DARLINGTON - With more and more people joining the club and lending the building to 4-H and hunter safety classes, the building has gone through some upgrades adding a handicap accessible bathroom. It previously only had a portable toilet for facilities.
The Darlington Rifle Club has been around since December of 1930. In its 86 year existence, it has been able to produce an Olympic athlete in Mike McPhail, who competed in the 2012 Olympics in London, placing ninth and will compete in this years summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August.
The rifle club started out with area men who shot full bore ammunition and guns outdoors. Now they use small bore ammunition such as .22 caliber rifles and ammunition and shoot during the winter months of December through March indoors at their current building on Gun Club Rd in Darlington.
The current building has been in use since 1967. Starting out, the club operated out of the basement in the Odd Fellows Hall. After that, they went to the Opera House and shot in the upstairs. They shot over in Shullsburg and then there was a short hiatus for a year or two. They came back to Darlington and went to the old legion hall then the new legion and then to their current building.
The gun range is about 50 ft. long, which is a little under three times smaller than the 50-meter range that McPhail shoots at for competition. Four-position small bore is a popular sport in the U.S., which includes: prone (laying on the floor), kneeling, standing and off-hand (standing with elbow on hip and rifle held in palm of flexed hand). McPhail shoots prone.
“He is the best prone shooter in the world,” stated Dale Wiegel, club member. McPhail won gold in both the World Cup USA and World Cup Munich in 2015.
Wiegel has been a part of the club since the ‘60s. Many of his siblings have also been a part of the club. He was one that had helped McPhail get his start. He now helps youngsters like Black Hawk freshman Hunter Bredeson, who competed at State Wrestling. On Feb. 22, at a shooting meet, Bredeson shot a 100 prone, 99 kneeling and 95 offhand.
“McPhail wasn’t even shooting yet at his age. Heck, he is better than me,” Wiegel commented.
Wiegel mentioned that during WWII, the club was not allowed to shoot because of bullets had to be used for the war efforts. They rationed bullets up until they had enough, just so they could have the mid-winter shoot.
The Mid-Winter shoot is a competition with area teams coming together to do none other than shoot. They shoot at a target and try to hit the ‘X’ mark. A scoring disk is used to see how many points the shooter receives. If the ‘X’ were hit, it would be 100 points. If the ‘9 ring’ were hit, it would be minus one point. There is more than one target to shoot at but the amount varies between the types of paper targets used. The best scores from five participants from each category are taken and added up. The match is scored out of 1500 points.
Republican Journal columnist Charlie Sleep’s father, Harry Sleep, chronicled the scores from different meets the club had with area clubs and published them in the paper under the “Hits and Misses” column.
“In the beginning, the club had probably 40 or 50 men with 20 of them serious shooters. Now all the men are serious shooters,” Sleep mentioned.
The club is a part of the Southwestern Wisconsin Small Bore League, which includes clubs from Lafayette, Grant, Green and Iowa Counties. They also participate in meets with clubs from the Southern Wisconsin Small Bore League, which include Richland and Dane counties. The first match the club ever participated in was against Monroe and they lost. They have been doing pretty well since then.