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People just come here to shoot
Bryce Campbell, 10, fires a shot under the watchful eye of his father, Rick, at the Manteca Sportsmen trap shooting range. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Dade Knapp slipped on his “ears,” pointed to a man gripping a pistol and then waited for the Bang!

“You always want to hold your pistol down and then bring it up,” said Knapp, a range master at Manteca Sportsmen, Inc.

“If you start with it up, you can’t see anything. That’s how you end up with holes in the roof.”

Down the way, his colleague, Steve Greenberg, was busy giving his own instruction to a long-haired lady staring down a 15-yard target.

Yes, the Manteca Sportsmen’s pistol range was “hot” on Wednesday morning, but not red-in-the-face hot.

While the world beyond the levee and fences of the Sportsmen rages in debate over the constitutional right to bear arms, inside the focus is really quite simple:

The men and women of the Sportsmen, both private members and the paid public, find their way to this remote range along the San Joaquin River to shoot recreationally.

It’s a sport – not a source of contention or political stumping.

Take a look around.

Marvin Mello sat casually at the black powder range for nearly two hours on Wednesday, his gear strewn about the table.

There was ammunition, a tank of compressed air, tubing and his carrying case. He shoots an air rifle – the only kind of gun he’ll fire – squeezing off about 150 rounds every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.

Mello is a craftsmen and a scientist. “We’re not sending a rocket to the moon,” he said, “but it’s hard enough trying to hit a target from 65 yards away.”

With his wild ZZ Top beard and black shades, Mello recalls the legends of this niche form of shooting – explorers such as Lewis and Clark and their Girandoni rifles.

“Look ’em up, if you got the time,” he said as he loaded his equipment into the back of a classic Chevy truck. “It’s some pretty interesting stuff.”

The patrons of the Sportsmen come for the education and training, for the recreation and leisure, and for the conversation and spirit of the sport, president Len Sipe said.

“They are here to shoot. You hardly ever hear about gun control,” Knapp added. “They’d like all members to become an NRA member, but you don’t have to.

“People just come here to shoot.”

Sipe’s touch can be found throughout the 56-acre property. (Forty-four acres have been reserved for a future expansion.)

He has renovated and modernized much of the Sportsmen’s operation, from its facilities to its surveillance and technology.

Cameras hang from the roof tops and high corners at every range, and the footage is relayed back to the clubhouse where range masters and employees can keep a watchful eye on the activity.

A public address system has been installed, so that staff inside the clubhouse can address the ranges at the same time or individually.

“If we see a condition that is unsafe, we’ll halt all shooting on that range until that unsafe condition is rendered safe,” said Sipe, who says his club hasn’t experienced an incident of any sort in his 12 years at the helm.

“We could see a dog run across rifle range and we’d cease fire. If we see people making mistakes, we want to address that. We do that routinely.”

In the last year, a new covering has been installed at the pistol range. The old one was replaced because it sat too high, allowing the off-target and inexperienced to fire a round over the levee.

A similar awning, approximately 100 feet in length, is being built over the benches at the rifle range, where a cement pad has been poured for better footing and access.

Even dead clays from the trap range are recycled and used to pave the pathways on the grounds.

“I give it all to Len,” said Knapp, a member for more than 30 years and a former officer. “He got in here and really started getting this thing going. ... This whole place is sanitary now. There used to be trash lying around. He’s getting the job done.”

Sipe, now in his 12th year as the club’s president, wants the Sportsmen’s target audience to be families. 

The Sportsmen offers a free youth shooting clinic the first Friday of every month. More than 50 kids attended the clinic on Feb. 1. There are also programs for women

“We’re aiming at family folks to come out and have fun in a safe environment,” Sipe said. “To do that, we have to make sure our facilities are first class. That’s what drives the modernization of the ranges. That’s what drives new technology.”