Gun club, now bordered by urban sprawl, hits 100-year mark

PORTLAND, Ore. - Folks have been shooting clay targets at the Portland Gun Club for a very long time - 100 years to be exact.

The club, located at 4711 S.E. 174th Avenue (just off Powell Boulevard), is celebrating its centennial this year and for longtime members like Brian Tarilton, that's certainly something special.

Tarilton and his buddies meet up at the club every Thursday for a little shooting, good-natured ribbing and competition to see who is the best shot.

"This is called sporting clays," Tarilton explained when we asked him what type of shooting they were doing. "This is supposed to simulate hunting, like live bird shooting. You don't just have all targets going away from you. You've got incoming birds and you have birds bouncing along the ground. You shoot at them from all angles and you shoot at them from five different stands."

Tarilton, who also serves on the club's board, has been coming to the Portland Gun Club with his friends for more years than he cares to admit. And he said he's a little surprised that more folks haven't discovered the shooting range that's right in the city's back yard.

"It amazes me that there are so many people that don't know about it," he said. "And we're right here - right in the middle of probably a million people. And there's maybe only a few thousand that know we're here. But fortunately, those few thousand do come out and use it."

"We enjoy it," he added. "It's a lot of good guys and it's a lot of fun."

The Portland Gun Club was first organized in 1907 and was initially located behind a couple of race horse barns at 15th, 16th and Morris Streets. At that time, there was just one trap.

From there, the club moved to West Vanport for a few years and then in 1913 settled in for the long haul at its current location, where it's been for the last 100 years.

"Not much has changed in the way we operate, what we do and the way everything looks around here," said manager Mike Riggs. "What has changed is the surroundings and the neighborhood."

Dave Smith shoots clay targets at the Portland Gun Club on Thursday, April 4, 2013. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Multimedia Journalist.

That is certainly true. Today, the club is surrounded by urban sprawl but back in 1913, there was just the gun club and the now historic Meadowland Dairy. And you had to take a train to get out there.

"There was a train that ran down where the Springwater trail is now and people would ride that out here and walk up to shoot," said Kelly Whitlock, president of the Portland Gun Club.

It was a big affair to head out to the gun club at that time. In those days, it was all very gentlemanly and folks dressed to the nines when they went shooting.

A close-up of one of the historical photos on display at the Portland Gun Club. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Multimedia Journalist.

Of course the dress code is a lot more casual today and it isn't just the 'good old boys' who go shooting at the Portland Gun Club. Women, kids, families, city folk and everyone in between go there. And first-timers are always welcome, especially on the first and third Thursdays of the month when the club holds their shooter's clinic.

"I enjoy teaching new people," said Whitlock. "When a new person breaks a target for the first time, they get really excited and it's a great feeling."

"We've had people come to the class who don't own a shotgun, have never shot a shotgun and within a couple of months they have come back and become members," said Riggs. "And it's all walks of life."

Whitlock wants folks to know there's no need to feel nervous about going to the gun club - it's a lot more welcoming than you might think.

"Sometimes if you've never done it before and you're going to a club that's as old as ours, you might think there's going to be a group that's not going to want to let you in," he said. "And that is completely opposite of how we are."

Kelly Whitlock, President of the Portland Gun Club, poses for a photo on Thursday, April 4, 2013. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Multimedia Journalist.

Now of course, gun legislation is a hot topic right now and you can't stop by a gun club without hearing some opinions.

Rhett Finnerty, one of the club's board members who has been shooting out there since 1972, said he is concerned about what gun control legislation might mean for the Portland Gun Club.

State Championship Coming Up

The Portland Gun Club is busy with renovations in advance of the Pacific International Trapshooting Association (PITA) state shoot that will be held there in June. They've already finished remodeling the clubhouse kitchen and are pouring new concrete, rebuilding a damaged bunker and upgrading their RV sites.

The event will mark another milestone in the club's history. That's because it's been decades since it was last held there - they last hosted it in 1968. Around 200 shooters will be competing.

"I'd like to be able to guarantee it's going to be here 500 years from now - that's what I would like," he said. "But the way things are going with all the rules and regulations they're trying to impose on us now, I don't see that happening."

Finnerty said he's a strong advocate of teaching kids gun safety and he wants the gun club to continue that mission. He is hoping the club can someday get a sponsor for a full-fledged kids' program.

"It instills more personal values than a video game does," Finnerty said. "All these children need to know how to handle a firearm safely and not be scared of it. It's a tool like any other tool. And you can have more fun breaking those little, round clay things that we throw out there on the ground."

Earlier, we had asked Whitlock what he might say to someone who is against firearms or who might be nervous about handling one.

"The first thing I do is ask them if they've ever shot one and if they haven't, try it," he said. "Try it so then you can make an educated opinion about whether you like it or not. I've never brought somebody out here who didn't have a good time."

"A lot of falsehoods are associated with shooting a shotgun," he added. "A lot of people watch the YouTube videos where a female shoots a shotgun, she falls down, the gun hits the ground and there's a guy laughing in the background. It's not like that."

"One of the first things we do in the class is teach people how to stand and how to hold a gun," he explained. "And what you're going to expect when it does recoil. If you're standing correctly, that kind of stuff isn't going to happen."