SKEET SHOOTING UNIQUE TO CITY

Bart Ruch has been part of Sunday skeet shooting at the Southwest Conservation Club (SWCC) so long, he can remember when he had a job hand-loading the targets himself.

Nowadays, of course – just like everything else – the job is done by machines. But that doesn’t stop dozens of folks from visiting the club’s skeet fields each month for target practice.

If you’ve heard the gunshots echoing through Waynedale on some Sunday afternoons, you’ve heard what’s been going on at the local club for more than 80 years now.

As part of its regular offering, the club hosts skeet shooting on its grounds the second and fourth Sunday of each month. Open to the public, the cost to shoot is $5 per round. Shooters must bring their own guns and shells.

The skeet – 4 ¼-inch discs made from pitch and clay – are tossed into the air by machines that fling the fragile targets through the air for shooters to shatter with their shotgun shells.

Shooters move between five different stations in a round. Each station has five targets they must try to bring down.

Gary Brautzsch, long-time club member, said offering shooting at the club is important, because it’s one of the few spots in Fort Wayne where outdoor shooting can legally be done within city limits.

“This is the only outdoor place in the city limits you can legally discharge a firearm,” said Brautzsch, a 69-year-old Waynedale resident. “This is the only place locally that we know of, so we try to steer people here because it’s close for everybody. And it’s one of the places they can come and have fun, that’s the main thing.”

It also gets more youngsters outside and offers a more challenging range than other local skeet fields, said Three-Year SWCC Board Member Bill Branstrator.

“It’s important because we’re seeing a depletion of young people going outside and doing activities like this,” Branstator said. “Nowadays, they’d rather staying inside on their phones or computers.”

In addition, the line of trees and shrubs behind the skeet range offers a more realistic background for shooting (more like actual hunting), as opposed to other local ranges, such as one in Wells County and others, which are only framed by open fields, said Branstrator, a retired metal worker who’s been a club member for 54 years.

Like Ruch, Branstrator said he has fond memories of spending his young days at the club with his father, Bill, and his grandfather, James Bunaway. He said he used to work in the trap house, too, hand-loading the skeet so they could be flung into the air for target practice.

The Conservation Club has a long and storied history in Waynedale. Located at 5703 Bluffton Road now, the original site was originally on Godfrey Lane, but was moved to the current site when Bluffton Road was built.

The club got its start in 1938 from an idea by Edward Roehm, along with Dallas Branstrator and John Sheibert, when they acquired five pieces of land in Waynedale. Now, the club’s website notes, the organization’s aim is to “promote true sportsmanship and principles of broad conservation, to promote legislation designed to conserve and restore wildlife in our coverts and waters, and to promote and co-operate in the beautification and purification of our rivers.”

And skeet shooting isn’t the only thing going on there. In addition, the club offers a Fish Fry and Tenderloin Dinners that happen on the first and third Fridays of each month (cost is $9 for adults, and $5 for kids) and 3D Archery that is available to the public on club grounds.

And skeet isn’t the only shooting on the club’s property. The big expanse of land behind the building also offers a 75-yard rifle and pistol range for members to use.

The club now encompasses about 37 acres of land, which includes four ponds used for fishing; trap and skeet fields; a firearms range; an archery course; a campground; a hiking trail; and the fire-engine-red clubhouse.

Ruch, whose father joined the club in 1959, said he has warm memories of coming with his Dad to the club and working to hand-load the skeet for a whopping salary of $2 a day. “Of course, that was a lot of money back then,” he joked.

Once he turned 21 – the age one must be to become a member – Ruch said he joined the club, as well. Ruch, now a 60-year-old retired truck driver, said the club’s bi-monthly skeet shooting is about more than just target practice; it’s also about introducing new people to the sport and making them feel at home at the SWCC.

“We like to teach new people to shoot,” Ruch said. “We need more shooters in the sport. The SWCC really is a unique place and it attracts a great group of people. And we want everyone to feel welcome here.”

Michael Morrissey

Michael is a professional writer and journalist. He attended South Side High School and Northwestern University. He has written for newspapers in Michigan City, Indiana; Pekin, Illinois; and Bradenton, Florida. He also has written for and edited websites in Florida and San Francisco, California.

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Michael Morrissey

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Michael Morrissey

Michael is a professional writer and journalist. He attended South Side High School and Northwestern University. He has written for newspapers in Michigan City, Indiana; Pekin, Illinois; and Bradenton, Florida. He also has written for and edited websites in Florida and San Francisco, California. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer