Permit allows Fernan gun club to remain on federal land

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  • Photos by LOREN BENOIT/Press Darrin Fesler fires his AR15 Wednesday morning at the Fernan Rod and Gun Club. Fesler, who lives in Oregon, has come to the club for several years to site in firearms. His parents are members of the private club, which has seen many transformations recently.

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    Fernan Rod and Gun Club President John Mahin, left, speaks with gun club member John Bagley Wednesday morning at the shooting range.

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    LOREN BENOIT/Press Chuck Mooring shoots his Remington 22-250 Wednesday morning at the Fernan Rod and Gun Club along the Fernan Road five miles north of Coeur d’Alene.

  • Photos by LOREN BENOIT/Press Darrin Fesler fires his AR15 Wednesday morning at the Fernan Rod and Gun Club. Fesler, who lives in Oregon, has come to the club for several years to site in firearms. His parents are members of the private club, which has seen many transformations recently.

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    Fernan Rod and Gun Club President John Mahin, left, speaks with gun club member John Bagley Wednesday morning at the shooting range.

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    LOREN BENOIT/Press Chuck Mooring shoots his Remington 22-250 Wednesday morning at the Fernan Rod and Gun Club along the Fernan Road five miles north of Coeur d’Alene.

Darrin Fesler held his breath.

He concentrated.

When he slowly exhaled, his left index finger made the kind of small motion that someone standing nearby could barely discern.

The following boom was like a blast of air, and Fesler jolted from the recoil of the .270 caliber hunting rifle he pointed downrange at the Fernan Rod and Gun Club along the Fernan Road five miles north of Coeur d’Alene.

“Put your ears on,” Fesler’s dad, Don, said. “It’s loud.”

A puff of gravel rose from a sand berm 100 yards away and dust like a small dervish flagged over the berm before dissipating under a blue sky.

Fesler, who lives in Oregon, has come to the club for several years to sight in firearms. His parents are members of the private club, which has seen a lot of transformations recently.

Today, he brought his friend, Tom Raymond, to watch and participate.

“It looks like you’re on paper,” Raymond said before Fesler walked out to check the target.

The 10-acre site along the edge of Fernan Creek — which also criss-crosses through the rifle range — has been used for decades by shooters looking for a place to zero in hunting rifles, to plink with .22-calibers or boom with handguns as they pepper makeshift targets.

Earlier this year, the club earned a 20-year special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service after an extensive review process. The permit allows the club to remain on federal land at the edge of the Coeur d’Alene National Forest.

The distinction is a sort of anomaly.

The club is the only one in Idaho located in a national forest.

“Ours is quite unique in the sense that it is the only joint civilian, police and military use facility in Idaho on federal property,” said Robert Smith, one of the club’s founders. “It is actually one of the few of this type in the United States.”

The range, a National Rifle Association affiliate, is a cooperative effort of the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

When Smith first saw the site in the 1980s as he looked for a place to start a range, he found what appeared to be a dumping ground.

“We spent a weekend hauling truckloads of trash from the site to the dump,” Smith said.

For decades the club was open to the public, which seemed intent on using it to not only dump garbage, piles of shot shells and brass, but also old appliances and anything that could be shot up. The debris was rattled with rounds and left to rust.

Not too long ago, trustees opted to gate the site, and make users pay a $150 annual membership fee. To become a member, users take a safety course, follow range rules and pay their dues — which also allow family members and friends to use the site as long as they are accompanied by members.

Club president John Mahin, and the hundreds of members who regularly use the site, like it that way.

“It’s hard to find any place to shoot,” shooter Chuck Mooring said.

Before joining the club, Mooring who moved to the area after retiring from the military in 1976, did what a lot of people still do.

“Go out into the forest,” he said.

Seated on a wooden bench under a wood-framed canopy, Mooring, 80, touched off rounds from a Remington 22-250 that had a heavy target barrel and a polished wooden stock.

Three rounds at a time and then he took a break.

“Barrel’s getting hot,” he said.

Although the club has a hefty membership list, there is always room to shoot at the rifle range and the club’s seven, shorter-distance bays, Mahin said.

“I’ve never been out here and not been able to find a spot to shoot my guns,” Mahin said.

In addition to its shooting facilities the club has restrooms, a clubhouse and a picnic area. The berms are sand covered, which makes it easier to retrieve. Lead and club dues are used for maintenance including road grading.

As insects passed through the summer heat, their silhouettes bobbing over a pasture in front of the shooting benches, Fesler, laid a recently purchased .223 military-style rifle on a shooting table.

He settled in and began leisurely firing at a 100-yard target.

With each boom, a shell casing whizzed from the rifle’s action, and a small tornado-like swirl if dust rose from the sand berm 100 yards away.

“From my angle, it looks like you’re low,” Raymond said squinting across the pasture at the targets.

For more club information call (208) 667-8500, or visit the club’s website, frgc.org.

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