Families looking for an inexpensive way to spend quality time this summer should check out the McChord Field Sportsman's Club.

Offering skeet, trap and archery, the not-for-profit club provides servicemembers and their families hours of entertainment for what club officials say is one of the cheapest places in the state to shoot archery targets or clay pigeons.

Located just past the McChord Field Burger King, the Sportsman's Club is an afternoon haven to more than 150 archers and shot gunners looking for hunting practice, developing individual skills or competing in league play. Most current members are retirees, ready to help potential members share in the exhilaration of exploding clay pigeons flying through the air from all angles or the satisfaction of an arrow striking its target true.

The Sportsman's Club manages two skeet ranges, one trap range, a known-distance archery range (with six targets ranging from 10 to 60 yards) and a 33-target, 1.75 mile archery walk-through course. All traditional and compound bows are authorized at the club, but not cross bows. Skeet shooters must have shotguns able to fire two rounds without reloading. Trap shooters can use single-shot weapons.

Beginners can get into both sports for under $500. While that may seem expensive, it's a bargain by nonmilitary stndards. Club memberships cost $24 per family, which is much cheaper than skeet or archery clubs in Tacoma or Puyallup, said club President Milton Brokaw.

Skeet shooting is less about aiming and accuracy and more about timing and angles. Shooters stand at various locations on the skeet range and fire at clay disks hurled through the air by traps. The shooter calls for the shot by yelling "pull" and the person who shoots down the most clay disks, or pigeons, is the winner. The game simulates bird hunting, and was used during World War II to teach new recruits how to shoot down moving aerial targets.

Club leadership is always on the lookout for future talent to help maintain its well-earned reputation. McChord's skeet team, all members of the Sportsman's Club, has won the past two Armed Forces Skeet Association retiree national competitions held in San Antonio.

"We are a very supportive organization," Brokaw said. "We support each other, have a lot of fun in competition, and if one wins, we all win."

Brokaw said he hopes current and future members experience the same satisfaction in competition and camaraderie that past members have. He is proud that there are still some World War II veterans who faithfully come to the club to shoot skeet and share war stories with the younger veterans.

"This is where friendships are developed," Brokaw said.

James Baumann chairs the club's other equally satisfying activity - the archery program. Those wanting to get into archery can learn a lot from Baumann, who has been with the Sportsman's Club for nearly 18 months. The former Special Forces Soldier works for the Veterans Administration, but spends much of his time stalking targets in the walk-through archery course, practicing for the upcoming hunting season. He doesn't call himself an archery expert, but some members say he's the strongest archer in the club; he shoots the largest bow, a traditional English longbow, which tops out at a draw weight of 85 pounds.

Baumann is both a skeet shooter and archer, but after five minutes with him, bow and arrow in hand, it's clear which he favors.

"Archery is alive; it's bone-satisfying," he said. "When you shoot the arrow, it swims through the air instead of just blindly, mechanically plowing through like a bullet."

The course allows bow hunters to replicate Northwest hunting environments. The course isn't as long as others in the area, but it doesn't need to be. Most skilled archers shoot from within 20 yards of the target. Bauman said a friend once triumphantly described his kill from 40 yards away.
"I told him don't worry, keep practicing; it takes skill to get close," Baumann said.

The club is open year-round for traditional bowmen, since it requires more practice than the more mechanical compound bow, Baumann said. Most clubs in the area don't cater to both types of bows, but at McChord, offering both is a conscious choice. Baumann's deputy chair of the archery committee is Rocky Boardman, an avid compound shooter who ranked third in the state several years ago when he shot competitively.

"Not only do we work together to ensure the club is and remains focused on both groups, but we are also friends and even more telling, hunting partners," Baumann said.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord units can use the club for team-building events or meetings. Archers wanting to engage in a friendly competition will not be disappointed. The club has five major three-dimensional-target tournaments planned throughout the year. And the archery league held at the club is ongoing - with archers turning in the best 10 scores of 17, Baumann said.

The club is accepting new members to join the already 150 archers and shot gunners who use the clubhouse and grounds. Most members come for the afternoon, but it's not uncommon to have people stop by during lunch breaks and fire a few rounds on the skeet range or practice for an upcoming hunt on the archery walk-through course, Brokaw said.

"You can walk next door to Burger King and get something to eat," the club president said. "People can't believe you have a shotgun range next to the Burger King."

The next big event will be the annual membership meeting June 21, where shot gunners and archers exchange roles and compete in a Joint Archer/Skeet Competition. This will give both Baumann and Brokaw the opportunity to learn the other's favorite sport, building even a greater degree of camaraderie between the two, Brokaw said.

"My experience with archery was as a little kid with little arrows that maybe would make it to the other side of the room," he said.

Lorin T. Smith: lorin.smith@us.army.mil