by Laura Bednar
A ravine off Pleasant Valley Road is the site of a rifle range that has been operating in Independence for over 90 years.
The Sycamore Hill Rifle Club, a members-only competitive marksmanship group, came to its location in the 1928, according to club President Ray Kling. He said the club is not open to the public, and the location is not a public range. The property is privately owned, and the club is made up of 45 members from different cities; of the 45, half are active.
To become a member, a candidate must be established as a national competitive shooter and train and participate in formal regulated matches. The club has a formal shooting match for members on Sunday mornings, but members are permitted to shoot in the range alone at other times, generally 9:30 a.m. until 30 minutes before dusk, according to Kling. Club members contact the Independence Police Department to make them aware they are shooting.
The Sunday matches follow the format of National Match Course of Fire. Club members shoot two sighting shots followed by 20 consecutive shots for record in an off-hand position then follow the same format in a sitting position.
Resident Tim Lesh has spoken at multiple city council meetings about safety concerns associated with the range. Lesh said he assisted with the construction of two high-powered rifle ranges under the direction of the National Rifle Association, has used high-powered rifles in competition and been instructed in the safety of firearms and ammunition.
He said in an August council meeting that he believed shots from the rifles could reach homes on Hillside Road. The road is about 3,800 feet from the approximate location of the range, according to a measurement made by a GIS Technician from the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission using Google Earth. When asked if the club had measured the distance since the Twin Creek housing development was constructed off Hillside, Kling said the club regularly looks at the surrounding areas.
Kling said there is a 60-foot berm behind the targets at the range. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “For open ranges, the top elevation of the earth impact berm should be 26 feet above the range surface for ranges 100 yards long or longer.”
“The earthen barrier is among the largest in the state and is what we rely on to make sure ammunition doesn’t leave the range,” said Kling, adding that with the angle someone would have to shoot at, it would be nearly impossible to reach the homes.
The types of guns primarily used at the range are high-powered rifles used in competition, including AR-15s and M-14s. These are considered service rifles, which are civilian versions of military firearms. The other category of guns is the match rifle division, which are rifles up to 30 calibers and are custom competitive rifles.
Kling said most club members use 5.56mm cartridges, as opposed to the older 1920s style, which is 7.62mm. He said a few members still use the older style bullets.
Added Lesh, “They are shooting along a creek bed that is loaded with large stones and overhanging branches, everything that can create misfires.”
There is a creek with rocks on site, to the right of the platform from where members shoot. Kling said aside from the creek the area is organic dirt on top of clay.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources does not inspect private shooting ranges and its role and oversight is limited and outlined in the Ohio Revised Code, according to Outdoor Education Supervisor for the ODNR Division of Wildlife, Eric Postell.
Ohio Revised Code states, “The Chief of the Division of Wildlife, in accordance with section 1531.10 of the revised code, shall adopt rules establishing generally accepted standards for shooting ranges. These rules shall be no more stringent than National Rifle Association standards, and include standards for the limitation and suppression of noise, standards for the hours of operation of shooting ranges of the various types and at the various locations of ranges, and standards for public safety.”
Said Postell, “These ‘generally accepted standards’ are not enforceable by the ODNR, Division of Wildlife. However, if a range does not adhere to the generally accepted standards then the range owner may be liable in civil court.”
Sycamore Hill Rifle Club has liability insurance of $2 million per occurrence as well as insurance for property damage. Kling said the club must submit annual evidence of insurance to the property owner from which they lease.
Kling said the club creates a safety plan relating to the range that complies with standards set by the NRA, ODNR, Civilian Marksmanship Program and National Shooting Sports Foundation.
He cited some of the group’s safety rules, such as keeping the firearm pointed at the earth when not in use. The club uses empty chamber indicators for their guns when not in use, which prevents a chamber from being inserted. Rifles themselves are not stored at the range.
Kling said he is an NRA-certified range safety officer and inspector and all club leaders are NRA certified. Club member Terry said many of the club members are former police officers or military.
The range is not open to the public, but non-members may visit the range if accompanied by a current member. The Sycamore Hill Rifle Club does not hold national competitions. It previously held an annual competition between area rifle clubs with four or five teams of people called the “Little Brown Jug.” It went on hiatus during the pandemic and has not returned.
The Independence building department approved plans for a 260,000 square foot flex space on Rio Nero Drive. The rifle range is in a valley near Rio Nero Drive. Building Official Michael Gero said a “flex space” is “a term that refers to a single story building that could house manufacturing, warehouse, and the like.” He added that he is not aware of any issue with the shooting range in relation to the building, other than a notice that the range is closed during construction.
Club members shoot when construction is not taking place including evenings or weekends. Kling said the landlord for the range property said the new construction should not affect the range. ∞