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Taking their best shots: Shooting a year-round pursuit at Forks Rifle Club

As it is most nights throughout the winter, the Forks Rifle Club was a busy place Monday evening. Nearly 20 shooters had gathered at the club's indoor shooting range southwest of Grand Forks to compete in the winter Indoor Light Rifle League. Eve...

Light rifle league
Shooters take their place at the line during Monday night's Light Rifle League at the Forks Rifle Club's indoor shooting range southwest of Grand Forks. The range gets a lot of use year-round. (Brad Dokken photo)

As it is most nights throughout the winter, the Forks Rifle Club was a busy place Monday evening.

Nearly 20 shooters had gathered at the club's indoor shooting range southwest of Grand Forks to compete in the winter Indoor Light Rifle League. Every Monday night from early January through March, shooters test their skills with .22 rifles, firing two sets of 20 rounds each at five tiny targets placed on 8½ x 11-inch sheets of paper 50 feet away.

They finish out the evening shooting at 20 silhouettes -- five each -- depicting chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams.

Even with a good scope, hitting the 1-inch silhouettes at 50 feet is a challenge.

That's part of the fun.

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"OK -- shooters to the line," Danny Martin says, instructing the competitors to take their places. "Is the line ready?"

Martin, of Emerado, N.D., oversees the Light Rifle League with club member Tim Coons. One look at the shooters tells him everything he needs to know.

"The line is ready," Martin says. "You may commence firing."

Full slate

Monday night's Light Rifle League is only one of the offerings available to area shooters in winter. Tuesday nights and Thursday nights, a core of Rifle Club volunteers oversees young shooters age 12 to 17 in the Junior Marksmanship Program. Wednesday nights, some of the club's more serious shooters compete in the Four-Position League to test their skills from the prone, standing, sitting and kneeling positions.

Friday afternoons, more young shooters gather to plink at targets with air rifles. And this winter, for the first time, the Forks Rifle Club is offering an indoor handgun league Friday nights.

"This is great for taking care of cabin fever," said Tom Reiten, secretary-treasurer of the Forks Rifle Club and a member since 1977. "You can only go so long without smelling gunpowder before you go into withdrawal."

But as Reiten will attest, there's no reason for that to happen. He figures he shoots about 1,000 rounds a month.

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Besides weekday leagues, the Forks Rifle Club hosts several indoor shooting matches during the winter and outdoor events in the summer. And club members can access the outdoor shooting range any time of year as long as there's no event in progress. The 100- and 200-yard sighting-in ranges get the most use.

"There's something going on most days,"

Reiten said.

No doubt, though, the centerpiece attraction -- at least during the winter -- is the club's indoor shooting range. Built with club funds and grants from the National Rifle Association's Range Development Program and the Friends of the NRA Foundation, the indoor range opened in 2004.

Reiten said club members invested "a pile of sweat equity" to build the indoor range over a period of about five years, doing everything but erecting the shell of the building and some of the concrete work.

The facility, which sits on the club's 120-acre site about 15 miles southwest of Grand Forks, features a 40x80-foot shooting range with eight lanes and a 24x24-foot clubhouse. There've been several improvements since 2004, Reiten said, most recently the installation of overhead baffles that allowed them to open the facility for the handgun league.

It's a huge improvement, he says, from the days when club members had to haul equipment to indoor ranges at UND and in the basement of the U.S. Border Patrol office on South Washington Street. Or the four years when adult shooters trekked to Halstad, Minn., some 50 miles away, every Wednesday night during the winter because no other indoor range was available.

"I just smile every time I walk in the range," Reiten said. "We've got good ventilation, we've got a good facility and good equipment for the juniors and it's showing. The juniors nowadays, with the equipment and the opportunity to shoot, are shooting much better scores than when we were scraping along with just the barest of equipment."

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According to Reiten, the Forks Rifle Club formed in 1933 for shooters focused on competitive events. Over time, though, more people became interested in the range for sighting in hunting rifles and testing hand-loaded bullets.

The club has been at its current location since the mid-1970s. Even during the dead of winter, the outdoor range is a popular spot for predator hunters to sight in their rifles.

"The number of people interested in recreational shooting compared to competitive shooting has probably grown to about two-thirds of the adult membership," Reiten said.

He said the club is planning to construct a three-sided building over the top of the outdoor sighting-in range so shooters can use the facility in inclement weather.

"Most of our efforts right now are focused on improving the sighting-in range for the recreational shooter," he said.

Giving it a shot

Marcus Moeglein of Reynolds, N.D., was one of the shooters competing in Monday night's Light Rifle League. Moeglein doesn't hunt but he does enjoy shooting. That interest, he said, led him to try the club's high-power rifle league last summer.

This winter, for the first time, Moeglein is shooting light rifle Monday nights and four-position Wednesday nights. It's a good way to spend a winter evening, he said.

"It's a nice facility, and it gets me out of the house two nights a week," Moeglein said.

Monday night, Moeglein was shooting the 1950s-vintage Montgomery Ward .22 he received as a gift when he was about 12 years old. His grandfather gave him the rifle, and it still has the same two-power scope that came with the gun out of the box.

It's not the most precise rifle, Moeglein said, but it's fun to shoot a gun with so much history.

"I'm not here to win any trophies," he said. "It's a personal challenge. A lot of it's in your head. When I'm at the shooting line, I try to relax and enjoy it."

Monday night, he scored a 181 out of a possible 200 during his best set of 20 shots.

"Any score in the 180s is pretty good," he said. "Get into the 190s, and you're an excellent marksman."

The Forks Rifle Club's winter season began Jan. 4, but there's still time to sign up for a league. Results are based on their top five scores, so shooters don't necessarily have to attend all 10 weeks of competition.

According to Reiten, a basic club membership costs $45 annually, which gives members access to the outdoor facilities throughout the year. There's also a charge of $45 for each of the indoor leagues, Reiten said, mainly to cover the cost of heating and targets.

Youth memberships cost $15, and they can participate in all of the events at no additional charge.

"The future of the shooting sports like any sport is in getting people involved," Reiten said.

These days, the future of the Forks Rifle Club looks very bright indeed.

On the Web: www.forksrifleclub.org .

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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