For a noisy place, the Peoria Skeet and Trap Club seems relatively obscure.
The facility located along Illinois Route 26 south of Bayview Gardens has been there almost 60 years. Founded in 1935 in Peoria, the club has been a haven for local devotees of two of the primary forms of clay-pigeon shotgun shooting.
Still, some club members believe its profile is low.
“I think most people aren’t even aware that we exist over here,” said Kent Koshkarian, the club treasurer. “Unless you go by here, you hardly even know it’s here.”
A recent Saturday at the club provided scenes that might dispel Koshkarian’s notion, at least for the casual observer.
The place was loud and busy. It was playing host to a “meat shoot” – a tournament in which the prizes were gift cards from Peoria-area butcher shops. Gunfire from the 10 skeet-and-trap fields was plentiful. Gunpowder was pungent.
Smoke wasn’t causing Chris Phelps’ eyes to well. But in talking about the club that has 225 or so members, board member Phelps sounded a bit misty – including when he discussed its future.
The cost of shooting has risen significantly in recent years, Phelps said. Koshkarian and Nick Ripley, the departing club president, concurred.
“Our sport isn’t cheap,” Ripley said. “Ammunition used to be 5 bucks a box. Now it’s 10, if you can find it.”
Phelps also mentioned an Illinois political climate he believes is detrimental for firearms enthusiasts.
“We’re a not-for-profit club,” Phelps said about a facility open three days a week to non-members. “If no one is shooting, we can’t pay the bills. We exist to sell targets to people that want to shoot them. And if nobody’s shooting, it’s tough. We don’t have a product to merchandise, to sell.”
But the club does have a new experience to sell. Officials believe it will appeal to current and potential shooters who might consider skeet and trap boring and repetitive.
At the north end of the club grounds sits a so-called “Five Stand.” The area, which in September opened for use, has five stations and about a dozen clay target throwers, or traps.
Shooters take turns at various combinations of clay targets. Cards at each station list the sequence. Some targets are flung into the air. Others roll along the ground.
The Five Stand is a concentrated version of sporting clays, a third popular form of clay-pigeon shooting. The discipline simulates in-the-wild conditions and offers various target angles, speeds, sizes and trajectories.
“All the information you read is that’s what people want to shoot, because there’s so much variety,” Ripley said. “Whereas trap and skeet are the same.”
In skeet, two opposite machines launch targets on sideways aerial paths that intersect in front of the shooter. In trap, one machine launches targets on an aerial path away from the shooter.
Sporting clays usually takes place on a course of at least 30 or so acres. The entire Peoria club is about that size, according to Ripley.
“If we had the acreage, we could put sporting clays in,” he said. “We couldn’t do trap and skeet and sporting clays. Sporting clays is like golf with a shotgun.”
The Five Stand cost the club about $40,000, but Ripley and the others believe it’s worth the investment.
Koshkarian suggested the Five Stand can help hunters tune up for their respective seasons. It also might help the club attract more trade from non-members. Right now, the club averages between 40 and 60 non-members per month.
“We can sustain, basically,” Koshkarian said. “But the issue is we need both member and non-member visitors to be here … We’re hoping that this brings in more visitors that then also become members.”
Peoria Skeet and Trap Club also is cultivating potential members among area youth.
The club plans to play host to a nascent trap-shooting team from nearby Metamora Township High School. An eight-week summertime youth program averaged 38 participants per week this year, an 11-season high. They also are schooled in firearms safety, which club members said is a top priority.
“That’s kind of the life blood,” Koshkarian said. “You’ve got to get new shooters into the game, and if you can start them young, that’s even better.”
A partnership with the nearby Sankoty Lakes resort also helps the club, according to Ripley. Sankoty Lakes donated new skeet-target throwing machines and also provides the club special overnight rates. Next year, the resort might sponsor a club tournament.
Next May, the Peoria club is to play host to the annual Armed Services Skeet Championships, a national event open to active and retired military. Winning the bid for that tournament was quite the coup, said Ripley.
“By and large, the club is doing pretty well,” he said.
Phelps sounds like he can’t wait to show shooters new and old the Five Stand he helped install. Not to mention a place where he’s shot for 36 years, not long after a work accident almost cost him his left arm and ended many of his athletic pursuits.
“A friend brought me down here, and I just fell in love with it,” Phelps said. “It means everything to me, outside of my family. I love the place. It’s a great club.
“I’ve traveled all over the nation shooting skeet tournaments, and you’ll never find a better place to shoot.”