2023 marks the Sportsman’s Club of Brown County’s 70th anniversary.
“Many stories about the club are lost to time now,” said Bill Bowen. Bill has been involved with the club since 1974, and there have been many changes over the years. “When I first came to Aberdeen, towns supported jackrabbit hunts in the country since they were going into shelter belts and debarking the trees and killing them. Blackbirds in the sunflower fields were also a problem. These depredation hunts were sponsored by the Club with special permission from state and federal agencies.”
While the club’s activities may have changed, some things remain constant. Becoming a member is one of these things.
“Just show up to one of our meetings, pay an annual fee, and you’re a member,” Bill said. “Fifteen dollars of each member’s dues go to the South Dakota Wildlife Federation.” The fees for 2023 are $30 or $60, depending on how much a member plans to use the shooting range.
Meetings are usually held once a month from January through May and again from September to December. There are currently around 350 members, and many pitch in to make sure the Club’s operations run smoothly. All of the maintenance of the building and grounds is volunteer work.
The Sportsman’s Club puts on several events each year. The HuntSAFE class, also known as Hunter Safety, is one of the club’s most well-known events. In 1959, South Dakota began holding hunter education classes for young hunters. Club members have instructed these courses since 1959.
“Hunter Safety is a big part of what the Sportsman’s Club does,” he said.
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks requires at least 10 hours of instruction. These free classes are usually hosted over three sessions in May and August on Wednesday nights.
“At its height, we’ve had up to 200 young people in each course,” Bill said. “It’s closer to 150 now, but I don’t think our hunter population has gone down necessarily.”
While the course is called Hunter Safety, the majority of the content focuses on firearm safety and proper usage. The course consists of training videos, instructor guidance, a field day, and a written exam. Ethics and respect for the game and landowners are also covered.
“We really emphasize three major points,” Bill said. “Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction, keep your action open when not actively hunting, and keep the safety on until you are ready to pull the trigger.”
All hunters aged 12 through 15 are required to take the HuntSAFE courses, but participants of all ages are welcome. If a student’s 12th birthday is after the course but in the current calendar year, they are able to take the class. Some adult hunters also take the courses because several states require completion of a safety course in order to hunt.
Students who successfully complete a HuntSAFE course receive an identification card. Until the student is 16, a parent or guardian must present the HuntSAFE certification card to a license agent when purchasing the young person’s hunting license.
“I think we have been fairly successful in terms of preventing injuries and fatalities,” Bill said.
In addition to HuntSAFE courses, the Sportsman’s Club holds a free Youth Sport Fest each August. The event isn’t just focused on firearms – kids can participate in habitat classes, dog training, trap shooting, archery, and trapping. There is also a Youth .22 League in the summer.
The Ladies Day at the Range is another popular event that the Sportsman’s Club hosts. The free event is an opportunity for women who want to learn more about handguns that might not have other chances to do so. Women of all ages are encouraged to attend. There are a wide variety of guns available for participants to try in a number of different calibers. Due to the number of instructors that participate in the event, there is almost a one-on-one instructor to participant ratio.
While much of their programming involves the community, there are also events for the members themselves. There are fish fries with the Northeastern South Dakota Walleye Club, and a number of different speakers come to meetings during the year. Members from Game, Fish, and Parks come to speak, but other members and special guests also present.
“Jeff Stohr has made several presentations about hunting exotic game in countries all over the world,” Bill said. “Jeff Whillock gave a great presentation on spearfishing in South Dakota lakes. That’s not something you really think happens here in South Dakota.”
Some members have even made trips to Pierre to testify in support of or in opposition to legislation about hunting and fishing in South Dakota.
The Sportsman’s Club does a lot of good for the community, and they’re always looking for more members to join in their efforts.
“Back in the 70s, we had around 500 members at one point,” Bill said. “Not as many young people are getting involved.”
The Club’s legacy isn’t always in the spotlight, but what they’ve contributed to Aberdeen will always be appreciated. //
For more information about the club and how to become a member, visit their website at www.sportsmansclubofbrowncounty.com.
The Terry O’Keefe Hunter Education Center
The Terry O’Keefe Hunter Education Center building was built on the range about 20 years ago. Some of the money used to construct the building was provided by the Pittman-Robertson fund, but the majority came from local donations.
“The building became a home of our own for conducting the Hunter Safety course and other programs,” Bill said.
Terry O’Keefe was a long-time board member of the Sportsman’s Club, and he also instructed the Hunter Safety courses. After his passing in 1999, Bill took over as the lead instructor.
“He was a great friend and he was always there to help,” Bill said. “A lot of the money that was donated for the building was in honor of Terry.”
The Pittman-Robertson Act and the Arnie Goldade Shooting Range
In 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act was passed in the United States. The act was intended to promote the preservation and restoration of wildlife habitats.
“Each time you purchase guns or ammunition at places like SoDak Sports, Young Guns, Ken’s Shell Express, and Runnings, a portion of that sale goes to the Pittman-Robertson fund.” Bill said.
The Sportsman’s Club was able to fund ¾ of the cost of the Arnie Goldade Shooting Range thanks to grants provided by the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Arnie Goldade was a longtime leader and booster of the Sportsman’s Club. Arnie, like Terry, was an irreplaceable part of the organization.
“He was really the ‘face’ of the club for as long as I have been associated with it,” Bill said. “He served as president for a very long time and made many personal and financial contributions to the club.”
The range was named in his honor, and many memorials and contributions were made in his name for the new electric gate and decorative stone entrance pillars.