bottom of the Snoqualmie Falls hill between Snoqualmie and Fall City. The property has two ranges, a 200-yard range for rifles and a 50-yard range for pistols. There also are five "discipline" bays where members can set up close-range targets to practice different kinds of shooting, like pistol action or cowboy shooting.

While some of the members may prefer to hunt, the rifle club range is a welcome feature. Many may have grown up firing guns in the woods of the Valley, but additional laws and restrictions have reduced the area in which they can shoot. Unlike some shooting ranges where anyone can walk in, fill out some paperwork and start shooting, the gun club's range is restricted to members who have gone through gun safety training and are familiar with the rules of the range.

"We haven't had a safety issue [at the gun range] in 50 years," Gordon said.

All members, who have access to the range during shooting hours, also must be members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Gordon said the club doesn't take political stances on anything as part of its 501 (c) (3) nonprofit certification, but it is associated with the NRA for the organization's safety programs, which the Snoqualmie Valley Rifle Club uses. Part of that is helping new shooters unlearn what they have seen in movies, from shooting technique to basic safety precautions.

"Some people will just talk about their rights [as a gun owner], but at the end of the day you have a responsibility to yourself and your family," Gordon said.

While the club has a solid and committed membership base, it tries to be as new-shooter friendly as it can and is not exclusive. Any and all are welcome to the numerous events the club hosts throughout the week for everyone from junior shooters to black powder (muzzle loaded) gun aficionados. Every fall the club hosts Hunter Sight-In Days, a kind of public service event where the club invites people to the range to blow the bust of their rifles and get them checked out before hunting season starts. There is also a women's shooting group with the tongue-in-cheek name of the Garden Club.

"At events, anywhere from a quarter to a third of the shooters are women," Gordon said.

The club is also a great place to talk shop. Gun technology is still evolving and Gordon said the club is a great way to see the latest developments in guns. He said gun technology is like automobile technology, with the newest innovations starting at the top and working their way down to luxury models and then to more modest types as they become more affordable. Guns are the same way, and members keep an eye on what the military is doing with its own weaponry to see what may be available in the next 10 to 20 years. "Smart" guns able to recognize their owners and some with magnetic triggers are just a few of the technologies being developed.

In the end, Gordon said the club is just a fun and social way to get to know fellow shooters. Since the club's membership fee is low and a simple gun can be affordable, shooting is not an expensive sport. Improving one's range score and assuring gun safety may be the goals of the organization, but Gordon said it is the people that keep him involved in the Snoqualmie Valley Rifle Club.

"It has always been a lot of genuine, nice people," Gordon said.

* For information about the Snoqualmie Valley Rifle Club, call (425) 222-7872 or visit www.svrifle.com.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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