Club History (1946 – 2005)

The saga of a dedicated and innovative group of people

by Bruce Lamb

Where did it all start?

Hand written minutes of meetings in 1946 show an organization called, The Salmon Arm Fish and Game Protective Association, was in existence. They held regular meetings in the town hall and discussed such things as consideration for holding a smoker, or a banquet for social activity. They also discussed a familiar sounding theme, a request to the game branch for action on controlling coarse fish!

Forty plus years ago there were two outdoor sporting groups in Salmon Arm. One was the traditional type of hunting and fishing club, while the other was strictly devoted to shooting. We shot 22 pistols in the armouries building and unofficial rifle shooting at the old Department of National Defence rifle range on the southern edge of town. Old timers still refer to 20th Avenue South East as, “Rifle Range Road,” because of the long abandoned military range located adjacent to the street.

Since several members belonged to both sporting organizations, it was decided to amalgamate the two groups. Thus, The Salmon Arm Fish and Game Club was born and very soon joined the BC Wildlife Federation.

High on the wish list of the new club was a shooting range and a place to call home. Consultation with the District of Salmon Arm revealed they had a treed 160 acre parcel of land a few miles south east, quite isolated, with only rough trail access to the closest corner of the property. The town fathers conceded they may ascertain a request from the club to lease it for a shooting range.

A committee was quickly appointed to inspect the land, to see if it would be feasible to transform it into a shooting range. We walked through the bush and up and down the hills, while trying to picture in our minds just where shooting areas could be located. With a favourable committee report turned into the club, a very loose lease agreement was signed with the district of Salmon Arm, to give the club legal access to the property.

All of the early work at the new site was done by hand! Cutting an access trail was one of the first major items. There was an old, existing clearing, which the members took advantage of for the original rifle shooting area.

An important event coincided with the time frame of this range work. In the early 1970s some new people, two brothers and their families, arrived from Alberta with great enthusiasm for shooting and details of a unique type of rifle target shooting competition that was sweeping through the shooting fraternity in Alberta faster than a grass fire blows across a windswept prairie! When the new rifle competition was described to the club, they enthusiastically endorsed the plan, agreeing to have the first event staged at the new range the next spring, on the May 24th holiday weekend. This meant a tremendous amount of work would be required to prepare the range. The club members of the day rolled up their sleeves and went to work with a passion on this ambitious project. On looking back, it seems almost impossible that so much could have been accomplished in such a short time period, by volunteer club workers.

The new shooting event, officially known as a Rifleman’s Rodeo, was designed to simulate hunting conditions. It consisted of animal shaped targets, with scoring rings superimposed over the animals’ vital areas. A running antelope was at 100 yards and a running deer at 150 yards. Pits were dug at 200, 250 and 300 yards, holding a bear, a sheep and a goat. When a shooter participated he/she usually lay prone, since no artificial rests were allowed. When they were ready the controller would call for one target to appear. The running targets travelled about for sixty-five feet, while the stationary targets would appear for four seconds. The shooter had no idea which target would appear, when he/she indicated they were ready and one shot was to be fired at each target. This was all accomplished by means of having a person in each target pit with a phone and connected to the shooting controller by underground telephone wire.

To prepare the site meant digging, with a machine, four pits, lined with cement blocks, to enable a person to be at every target to manipulate and score it, while shooting was going on. Telephone line had to be installed to each target and tracks constructed for the two running targets to run on. Also built was a building behind the shooters, for the controllers, as well as another building complete with propane grills and stoves. From the latter building, members and/or their wives turned out such items as juicy hamburgers, hot dogs and fresh coffee, available from start to finish of the shoot.

After the first year the events were held annually over the July 1 st holiday, with shooting all day Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning allowed for tie breaking shoot-offs, then, the vast array of trophies would be awarded. The extremely popular shooting events attracted participants, often family groups, from wide areas of Alberta and BC. Most of them camped for the long weekend right at the new range. Shooting was either by individuals, or designated groups of two or three contestants. Records show about three hundred such shoots at the yearly contest. It was also a great social event, with evening barbecues, complete with wine and cheese, while story telling completed the evening activities. The annual Rifleman’s Rodeo was without doubt, the largest shooting event ever held by the club and created more club member participation and cooperation in hosting it, than any other event ever hosted by the Salmon Arm Fish and Game Club!

Meanwhile, the club was badly in need of a place to shoot small bore in the winter. Several teachers were active in the club and they said there was a large crawl space under the old high school. There was a regular door on one side and mostly a person could walk upright to get to the area they had figured out to shoot at. Strange as it seems now, the school board allowed the club, guided by the participating teachers, to prepare a backstop, along with what else was needed, and let us shoot our 22s!

We would come to the parking area, often used by people coming to some evening event at the school, take our 22 rifles then proceed to our “crawlspace” door, enter and shoot. The area was under the gym. If a game, usually basketball was on, there was no problem. But when some type of concert was being held, we had to give up that evening’s shooting, because we made too much noise! This shooting continued for about three years.

When the Rifleman’s Rodeo shoots ended, the shooting range began the changes, which evolved over many years to its present format. Today, there exists a 200 metre approved rifle range with covered firing points. Also, a 50 metre approved pistol range with covered firing points, lights for night shooting and a heated warm-up cabin. The RCMP use this range for practice and to hold regional training events. Tucked away in the trees is a regulation rated archery range, while front and centre at the property is top of the line trap shooting facilities and equipment, plus a duck tower!

Early work at the club property was all accomplished with volunteer labour and financed by the club. A modest club house and rather crude trap shooting facilities were constructed by this means. Later, provincial grants were received, enabling electricity to be extended into the range. An enlarged, modern clubhouse, complete with plumbing and a drilled well was built, as well as many other improvements to the property. Some of these improvements involved considerable cost. Tremendous amounts of earth was built up into berms, to surround the rifle and pistol shooting areas, to stop any accidentally fired stray bullet from endangering someone in a different area. Other costly work included improvements to the rifle backstop area, in order to receive official government approval of the range. Improvements were gradually made to the road, until today the area is accessible by an all weather, gravelled, surfaced road.

The, “Rather crude trap shooting facilities,” referred to earlier, which consisted of a person in a concrete lined dugout loading a clay on a mechanical arm, has evolved into one of the finest trap shooting facilities in the entire province! Three electrically operated traps now adorn the main trap shooting area, with the major one being the top of the line, Tap Trap. A fourth electrically controlled device to throw clays is located behind a hill, on the top of the popular, “duck tower.” Dedicated trap enthusiasts shoot regularly during the winter, with activity concentrated on more of a fun theme, than serious shooting. A popular event is the fun shooting day held annually on New Year’s Day.

The serious shooting occurs in the summer! The trap shooting group have sponsored shoots that have attracted as many as seventy visiting shooters from as far away as Terrace, in the north-west, to the Kootenays in the south-east and from Alberta. Other ardent competitors have come from the USA, mainly from Washington and Oregon. The visiting shooters often state that the facilities at the Salmon Arm Fish and Game Club are the best they have encountered! This includes not only the actual shooting equipment, but refers also, to the peacefully quiet and shaded camping areas at the range and the friendliness involved. Full, modern kitchen facilities are available in the clubhouse, for the convenience of any shooters camping at the range.

An enthusiastic group of archers practice in the winter in their indoor range. In the warmer months they shoot animal shaped targets, known as ‘3D.’ A picturesque trail through natural bush and hills forms the basis for this top quality range. The energetic club members have twice hosted the annual provincial championship meet, once in 2000 and again in 2001. For the one shoot a total of 212 competing archers attended, one of the largest turnouts ever, for a provincial shoot. The local club received nothing but high praise from the visiting competitors, for their range and facilities.

The club holds annual 3D shoots, for area championships. Eager participants from as far as Fort St. John, BC and Whitecourt, Alberta, as well as Williams Lake and Quesnel, attend these events. Other shooters come from throughout the Okanagan and even from the USA. Again, the contestants comment on the great Salmon Arm shooting facilities, saying it is the most demanding course on their archery circuit.

Among various groups of sportsman, there are none more colourful than the black powder shooters! The participants, often dressed in period garb, shooting guns resembling those used in the late 1800s and belching smoke, put on an attractive show. The local group even have a colourful sounding name, The Monashee Mountain Men!

This body of black powder shooters have operated under their own charter since 1982. Starting at a modest membership of only fourteen, they have grown to a thirty member club. They represent the area, rather than any one locality, with members from Vernon, Lumby and Kelowna in the south, to Kamloops and Chase in the west. Most shooting events are held at either Salmon Arm or Armstrong, There is a major week-long event, called the Rendezvous, in black powder shooters’ jargon, held annually at Heffley Creek, which is just north of Kamloops. The Monashee Mountain Men participate in this event, but also hold their own Rendezvous annually, on the 24th of May holiday at the Salmon Arm range. The original group placed more emphasis on colour and show, including participation in community parades, but they have evolved into more of an action sports body. At a Rendezvous, they not only compete against each other with black powder burning rifle and pistol, they also compete in skills which were once a part of frontier life. Such skills include tomahawk and knife throwing, as well as a fire starting competition.

Another event for the club, held yearly in October, is the gun show. While this may not rank among the largest gun shows, it certainly ranks among the best as far as popularity is concerned! Most of the tables are occupied by vendors who have been there, usually at the same table, every one of the dozen years the show has been operated. The vendors say they look forward to this show, partly because of the friendly, easy going atmosphere encountered, as well as the efficiency of the club members.

If you start up some back road anywhere in a wide area around Salmon Arm, you will likely see a wooden, yellow sign in a tree, stating the area is patrolled by WILDERNESS WATCH. This is a branch of the S.A. Fish and Game Club, started in 1990 for the purpose of supplying responsible eyes and ears to remote areas of the district. Highly dedicated members of this group regularly patrol the back roads. Any fish, game or environmental violations will be quickly reported. Any potential violators, or those who would commit vandalism in our backwoods, will think twice about it, if they see the well known “yellow signs,” in the area. Forest contractors, forced to leave their equipment in the bush unattended on weekends, rest easier when they are in an area patrolled by Wilderness Watch.

Sadly, by far the most work done by the group, involves taking care of other peoples’ illegally dumped garbage in the bush! An amazing amount of garbage and unwanted items is hauled out on some back road and dumped, by thoughtless people who have no concern, whatsoever, for the environment, or the beauty of our backwoods. The Wilderness Watch group has had at least one moment of glory. They found a large batch of garbage with positive identification in it! They loaded it into their truck. Then with police presence, drove to the address in an up scale neighbourhood, and with all the neighbours watching, on a fine Sunday morning they unceremoniously dumped the garbage on the lawn in front of a pricey house!

Once a year the group actually load into trucks by hand, all the illegally dumped refuse they have found. This garbage is then hauled to the district dump facilities, where it is weighed, then properly disposed of. The amount of garbage they haul from the bush varies from year to year. Even on a year they consider light, they will haul to the dump about seven thousand pounds, while on a heavier year the amount will reach a staggering nine thousand pounds of garbage! During the course of a year’s activities the Salmon Arm Wilderness Watch group will drive the back roads a total of between 8,000 and 15,000 kilometres, at their own expense! Truly, they are the unsung heroes.

The Salmon Arm Fish and Game Club has always been acutely aware of the desirability to attract families and young people into the group. Accordingly, over the years many smaller events, tailored for women and juniors, have been held. Such events included family “Fun days” at the range. The club would supply ammunition and have guns available, along with competent instructors, to introduce new people to recreational shooting. Appropriate snacks were also given to the participants.

Starting years ago, an annual event began, called a “Kids Fishing Day.” Faithful club members would take young people to a rather remote lake, for a day of fishing, complete with a yummy shore lunch. This also evolved into a winter event, where young people were hosted at a lake where fish were easily caught through the ice.

What would a fish and game club be without an annual big game banquet? Virtually from day one, the annual game banquet was high on the activity list for the local club and has always been very successful. Not only has the banquet been a major attraction for the club, but it has evolved into a very major, and looked forward to, social event for the public! Prior to the February occurrence, it is common for a club member to be asked, by someone on the street or in a mall, when the banquet is being held? Proof of the popularity of it is borne out by the fact that there has never been a banquet held by the club, that wasn’t completely sold out. And the last ticket is always sold days, or even weeks, before the event takes place!

Included in the evenings entertainment is a vast array of goods to be raffled, auctioned or drawn for. Many commercial businesses in the area give merchandise to be drawn for, while more valuable material is auctioned to the highest bidder. A more valuable prize still, often a boat, motor and trailer, will have raffle tickets on sale a few weeks before the banquet. And of course, everyone enjoys all they can eat of a great feast. A good variety of choice wild game, including the common varieties, as well as such exotic meat as cougar and beaver have graced the banquet tables. Everyday items, including turkey and salmon, as well as buffalo, can be available. This year will see fresh, frozen walleye pike fish, brought in from Saskatchewan. All the food is expertly prepared by professional caterers.

White Lake, located about a dozen miles north west of Salmon Arm, has often, and aptly, been referred to as a trout factory. A unique feature of the lake is that its outlet, White Creek, has a rock waterfall of about two metres in height. Thus, no fish can get back to the lake via the outlet stream. Cedar Creek, its only inlet stream, just drains a wooded basin, without access to any other water supply.

The provincial fisheries branch realized the potential of these unique features. In the late 1960s they treated the lake with rotenone to kill all of the several species of fish in the lake. When they were sure no fish had survived the treatment, they stocked it with Kamloops Trout. The deep, crystal clear water with many shoals and shallow benches, a reedy shore line of marl, harbouring a lot of fish food, made ideal conditions and the little trout made fabulous growth. Incidentally, it was the marl lake bed that gave rise to the name, “White Lake.”

However, the lake had to be stocked annually, because there was no area for the fish to spawn. Enter the Salmon Arm Fish and Game Club! They looked at the inlet Cedar Creek and discovered it to be a jungle. Alder growth, fallen trees, beaver dams and old log jams from previous years of high water, made it impossible for fish to ascend the stream, let alone spawn in it. Indeed, it was almost impossible for men to get through the rubble, in order to properly inspect it!

The club contacted John Cartwright, provincial fisheries biologist in Kamloops. John came out and with several club members, inspected Cedar Creek. A plan evolved to clear the bush and debris from the creek, along with the beaver dams, then, make spawning beds for the trout. Ahead lay uncountable, and probably unimagined, amounts of labour to be carried out by hard working volunteer club members.

Thirty some years later the vision the group had for the rehabilitation of the creek is largely fulfilled! But, it still requires annual work from volunteer members of the club to keep it in optimum condition for the spawning fish.

Every summer, at a time which wouldn’t adversely affect the fish, rubber-boot clad club members endured swarms of mosquitoes and flies as they diligently cleared debris and unwanted logs and bush from the waterway. Beavers were removed by a professional and beaver dams, old and new, had to go. After a few years of successful work on the creek, provincial grants were given to reimburse the club for expenses incurred. This allowed the club to have about fifteen big truck loads of proper spawning gravel, screened to about ½ inch size and cleaned, placed in the stream. Before any gravel was put in place the club members built proper beds for it. The stream bed would be levelled, then, a log placed cross-wise in the stream with its ends secured in the banks. When the gravel was dumped on shore, club members with wheel barrows and shovels carefully deposited it in the creek bed. With garden rakes they would smooth it out.

When completed, the water flowing over the log would create a miniature coffer dam of a few inches, while completely covering the gravel with water, deep enough for the fish to spawn in. There are now more than a dozen such spawning beds, plus some deeper water holding areas for the fish to rest, in the approximately five kilometres of rehabilitated stream. This work was always carried out under direction and/or approval, of the provincial fisheries biologists. Also, the club has always been very much aware of environmental concerns and all work was done in accordance with sound environmental practices. Fortunately, large trees growing naturally along the waterway, give a perfect, shaded condition to the stream. Also, the creek has provincial protection status.

A narrow bush road parallels the lower reaches of the creek. The club made parking areas in several places, as well as paths leading to various viewing areas along the creek, allowing people to observe the fish spawning. Other club activity at White Lake has seen a gazebo built and maintained, as well as boat docks built and parking areas cleared. As well, the club has built docks and made access to several other smaller lakes in the area.

Other fish enhancement work accomplished by the club, includes working in conjunction with federal fisheries, to improve salmon spawning facilities in Canoe Creek. This work included artificial hatching of salmon eggs and returning the tiny fish to the creek. At one time, the students from the high school assisted in this work at the school, as part of their studies.

In spite of all the recreational activities enjoyed by the club, the executive of the day find they spend most of their club related work on environmental problems! This includes a constant battle with the many vociferous, highly funded groups of various persuasions, who would deprive us of our very basic outdoor activities, even our precious heritage of hunting, or indeed to even own guns! Other groups try, or actually do, exclude the public from wilderness areas, for their own commercial ventures. Another major threat is a back-handed attempt from the provincial government, to allot the availability of migrating fish to pressure groups. Instead of being available to the entire general public, there is grave danger that our right to even fish for salmon would be taken from us and given to a certain class of pressure groups!

The tasks ahead of our fish and game club are endless!