WEST GARDINER — The shooting range is quiet for now, but as the calendar ticks closer to the opening day of deer season, the members of the West Gardiner Rod & Gun Club expect that to change.

For years, members came to the shooting range behind the club in the fall to test their guns for the coming hunting season in a field with a couple of bunkers and some aging shooting stations.

This year, they’ll see the results of weeks of summertime labor — a 60-foot wide shooting range enclosed on three sides by concrete block walls that are 2 feet thick and 8 feet high. Each of the blocks, made by Auburn Concrete, weighs 3,600 pounds, and they made to interlock, like huge LEGO blocks.

The fourth side is a 20-foot-tall berm covered with a layer of ballistic sand. Access to the facility behind the clubhouse on Collins Mills Road is controlled by gates in a chain-link fence for either people or heavy equipment. “A tremendous amount of work went into this,” club President Scott Farnum said on Friday. “There’s 2 feet of crushed stone under the walls.”

“We had to dig a trench for the crushed stone, and we put in some drainage tiles,” club Treasurer Paul Okerholm said.

“It looks like a shooting range now, rather than an open field,” Farnum said.

The work is not quite done yet. A soundproofed building that will house shooting stations is expected to be built next year; the slab for the building was poured just last week.

And the security and surveillance system has yet to be installed. Money for that comes from an NRA Foundation grant, funded by events held in Maine and sponsored by the Maine Friends of the NRA.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife was awarded a five-year Range Access Improvement Grant in 2012 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support efforts to develop or improve recreational firearm and archery shooting opportunities and promote accessibility to those facilities. The West Gardiner club also took advantage of that money.

Club members embarked on the project after securing $70,000 from the state and the foundation. To meet the match requirements of the grants, club members donated labor to complete the project.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said some clubs are dying out and others have become more active. Fish and game clubs across Maine vary in size from a couple dozen members to a couple thousand members.

Some clubs are old, established long before modern technology and regulation, he said. Many of those clubs are making improvements, thanks to the Pitman-Robertson Funds, which are excise taxes collected on guns, ammunition and hunting gear and funneled back to states to fund conservation efforts.

Mark Latti, spokesman for Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said states receive those funds on a per capita and per license basis.

“We’ve dedicated a portion of those funds for range access grants and improvement projects,” Latti said. “We started those in 2013 and awarded grants through 2017.”

Next year, he said, the department will allocate a portion of grant money to the state’s own shooting range in the Summerhaven gravel pits for a large-scale improvement project.

Trahan said the funds have made significant improvements in safety. He has not heard whether the state will continue the grant program.

“If that money dries up, our organization will be seeking state money to do the same thing,” he said.

The goal of all of this work, Farnum said, is to gain more members to help support the club and its operations. The club now has about 200 members.

He and other club members have visited other ranges, which may have set apart their shooting ranges from the land around them with wires strung on poles, and he thinks West Gardiner has a lot to offer.

One way to get people onto the range is during public access events, required by Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, when the public may use the facility.

The club has both a Facebook page and a website, wgrg.org, where information on public access times will be posted. It also will post a sign in a visible location on the grounds to let people know.

In the meantime, the club will rely on its annual hunters’ breakfast, scheduled for 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Oct. 28 to raise money and bring people through the door.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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