Gun Club takes in 100 years at hosting of the Portland Trapshooting State Championship
Like most people, Elmore Moe Bragg first heard the gun shots from afar.
Then, in 1962, he joined the Portland Gun Club. The former owner of Shooters Emporium, 606 S.E. 162nd Ave., is the oldest living lifetime member of the gun club.
Back then, membership was $5 a year, he said. Now its $75.
Bragg, 79, remembers when the houses and apartments scattered beyond the gun range were a dairy pasture. In the summer, fields of dried-out grass were a fire hazard he said, so the dairy and the gun club made a deal.
We let the dairy run on our grass and theyd let us throw shot on the dairy, Bragg said, chuckling and leaning back in his chair inside the Portland Gun Clubs clubhouse on the first day of the biggest event of the year, the Portland International Trapshooting Association Oregon State Championships.
This year, the event is doubly exciting: The Portland Gun Club celebrates its 100th anniversary.
One round of targets (25 shots) used to be $1, Bragg said, his eyes gazing out the window toward shooters obliterating neon orange clay pigeons, trap, on the range. Now its $5, he said.
But much has changed since the early 1960s.
The prizes are different. Winning money is still a big deal, but there are no more sparkling blue 1968 Novas for shooters to drool over.
The trophies or as Bragg calls them, man on a stump are taller and made of cheap plastic, and few trapshooters wear their winning gold-plated belt buckles.
And while Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill in 1995 that indirectly helped the Portland Gun Club stay open despite noise level complaints, the neighbors still complain, but they dont swear or call you dirty names anymore, Bragg said.
If one thing hasnt changed besides the fact that the gun clubs targets have always been fake, or as Bragg said, No guts, no feathers to pick up and you cant eat em. Says so on the box its the old-time shooters who like to sit around and shoot the can, if you will.
We all like guns, Bragg said.
In his day, he was the Portland Gun Clubs president, director you name it.
He is one of 10 or so old friends and regular members who shoot trap at the club on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
And when theyre not shooting, theyre talking about guns, reloading, cars, politics and girls, he said laughing. But not necessarily in that order.
Bragg started hunting at age 8 in his hometown in Idaho. Many years later, Bragg, 27, landed a job with Safeco Insurance. Thats when he and his wife and two children moved to Oregon during the calm after the historic Columbus Day storm in October 1962.
In those days, members of the gun club were those who could afford membership fees doctors and others like Dick Niles of Portland (auto dealership owner).
While they posed with shotguns and wore collared shirts, sport jackets and fedoras in the 1960s, it was their fathers and grandfathers who sported black suits, ties and dapper caps 40 years earlier.
Started in 1907 at what used to be Union Station in St. Johns, exactly 100 ago, the Portland Gun Club later moved to its current location at 4711 S.E. 174th Ave.
To get to the gun club from Portland, shooters rode a trolley car along what now is the Springwater Trail Corridor, getting off the train in nothing but fields. Men waded through mud to get to the club.
Old Man from the Mountain
If you havent heard of Harry Abernathy, youve probably never shot a gun at the Portland Gun Club.
Known as the old man from the Mountain, by gun club locals, the former logger and AA trapshooter is famous for his crazy and primitive gunsmithing methods.
If he was missing trap, hed take his shotgun out behind his truck and saw two inches off the barrel, said Gun Club President Kelly Whitlock.
If something didnt work, hed make it work for him, he said. Crazy thing is, Whitlock said, A lot of them actually work.
If his pants and tennis shoes didnt fit, hed cut those up too, said Rosann Riggs, who cooked for years in the clubs kitchen for trapshooters. She said Abernathy lived with his wife in what looked like a chicken coop with a sagging porch near Welches.
With his beat-up old hat and filthy feet, He was everybodys friend, she said.
Born in 1908 and dead in 2007, he is the only trapshooter at the club to die and have a bubbling rock fountain memorial dedicated to him, his name carved in a cedar plaque above it. The memorial replaced an old cedar tree that once burst through the club roof facing the gun range.
This weekend, the gun club paid its tribute to Harry, with the Abernathy Challenge.
Everybody has to shoot his guns, former President Mike Riggs said of Abernathy, whose jerry-rigged shotguns are a proud collection in the clubhouse lobby.
A life member and longtime supporter of the club, Riggs said of Abernathy, Without him, we wouldnt even be here.
Best trapshooter around
At the Portland Gun Club, Daisy May, a Scottish terrier, is scuttling behind her owner, Daro Handy, one of the best trapshooters around.
I have shot over a million rounds in my lifetime, Handy said.
His dad put a gun in his hand at 13 years old in Sutherlin near Roseburg.
In trapshooting, clay pigeons are launched from a single house machine into the air away from the shooter. The shooter calls out pull or bird and swings a shotgun to shoot the target.
The first time Handy shot trap at the Portland Gun Club, at 17, he won the handicap shoot (thats where the money is, aside from shooting singles and doubles.)
After shooting for the Air Forces Olympics team, Handy left the service and traveled the world shooting trap.
In 1963, at 22 years old, he won the European Championship and the Cup of Nations in England.
Today, Handy shoots and coaches trapshooting from Florida to Alaska. He has published a book Professional Championship Trapshooting with Daro Handy and released a guide to higher scores on video.
In trapshooting, shooting 100 out of 100 targets is very good.
As one of about three people in the nation, Handy has broken 100-straight targets on 46 occasions from the 27 yard line.
He holds the long-run record with 505 straight shots, starting in Utah and ending in Ohio.
Handy said the Portland Gun Club used to be one of the premier gun clubs in Oregon, hosting championship trapshooters like Frank Trough, the Simpson Brothers and Colonel Everhart.
But today, trapshooting is lagging because of the economy, he said.
We used to be a rural society. Now we are an urban society, he said.
Trapshooters of tomorrow
More rarely do sons and daughters of trapshooters follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers. There are plenty of women shooters, but the sport is predominantly male.
Members of the Portland Gun Club pay cheaper rates to shoot trap regularly.
President Whitlock said his goal for the next century is to bring in new blood.
Much has to do with overcoming the urban-bred stereotype that guns are scary.
Guns are not evil, Whitlock said.
Accidents happen when people dont know how to handle guns, he said.
A gun is a tool like anything else, he said. When you use it the wrong way, it can become dangerous.
Whitlock, who grew up in Sandy and is no stranger to the guns trigger, was walking into Bi-Mart on Southeast Powell Boulevard one day in 1999, when he heard gun shots. After learning the shots were coming from less than a mile away at the Portland Gun Club, he soon joined the club.
Whitlock started the new shooters clinic five years ago, luring a whole new crowd of rookies to come down and learn to shoot trap, from mohawked-hipsters out of Portland to gun-shy women and kids.
Whitlock has lent guns from his own collection as loaners for newbie shooters. That way, people who have never shot a gun before dont have to buy one until they decide to stick with the sport.
Safety on the range is mandatory: In 100 years, Whitlock said the club has never had an accident. People have accidentally shot into the grass in front of them or shot the trap house, he said, but ask the youngest shooters, and they are well versed in gun safety.
Guns are always pointed down range. The action is always open. Everybody knows the gun is empty and a gun is never loaded or the action closed until it is the persons turn and youre ready to shoot.
Newbie shooters pay $10 per class on first and third Thursdays to learn how to handle, clean and safely shoot a shotgun at moving trap.
You dont aim a shotgun, you point a shotgun, Whitlock said.