Situated in leafy Andover, New Jersey, the place is nearly impossible to locate. GPS goes awry about a mile from the rustic entrance in the Watchung Mountains, and even if you manage to bumble in the general direction the tiny signs for it are exceptionally obscure. Yet during three days in mid-July 2011, Griffin & Howe’s Shooting School at Hudson Farm reached a highly visible milestone by hosting the first female instructor since its origin in 1935.
Bear in mind that Griffin & Howe started as a maker of custom, bolt-action rifles in 1923 on Manhattan’s lower Broadway – some 12 years prior to the shooting school’s founding. Under the stewardship of Seymour Griffin and James Howe, the artisans at Griffin & Howe quickly gained prominence for their American firearms by attracting celebrity clients such as Hemingway, Roosevelt, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Jack O'Connor who demanded rugged, beautiful rifles for their African safaris. Although Griffin & Howe established its preeminent reputation during the Golden Age of Safaris, this American institution has managed in the ensuing decades to embrace change and prosper from it.
The Shooting School’s sporting clays clinics conducted by Elizabeth Lanier at Hudson Farm were carried out with little fanfare to mark the momentous occasion as its first female instructor (unless you were one of the many women shooters who signed up and returned to the new Pro Shop absolutely ecstatic about your lesson). Instead, the sessions were acknowledged matter-of-factly as part of the natural course of events that continue to evolve this bastion of affluence and style into a thoroughly modern establishment for the 21st century sporting life.
You could say that the renaissance at Griffin & Howe started in earnest in 1989, when a Wall Street investor purchased Griffin & Howe from owner Bill Ward. Then in 1997, Hudson Farm was acquired to accommodate the Griffin & Howe Shooting School on the property’s 650 acres. At the time of purchase, Hudson Farm had fallen into disrepair –especially the magnificent 13-bedroom, turn-of-the-century farm house.
Hudson Farm had commenced a capital investment program to restore and modernize the farm house that had started as a working dairy farm and subsequently became a fresh-air retreat that served disadvantaged urbanites for some 50 years. A top-to-bottom renovation and interior design was finally completed on the house in 2003 – turning it into the centerpiece of the property.
With Griffin & Howe’s commercial operations on track, the viable revenue flow enabled Hudson Farm to establish a private club on the property that opened the facilities to members and their guests. The founding members were Griffin & Howe clients and friends and colleagues. The club’s members, which include an elite cadre of businessmen, applied their skills to create one of the most beautiful shooting properties in America. Direct management came under the guidance of Mr. Guy Bignell, now CEO of Griffin & Howe, who focused on sales and marketing, and Farm Manager, current COO of Griffin & Howe, Steve Polanish who oversaw infrastructure.
Subsequently, the Hudson Farm Club members formed the Hudson Farm Foundation with the intent of channeling 100 percent of the dues into neighboring community initiatives – supporting everything from open-space greenbelts to volunteer fire departments.
An ongoing property acquisition program has expanded Hudson Farm from its original 640 acres to approximately 4,000 acres – the most recent procurement allowing annexation of the adjacent 900-acre Westby Farm. Game birds are now raised at Westby Farm for Griffin & Howe’s seasonal hunts. Keeping with the charter of the Hudson Farm Foundation, they have opened portions of Westby Farm to a community garden and organized hikes around the property with the intent of encouraging computer-bound kids to get outdoors and enjoy nature.
Likewise, the Hudson Farm Club became a supporter of the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP). By donating money and facilities, local grade-through high-school youngsters use the shooting sports to learn personal values that touch on individual responsibility, sportsmanship, self-discipline and personal commitment.
At the same time, charitable endeavors on Hudson Farm have taken a fresh turn in 2011.
For the past five years, Hudson Farm had hosted the Game Conservancy USA Showcase and Sporting Clays Invitational fundraiser held in mid-September. Proceeds went to The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust's Grey Partridge Recovery Project in Mr. Bignell’s native England. This year, however, a new 501(C) 3 charitable organization called The Global Sporting & Conservation Alliance will receive the proceeds from the Six Annual Showcase on September 16th through 18th. These proceeds will then go to The Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation, which serves American combat wounded Purple Heart recipients by providing world-class outdoor hunting and sporting activities.
With the recent loss of the valiant young men of SEAL Team 6 and with American men and women in the armed forces still spread across the globe in harm's way, the management at Hudson Farm felt they should put aside their game and land management concerns for now and focus on those who truly need them the most. For the last three years Hudson Farm has hosted these young men, rebuilding their shattered lives through their passion for the outdoors and hunting.
Participants will have the opportunity to shoot the Hudson Farm sporting clays course and interact with showcase exhibitors who represent the highest quality in the shooting sports. Some of the Showcase exhibitors include William & Son, Boss & Co. James Purdey & Sons, Holland & Holland, Blaser, AyA, Perazzi, B. Rizzini, Zoli, Patrick Mavros, Blixt & Co., Logsdail Classics, ESP Hearing, Highland Hills Ranch, Aston Martin, Ferrari among others.
In the ongoing spirit of civic contributions Hudson Farm Club has traditionally made available its facilities to charitable organizations. Club members are active in conservation groups and charities such as Ducks Unlimited, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Boy Scouts, the Tay-Sachs Foundation and American Museum of Fly Fishing. The Hudson Farm Club can then conduct fund-raising, sporting-clays competitions on the property for their favorite non-profit. Through these occasions, guests of the members are provided with the rare opportunity to visit the wooded property and shoot the course with its extraordinary waterfall and lake on Station 1 (shot only with non-toxic ammunition).
They can also visit the new Pro Shop. The Hudson Farm Club converted an old dormitory into a state-of-the-art 2,500 sq ft retail spot. The building is now headquarters for the Griffin & Howe Shooting School. There is a commercial kitchen where members and their guests can procure lunch. The retail section is stocked with fine shotguns and apparel and accessories from Logsdail Classic, Dubarry, Barbour, Beretta, Alexandre Mareuil and SHE Apparel.
The overhaul at Hudson Farm and the halo effect on Griffin & Howe has rehabilitated the company’s prestigious roots. The sibling relationship with Hudson Farm leaves Griffin & Howe as the only operation now entirely devoted to the luxury shooting lifestyle, including a rifle school that prepares clients for their safaris. Griffin & Howe continues its heritage as a purveyor of hunting trips to Africa, the United Kingdom, Italy, Argentina and other sought-after shooting destinations. And of course fine firearms for the hunt are available either off-the-shelf or built to order.
Relatedly, Griffin & Howe continues to serve as a bridge between American wingshooters and the English and European Sporting Lifestyle in all its forms. Under Mr. Bignell’s direction, members and guests can arrange excursions to the most exclusive British estates for wingshooting, as well as special visits to best gun makers such as Purdey, Boss, Holland & Holland, Lebeau Courally and others.
Although Griffin & Howe’s burnished reputation certainly speaks to luxury, Mr. Bignell is dedicated to introducing new shooters into the shotgun sports. His commitment translates into the surprising number of affordable, entry-level shotguns kept on hand for sale. While it’s easy to find a new Bertuzzi shotgun for $69,500 you may be shocked to discover that Griffin & Howe also sells new shotguns such as a Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon for $2,075, a B, Rizzini for $3,365 or Zoli Z-Sport for $6,995.
Part and parcel of the surge in new shooters stems from Griffin & Howe’s encouragement of women shotgunners for both clays and birds.
“We realized that there are more women starting to shoot than men,” Mr. Bignell said. “We identified this early on and we’re now catering more and more to the female shooter.”
It was no surprise, therefore, that Ms. Lanier’s sporting clays clinics filled up in no time. Shotgun Life was able to attend one of Ms. Lanier’s clinics with clients Dr. Pat Billotti and the Reverend Canon Elizabeth Geitz. Their fervor ran so high that when one of them broke a target the other would burst out with enthusiastic praise such as “yeah, baby” or “fabulous.”
Hudson Farm will be conducting its first women’s pheasant shoot on the property at the end of September. And, as a full-service operation that arranges for hunting licenses, there’s been a spike in the number of women applicants.
Mr. Bignell said that the “synergy” between Hudson Farm and Griffin & Howe has “reached fruition”. The stage is now set for more remarkable developments at this beautiful place tucked away in the mountains of New Jersey.
The Griffin & Howe web site
Global Sporting & Conservation Alliance web site
The Hudson Farm web site
The Lanier Shooting Sports web site