“If you build it, they will come.”
That famous line from Kevin Costner’s 1989 Movie “A Field of Dreams” was about a baseball field, but it could also apply to the John A. Halter Shooting Sports Education Center. The building of the center transformed a field into a first-rate shooting center for multiple shotgun disciplines on a scale that hadn’t been seen before.
The shooting center is associated with Hillsdale College, a private liberal arts college. Hillsdale was founded in 1844 and has an enrollment of about 1,500 students. Competitive shotgun is a fully-funded program within Hillsdale’s Athletic Department.
Although association with an educational institution dating back to the 1840s might conjure up images of a facility with a long history, such is not the case. Instead, the John A. Halter Shooting Sports Education Centre is a modern facility that quickly rose to prominence in the last 15 years.
The facility is impressive, offering a wide diversity of shooting sports. The 113 acres have five American trap fields, a 5-stand field, an international skeet field plus three additional skeet fields that can throw international or American targets, a lighted Olympic bunker trap field and four additional Olympic bunkers, a 23-station sporting clays course, an international archery range with 90-meter Olympic distance, a 25-meter indoor archery range, a 3-D archery range, a small arms range, 10-meter Olympic air pistol/rifle range, 50-meter air rifle and a six-lane handgun range and 100-yard rifle range.
Construction started in 2007 when the estate of Roland L. Ebersole provided a financial contribution to Hillsdale College to create shooting scholarships at the school. Part of the funds were used to purchase the facility’s land and build the first shotgun range. It took a year for the first range to open and for Hillsdale to add Basic Shotgun to its selection of courses. The facility continued to grow and fields were added. The Hal and Jean Glasson Foundation helped get the shotgun team going and funded the international skeet and sporting clays ranges. Money from the Herbert and Barbara Dow Foundation paid for the construction of four new combination Olympic trap and skeet ranges. Other funding from Acusport Corporation and Bill and Anne Atherton Foundation made the construction of the lodge and patio possible. An endowment from John Anthony Halter in 2019 provided for continued growth.
USA Shooting, the non-profit organization that serves as the national governing body of shooting sports and prepares athletes for Olympic and Paralympic competitions, announced a partnership with Hillsdale in 2019. As a result, the Halter Shooting Sports Education Center became the home of the USA Shooting National Team for shotgun sports.
Hillsdale also has a competitive team in the college leagues. Although the program is relatively new, the results of Hillsdale shooters don’t show it. Hillsdale team members have had top finishes at the Junior Olympics for International Skeet, had one student awarded a spot on the USA Shooting Junior Olympic Squad, have competed in the Junior World Championship and the Junior World Cup as members of the USA Shooting’s Junior Skeet Teams, and excelled at the Association of College Unions International (ACUI)/Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) National Championship. Several team members – including Ida Brown who placed second in the World Cup in Cyprus – will be vying for positions on the Olympic team.
“It is just incredible to have such world-class facilities here at Hillsdale College,” said USA Shooting shotgun coach Jay Waldron. “For our team to be competitive on the world stage, they need to practice and compete on ranges like we see overseas. Hillsdale College and The Halter Shooting Center have checked that box with the attention to detail and first-class facilities they have designed and built.”
Within Hillsdale’s curriculum, students can take several credit courses, including introduction to shooting, shotgun shooting, archery and air rifle shooting.
Since education is a key driver to the Halter Center, it also plays a role in getting a new generation into shooting. Six area high schools have trap shooting teams who use the center’s fields as part of the USA High School Clay Target League.
Bart Spieth, former Halter Center range officer, said over the years he has had a lot of questions from high school administrators. “I’ve had the most anti-gun superintendent look at this and say it’s great for our kids,” he said.
Some of the participants on the high school teams have never shot before and they teach them all the fundamentals. There are even loaner guns if the team members need one.
Luke VanCamp, coach of the Will Carleton Academy team, said he has 25 students on the team. Every week they compete against another schools in their conference in a virtual competition by posting the scores online. Students then take part in a state tournament where 1,300 shooters compete. Winners there go on to a national final with 2,200 participants.
Shooting instruction is also open to the public at Hillsdale. These include Ladies for Liberty and Couples for Liberty which combines shooting skills for pistols, shotgun and archery, along with lectures on liberal arts.
On the archery side, a high school archery program is being developed with the National Archery in Schools Program.
The Halter Center is also open for the public to shoot and has 400 club members. The facilities are host to Amateur Trapshooting Association, National Association and USA Shooting competitions.
The sporting clays course is top rate with 23 stations. Swipe cards are used at each station so a shooter can shoot as many targets as desired. The technology continues into the throwers with wireless remotes, solar panels, and batteries.
Air rifle and pistol programs are being developed at the indoor range.
Al Stewart, Director of the Nimrod Education Center, is affiliated with activities at the Halter Shooting Sports Education Center and helps teach classes about how hunters, anglers and target shooters pay for conservation. “This facility is one of the best in the world and is an excellent place to educate citizens about the societal benefits of hunting, fishing and to teach the fundamentals of safety and marksmanship,” he said.
So, to get back to Costner and A Field of Dreams, they did build a shooting center from the ground up, and the shooters did come. And yes, I realize that famous line is supposed to be “he”, but there are so many people who come to the John A. Halter Shooting Center every day, any word with a singular tense wouldn’t do it justice – and besides, I don’t want to count out female shooters.
Hillsdale College does more than just promote shooting sports, the institution also offers a course in conservation leadership.
Alan Stewart, who was instrumental in the wild turkey re-introduction in Michigan and other states, retired from his role as upland game biologist from Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 2021. His retirement was short-lived as Hillsdale College approached him to be director of the Nimrod Education Center, which is funded by the Nimrod Society. This newly-formed position at the time has a simple goal “Sharing the positive role sportsmen play in fish and wildlife conservation.”
Stewart teaches a course on conservation leadership where he takes people hunting and fishing for the first time. “We have curious, open-minded students who are interested in learning about firearms, and their safe use. This course provides a legitimate tool where they learn how to safely shoot a shotgun, rifle or pistol,” he said, “and also about the role of hunters in conservation.”
Stewart’s role goes beyond just one course though. For instance, if English students are studying books by Ernest Hemingway, he briefs the students about conservation and hunting and how it influenced Hemingway.
The Nimrod Society’s purpose is to help inform the public about the contributions to conservation made by anglers and hunters. “It’s done in a fashion to influence the voting public,” Stewart said. “The voting public doesn’t have all the information to make informed decisions.”