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You Must Be Kidding… Skeet Shooting in San Francisco?

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The prospect of a long, holiday weekend put me into action. I'd jump on a plane and head west to San Francisco -- catch up with friends and do a little skeet shooting.


Skeet shooting in San Francisco?  I know it sounds absurd, but the cradle of American counter-culture does in fact have one clays shooting facility right inside the city limits.

Called the Pacific Rod and Gun Club, it's a time capsule from the 1930s, with the original clapboard clubhouse pristine under a grove of trees. The building is one of the city's last remaining vestiges of San Francisco's blue-collar roots -- when the post-war shipping industry held a mighty grip.

With my calendar clear, I emailed my friend Diane C. to ask if I could stay with her. She lives in a stunning apartment in a Mediterranean-style building in the Cow Hollow neighborhood -- the fertile mating grounds for young professionals scrambling to make it up the hill into the lavish mansions of Pacific Heights.

She said "no problem" and so I booked a flight, rented a car and eagerly waited departure of United flight 1127, where I'd connect in Chicago to flight 139 right into SFO. Finally, the day arrived and my husband dropped me off at BWI.

Checking in My Shotgun

There was no problem checking in my shotgun. I had an FAA-approved, aluminum travel case. At the counter, I declared a firearm, they gave me a fluorescent-orange disclaimer to slip inside, and I was on my way.

Five hours later I showed up at Diane's apartment -- gun case in one hand, suitcase in the other. Hug, hug, kiss, kiss, and I hauled my belongings into her blue room -- the spare bedroom with a big bed adorned with a down featherbed, comforter and six fluffy pillows.

I quickly transferred my Caesar Guerini, 20-gauge Magnus into the soft takedown case. I'd also packed an extra bag for eye and ear protection for the both of us -- since Diane had never shot before.

Except for an errant breeze, the weather was heaven-sent. Silk-blue sky and that wondrous San Francisco sunlight infused with the reflection of the bay.

Shooting on Lake Merced

Rather than get into my boxy rental, we took Diane's MX-5 -- or Miata as some of you purists prefer. Once inside her garage, she dropped the top. She backed out onto Gough Street, and drove across town.

The club is on the shore of Lake Merced, in the southwest district of San Francisco. You take the Great Highway, along the Pacific Ocean, driving past the Cliff House and the old Dutch Windmill in Golden Gate Park, until you make a turn onto John Muir Drive.

The Pacific Rod and Gun Club has trap, skeet and something called a duck tower. Sporting clays are available by appointment. But I was keen on skeet. The fields have wonderful views of the lake and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Since some of the stations face the lake, only steel and bismuth shot are permitted by order of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. As it turns out, lead contamination levels in the lake are nearly 10 times higher than what was previously found in a 1993 environmental study of the site.

It's 1933 All Over Again

But the zeitgeist of ecological Armageddon seems to get left at the door when you pass through the big gates of the Pacific Rod and Gun Club. Not much has changed since 1933 when the club moved from Napa to the current location on Lake Merced.

Naturally, the surrounding neighborhood had been developed since the club's inception. Most nearby residents cope quite well you with the noise. But of course, there are few who complain that "It's like living in a war zone."
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Since the club adheres to a strict schedule of 18 hours a week, the approximate 7,000 residents in the surrounding neighborhoods tend to live with it quite magnanimously -- respecting the old timers who make the knotty-pine clubhouse their second home.

Not too many shooters were around when Diane and I showed up. We had a skeet field to ourselves. This gave me time to give her a rudimentary lesson in safety and skeet. After an hour or so, I was absolutely famished. The snack from my layover in Chicago seemed like it had been consumed days ago.

The Beach Chalet

On our way back to her apartment, she stopped at the Beach Chalet on the Great Highway. The micropub is housed a Mediterranean-style building from 1925. Across the street from the beach, it originally had changing rooms on the first floor and a restaurant on the second.

The restaurant is on the western edge of the city in a part of town habitually socked in by fog.

The lobby is a landmark of murals and mosaics from the 1936 federal works program. The paintings depict depression-era scenes of San Francisco. Doorways are adorned with verses by Ina Coolbrith and Joaquin Miller, and a Bret Harte rhyme about his beloved San Francisco. The wood staircase is lovingly carved and complemented with mosaics -- giving it a grand, Moorish feel.

Like the Pacific Rod and Gun Club, the Beach Chalet is a gem of San Francisco history.

Stag Flicks, Bikers and Hippies

During World War II, it served as a coastal defense headquarters. After the war, the
Veterans of Foreign Wars leased it from the city for $50 a month, turning it into a watering hole with gambling, strippers and stag flicks. By the 1970s, bikers and hippies claimed the bar as their own.  

Finally, after years under padlock, the building underwent a $2-million restoration in 1996 funded by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

Diane and I grabbed a couple of stools at the bar. The décor is functional, although the bar itself is a nice wood-carved affair. But the real attraction is the view: through a wall of windows the Pacific Ocean rolls in on a wide expanse of sand.

The pierced and tattooed bartender, dressed in black (San Francisco de rigueur), took our orders. A couple of Riptide Reds, fried calamari, garlic French fries and baked brie wrapped in phyllo dough. Damn the calories and bring on the grub.

A few hours passed as Diane and I caught up on old times and talked about skeet shooting. The sun dropped low and the fog rolled in -- classic San Francisco.

Deborah K. McKown is the editor of Shotgun Life. This story is the first in a four-part series about shooting clays in the San Francisco Bay Area. Please send your comments to letters@shotgunlife.com.

Useful resources:

http://www.prgc.net/

http://www.beachchalet.com/

http://www.gueriniusa.com/

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1666.shtm

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Last modified on Saturday, 26 January 2013 16:28
Deborah K. McKown

Deborah McKown is the Editor of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments and questions to letters@shotgunlife.com.

Website: www.shotgunlife.com