Following the closure of the county gravel pit to recreational shooters, the Eagle Cap Shooters Association (ECSA) has sought to find and organize a safe, permanent range in Wallowa County.
It hasn't been an easy road. The club had what it thought was a final site chosen on Sheep Creek Hill in July, but discussions over the lease broke down in the end, sending the club back to step one. Two other possibilities are now being explored, said ECSA president Duncan Hunter. "We're looking at land owned by Wayne Voss. Its limited in terms of range, but we could easily establish a one- and two-hundred yard range and a pistol course and a cowboy course," Hunter said. The second site is undergoing a change of ownership, and Hunter didn't give specifics. "The new owner does appear to be interested, but we don't want to get in the way of the deal," he explained.
ECSA has around 45 paid members at the moment, Hunter said, with others attending meetings fairly regularly. "I expect when we actually have something to offer them they'll pay their dues," he said.
Right now would be a good time for those interested to become members, Hunter said, pointing out that currently an individual membership costs $25 and a family membership $35, rates that will certainly go up once a permanent range is offered.
Why is a range important? "State Police say they have an average of about three to five complaints a month of people shooting unsafely on their property - frequently without permission, sometimes even with permission - not observing basic safety. We'd very much like to have a safe range, with our membership trained as range officers and provide that service to members of the public." ECSA hopes to provide firearms safety training as well as hunter safety in a location that allows for the use of firearms. "As it is now, they (hunter safety students) are restricted to BB guns," Hunter said.
It wouldn't just be convenient for the county's youth. The Wallowa County Sheriff's office has expressed interest and, in fact, has an institutional membership in ECSA.
"Their interest is in having a range where they can do their qualification and train in rifle and shotgun as well as pistol," Hunter said.
Presently the officers must travel to La Grande in order to qualify. There will be benefits to the landowner where the range is located as the range will certainly be a benefit to the community, Hunter said. Secondly, the owner can still collect from the land bank and lease to ECSA, which, as a private nonprofit, will allow the landowner to take any subsidized rent as a tax deduction.
ECSA, he stressed, will be fully insured and will be able to hold the landholder harmless in the unlikely event of an accident.
Obviously, all this will cost money. ECSA is seeking to raise funds in several ways, and is currently running a raffle for a new Sauer model 90 rifle in .300 Weatherby Magnum, valued at around $1,500. There will be 400 tickets sold at $10 each, 3 for $25, or 6 for $45.
Additional information on ECSA is available from Treasurer Ralph Stewart at 426-0432, Vice President Tom Crooks at 432-2580, Secretary Bill Oliver at 426-4543, ext. 24, or President Duncan Hunter at 569-2024.