Friday, July 21, 2017  

Shooting for Perfection


Nestled between the Piankatank and Rappahannock rivers in Middlesex County lies a secluded 60-acre gem, wrapped in natural woodlands and meadows, brimming with abundant wildlife, and home to The Middlesex Shooting Sports Club, formerly The Middlesex Sportsmen’s Hunt Club. Ironically, the only thing hunted here is excellence in the shooter’s art.
Celebrating a 15-year anniversary this month, the club began its life in Hartfield as The Middlesex Pistol Hunters’ Club, with five founding members. Over the years, it matured to become The Middlesex Sportsmen’s Hunt Club while its membership steadily increased. Most recently, it morphed 
again to its current designation as The Middlesex Shooting Sports Club, with nearly 500 members — men, women, husbands, wives, friends and families. The past five years have seen membership flourish, especially among women.
The most recent name change accurately reflects the interests of club members. “It’s a great way to celebrate our anniversary,” said board member Trudy Feigum. “We’ve responded to what our people want to do,” said Macey White, chief instructor.
Although some members are hunters, game hunting is not emphasized here. “We’ve evolved from a hunt club into a place for education, instruction and excellence in marksmanship with all types of firearms — a place to hone our skills,” White said.
The property itself is officially recognized as a wildlife habitat through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program; and the club won a stewardship award from the Environmental Protection Agency for lead management. Members agree that it is not unusual to see deer, turkeys, owls and songbirds exploring the property. “It’s like a nature preserve,” Ms. Feigum said. The MSSC range is a true treasure. “It’s a first-class facility that any community would be proud to have,” White added.
The club’s pristine setting features about 32 covered firing positions for pistols and smallbore rifles, with targets ranging out to 100 meters — eight positions with reactive metal targets and eight with retractable targets. For shotgun shooting, the club has four fields with clay targets — two skeet ranges, one trap range and one 5-stand range.
Training, education and safety are essential elements of the club’s vision. MSSC trainers guide interested members through the various levels of the National Rifle Association’s Marksmanship Qualification Program, with courses designed to take shooters from beginning skill levels (Pro-Marksman, Marksman) through intermediate levels (Marksman 1st Class, Sharpshooter, Expert), and up to a nationally-recognized skill level – Distinguished Expert – the pinnacle of the program. By the time shooters achieve the Distinguished Expert rating, they have attained a proficiency level on par with that of a competitively-classified sharpshooter. The Middlesex club includes 12 Distinguished Experts among its members – five of them are women.
Female shooters account for about 35 percent of the club’s membership. MSSC regularly hosts the NRA’s Women On Target program. The class is designed to encourage, educate, and mentor women’s involvement in the recreational shooting sports. Participants in the course may bring their own firearms; and if someone doesn’t own a firearm or other necessary equipment, the club will furnish all the materials needed.
“The class is a must for women who have guns in the home or who think they may want a gun in the home,” said Barbara Wallace, chief instructor. Ms. Feigum, who is currently working to earn the various benchmarks of achievement in the course, is enthusiastic about the program. “It gives us an opportunity to experience firearms training for ourselves — on our own,” she said.
Other ongoing club activities include concealed carry classes, youth firearms training, family and children’s shooting and safety sports camps, and even 4-H archery. “There is truly something for all ages,” White said. “We have a healthy balance in that way.”
Among many other roles, White teaches a firearms safety/concealed carry class. This “NRA First Steps Pistol Course” meets all instruction requirements for qualification to receive a Virginia concealed handgun permit. All MSSC instructors are NRA-certified and approved. In an average year, club instructors train about 350 men, 250 women and 150 children. About 15 to 20 new instructors are trained each year.
One of the club’s many safety officers, range masters or trainers is always on hand to advise and assist shooters. All staff members are volunteers — they are the heart of the club. “We have a vision of being one of the leaders in firearms education and training.” White said. “The way we enforce range rules and safety puts us in the top five percent of shooting ranges in the state.” MSSC is an NRA Platinum Club award winner for its commitment to education and training.
A typical day of shooting includes about 10 to 20 members, shooting an average of 50 rounds each. Although club organizers are serious about firearms proficiency, there is a social side to membership. The group hosts regular fine-dining and fun-dining events, speakers’ forums and family get togethers.
Membership dues are $80 per year, with a one-time $50 initiation fee. Membership/business meetings are held the first Monday of every month and feature a four-star dinner. All new members attend an extensive orientation program, held the first Sunday of each month. Each new member is assigned a mentor to advise and assist with safety and learning. The mentor is on hand for the first few visits of every new member.
 The range is open to members and guests every Thursday from noon until 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. First and third Saturdays are dedicated to the youth program and its supporters from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Fun shoots are hosted on second Saturdays.
Middlesex Shooting Sports Club is located at 1860 Twiggs Ferry Road in Hartfield. For more information: log on to middlesex-range.org, email maceywhite@gmail.com, or find the club on Facebook.