Where does one go to shoot today that is clean and safe, somewhere that is not the more common informal “shooting dump”? A facility that is available to a cross section of users with a variety of shooting interests whom all practice safe gun handling? Fortunately, in the Coeur d’Alene/Spokane area we have a number of just such ranges.
Ours is quite unique in the sense that it is the only joint civilian, police, and military use facility in Idaho on Federal property. It is actually one of the few of this type in the United States. Fernan Rod & Gun Club, (FRGC) is located in the Fernan Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. FRGC is a State of Idaho non-profit and IRS 501c(4) non-profit corporation. The range facility is a co-operative effort of FRGC, United States Forest Service (USFS), and the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG).
FRGC, a National Rifle Association (NRA) affiliate, came into existence much like the proverbial Phoenix. It arose from the ashes of another NRA club, Spokane Practical Shooters (SPS), in neighboring Washington State that dissolved their corporation and disbanded, in great part due to the fact that members had lost their place to shoot. There also was divisiveness amongst the membership, which tore the club apart. Sound familiar?
We started SPS after holding informal International Practical Shooters Conference (IPSC) matches among other things, at the Spokane Valley Rifle & Pistol Club in the Mica, WA area. We originally were just shooting the old Cooper style combat matches that many of us there had been doing as Washington Defensive Pistol Association members since the early to mid 70’s. We later affiliated SPS as a formal IPSC club as Jeff Cooper had founded IPSC and we had an increasing number of members who shot IPSC for score. SPS also operated as an independent entity paying a fee to SVRPC to use their land, upon which SPS made a number of improvements.
As I understand it, SVRPC has been at their current location for some time before we started shooting there in the early to mid 80’s. As I recall, that club had lost their original location in the Valley due to urban encroachment and found the present location to, like many of us, “find a place to shoot.” As mentioned earlier, differences between the two clubs as well as other factors led to changes.
My goal as former president of both those Washington clubs was to learn from our mistakes and build a range that would be accessible to the largest cross-section of our community as possible. I would like share our experiences with a cooperative effort concept of range development.
Like most clubs, we were short on financial resources so purchasing our own piece of property was out of the question. Being an Idaho resident, I mentioned my experience as past-president of two NRA clubs in Washington to a local gun shop in Coeur d’Alene and described how we had lost our range. They suggested an area in the Panhandle National Forest that had been an informal “shooting pit” for many years. In March 1989 I drove out to look at what was to become the site of FRGC.
What I found was initially disappointing. The area had become a dumping ground. I felt though, that we could turn a “black eye” for local sportsmen and the USFS into a “shining star” example of a range instead. This would be mutually beneficial as it would provide a place for a new gun club and would clean up Forest Service land while at the same time helping to accomplish one of Forest Service’s mission goals of providing better recreational opportunities on public lands.
I met with Recreation Specialist Jack Dorrell of USFS. He was enthusiastically supportive of the idea of a range in the beginning, and continues to be our liaison today.
He has been a prime mover in the success of this cooperative effort. I have found that if one offers their hand in friendship and ready to work, as opposed to “palm up” wanting a government agency to “do something”, the response is tremendous. Initially, we started the range as an agreement between USFS and my civilian/police training school, Security Awareness & Firearms Education (SAFE), which I have operated since 1985. This was because of Forest Service’s concern for lack of continuity on part of a club operating the range. Two previous groups had tried to operate a range at this location, with minimal success. One was a non-profit outdoorsmen club and the other was a training company similar to my own. USFS has had more success generally with a “vendor” operating under a permit than with volunteer groups. This is usually due to lack of long term plans and management on part of the club type organizations. This is true across the country, not just here locally.
After starting some brush clearing and general site work, Forest Service offered some obsolete outhouses to the range. Shortly after this I discussed some ideas with Jack, which might make the operation under a non-profit club, seem feasible. I felt that a club would better meet the goals of multiple users in the long term than my school because I hoped that the club would last beyond SAFE and me. However, we both wished to avoid the pitfalls that commonly plague the operation of such an organization. We put together a plan along with an administrative structure that we felt would achieve our goals. A check with NRA allowed those changes to the basic NRA By-Laws that we still use today. This was something that allowed a long-term master plan to be implemented and continued which would assure USFS that we would uphold our end of the agreement.
Our first job was to demonstrate to Forest Service that we were serious about the project. We spent a weekend hauling truckloads of trash from the site to the dump. We also refurbished a log footbridge across a creek, and added target stands downrange. These things alone were not remarkable as other groups had tried to maintain the range over the years. These groups eventually “burned out” from constantly cleaning up after irresponsible users. Based on my previous experience as a former officer in other NRA clubs, I felt we needed a club that would serve the widest group of people possible. We would of course need revenue to build and support the facility. Member’s support in the way of dues and volunteer labor is usually not a problem as long as they see some benefit. No one lasts very long when they perceive their efforts to be solely directed at picking up someone else’s mess.
We also wanted to address the interests of those who didn’t want to belong to an organized club but still needed a place to shoot. I entered into an agreement with USFS called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which spells out both parties’ expectations and responsibilities regarding working on public lands. In this agreement we planned a “public” and a “club” range to be administered by the club. This would permit members to have a restricted access area to develop which would be free of vandalism, while maintaining a “free use area” for non-members. The extent of our responsibility to the public range is trying to keep it clean, although we attempted to do much more.
USFS allowed us to install a USFS specification gate, controlling access to the ranges. This was our second job demonstrating commitment as we paid for and installed the gate. At this time we had $600 left from dissolving the previous club/corporation, Spokane Practical Shooters. Upon a vote by remaining members of that defunct club, we donated $300 to National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA/ILA) and spent the other $300 on the new gate. Our club has all the old remaining steel from SPS as well. FRGC had begun.
Today, 23 years later, we have a very successful and popular facility. We have “graduated” from the MOU to a Special Use Permit. We have not had to face the problem of urban encroachment due to our location, yet we are only a few minutes scenic drive from downtown Coeur d’Alene. We have national and international visitors and users in part thanks to that proximity. Many visit FRGC while here on conferences in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.
For many years we have made this public free use area possible. However, due to the increase in population in the region which has resulted in heavier abuse of the “public site” by a small segment, we are in agreement with Forest Service’s decision to close the public site. The trash situation and safety concerns are no longer manageable. As soon as feasible it will be closed and become part of FRGC. We will continue to be available to public use but under our supervision and scheduling, hence no littering or safety violations. Our plan is to have a caretaker at that location to monitor access and use of the facility.
FRGC membership is open to anyone who wishes to join and exercise responsible and safe gun handling practices. A variety of activities are held at the range and it is used by a diverse number of groups. There is no charge to police or military personnel who are using the facility during a scheduled agency or unit activity. Soldiers and police who use the club on their own time join and support the club just like their fellow civilian members. Our philosophy is that “support your local law enforcement” goes beyond the bumper sticker on the car. We extend that support to our Reserves, National Guard, and Active Duty Services for the same reason.
There is also no charge to IDFG Hunter Education students or instructors. We support those volunteers as the area “Hunter Proficiency Center”, a term coined by Dan Papp of IDFG. We also host other volunteer based groups such as Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, and Search & Rescue for free as well.
Family or individual memberships are currently $300 a year from January to December. Family means primary member, spouse, and all children living in the home under 18. There are no day-use fees on top of this, just the flat annual dues. All proceeds go into development and improvement of the facility. Five year memberships are available for $800 and a Lifetime membership is $2500, $2000 for seniors 65 and over.
What does one get as a member? FRGC has six separate, main firing lines. They are multiple use lines, but are called “Rifle” and “Pistol” lines. Each is a concrete floored, metal roof covered line with benches and tables. Rifle is a minimum 30 position, 400-yard flat range with longer distances possible shooting up hill. The main pistol bay is a minimum 20 position, 50-yard range. The other 4 pistol bays are approx. 25 yard ranges. Bays are numbered for scheduling and match purposes as 1-8 as one enters the facility, with the main Pistol line being Bay 7, followed by Bay 8 and the Rifle line. Members also have access to the club building for shelter and heat as well as target shacks with a variety of targets for their use. Activities are scheduled outside of general usage which members receive in a newsletter or check on our website. They can attend numerous shooting events. Or they can just go plink. The range is kept open year around for member access. Most importantly, one is sharing a safe range with other shooters who value a safe and friendly shooting environment.
We can all enjoy our shooting activities while helping to preserve our civil rights by supporting FRGC, as well as any other club to which you may belong. Do so with your dues. Do so with volunteer efforts on work days or during club matches and activities. Do so by being a supporter of all shooting sports/activities even if they aren’t the ones you principally enjoy. Join groups like National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Foundation. We are stronger as a unified force against those that would attempt to deprive us of our most fundamental civil liberties. Our unity and service to the community has saved this club at least twice in the past. Other organizations have failed to unite in the past and are no longer with us today. Stay safe!