A Refuge For the Sportsperson

October 1, 2017
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By John Burton |

ANDOVER – Removed from the hustle and bustle of traffic and industry associated with northern New Jersey, nestled in the rolling forested hills of Sussex County is the Griffin & Howe Shooting School at Hudson Farm Club.

On the grounds of the sprawling 3,800 acres, Hudson Farm Club offers bucolic landscaped farmland with several ponds and lakes, a foundation that supports various charities within the community, and one of the most attractive shooting layouts in the country.

“There is a lot of rich, deep history with us,” said Steve Polanish, who manages Hudson Farm and serves as CEO for Griffin & Howe Firearms and Shooting School, a 94-year-old firearm company that operates at the location offering its clients tradition, history and services for the sportsperson, whether accomplished or just beginning.

Steeped in local history, Hudson Farm was once a dairy farm, and in the early 1900s railroad magnate John P. McRoy commissioned the New York architect Clarence Curter to design the 20-room estate house. The property was donated to The Hudson Guild, a charitable organization who ran the property as a camp in 1920. Among its acclaimed triumphs, the creation of the Appalachian Trail was conceived in the estate house in 1921.

In addition, the location has a strong commitment to the area communities, Polanish said. One-quarter of membership dues are allocated for the farm’s charitable foundation, which provides support to a number of community-based, educational and environmental organizations, such as Birth Haven, Project Self Sufficiency, Sussex County Habitat for Humanity and the New Jersey Audubon Society, among others.

“We give a lot of consideration to what we support,” he said.

But for many members and the general public, the Griffin & Howe Shooting School is the draw.

Griffin & Howe has provided a variety of services for decades, allowing neophytes to learn the basics about shooting and hunting, and for the more experienced, to hone their marksmanship skills with Griffin & Howe’s Shooting School, featuring accomplished shotgun and rifle instructors.

For those in the market to increase their collections, Griffin & Howe offers a gun shop with a wide array of choices, especially for high-end shotguns, many with elaborate and decorative engravings in the bulino (Italian) or blackleaf (often seen on British makes) style and highly polished wooden stocks – some retailing for mid-six figures, such as the extremely rare triple barrel Boss & Co. shotgun that recently sold. Griffin & Howe has an extensive 5,500-square-foot gunsmith shop, with five gunsmiths on-site for repairs and upgrades for owners; and for the truly discerning, clients can construct custom and unique rifles and shotguns, built specifically to the owner’s requirements and needs, highlighting the smiths’ craftsmanship.

“The best of the best in that specific price point,” said Guy Bignell, Griffin & Howe’s past president and CEO.

“Every one of our guns is completely different,” said Polanish. And the work done by the smiths represent “craftsmanship and a legacy,” hallmarks of the company’s heritage, he stressed.

Some of the custom-made rifles and shotguns can take months to create, requiring a series of fittings to ensure it fits the unique needs of the owner/shooter. Bignell explained it was comparable to an expensive automobile or wristwatch – something that increases in value over time and can be handed down from generation to generation. “These are the things you look for when you’re looking at the quality of a gun,” he said.

“I see the craftsmanship,” of the guns that come to the shop for work, said riflesmith Bill Supple. “We’re trying to keep this alive.”

The shooting school offers all levels of shooters the skills to become more proficient in shotgun and rifle shooting.

“This is a school with a curriculum,” said head shooting instructor Kevin Sterk. “It’s no different than any other school.”

For Sterk, sporting clays, trap or skeet shooting, is a sport, really not unlike other sports in the ability that is needed to become good at it. “The eyes tell the hands what to do,” he said.

Sterk is a National Sporting Clays Association (the governing body for the sport) level III instructor. He’s been working for Griffin & Howe for many years, starting as a part-time instructor. Seven years ago, he took over as a full-time instructor after retiring from a career in the automotive industry, becoming the head instructor two years ago.

He works with all age groups, from young adolescents to people in their 80s, offering instruction on how to shoot and break clay discs, or introducing someone to the sport, offering them a day outside with family and friends and the fun that comes with learning to do something well.

“I can be 80 years old and still do this,” he noted, “if my eyes hold up.”

Increasingly, “The long-range stuff is big right now,” Polanish said. Griffin & Howe has recently designed a long-range precision rifle on both an aluminum frame chassis for target shooters and a lightweight version on a synthetic stock for sportsmen and women, both models shooting under a 1⁄2 MOA. Shooters can get instruction with their rifles and optics to prepare for any type of hunting trip around the world or enjoy a few hours shooting steel targets with its school rifles. The school’s rifle range is a state-of-the-art 700-yard range, the longest range in New Jersey, with covered shoot house, electronic targets and heating during the winter months.

The school offers a number of marksmanship instruction packages for shotguns and rifles, for individuals and groups, as well as for corporate and private events.

All staff members are trained in first aid, trauma and are National Rifle Association-certified in numerous courses such as basic pistol, rifle, shotgun, range safety and NSCA Level 1 and 2 Instruction, according to Polanish.

Griffin & Howe was founded by New York cabinetmaker Seymour Griffin in 1923, who became interested in improving his own hunting Springfield rifle after reading President Theodore Roosevelt classic book “African Game Trails.” Shortly after, Griffin joined forces with James V. Howe, who was managing a Philadelphia metal machine shop.

The two began operating out of a New York City loft, offering custom-made and customized rifles and shotguns. The company was eventually purchased by Abercrombie & Fitch, when it was an outdoor outfitter and a prominent one. The gunmaker attracted the attention of celebrities and outdoorsmen, such as author Ernest Hemingway and Hollywood stars like Clark Gable, and U.S. Army General and future President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who relied on the company for hunting trip requirements.

The Griffin & Howe Shooting School at Hudson Farm Club offers ammunition, equipment and clothing for clay, wing shooting and big game hunting needs.

Hudson Farm Club, which has been operating since 1997, provides a year-round outdoor experience for its members and Griffin & Howe clients. Covered shooting facilities are available during inclement weather.

There are any number of members and clients who use the shooting school for relaxation with family, colleagues and friends with overnight accommodations to get away from the everyday hustle of work. The farm has the ability to sleep up to 44 people on-site in comfort with a full time chef. The location is in the process of constructing its own 6,000-square-foot greenhouse, which will contribute vegetables for the club’s farm to table dining services.

“We’re not gun dealers,” Bignell said, pointing out the services and environment provided go beyond a simple retail transaction. “We are in the luxury lifestyle business,” he explained, “with an emphasis on firearms.”

To book a shooting lesson or corporate event with the Griffin & Howe Shooting School please call 973-398-2670 or visit www.griffinhowe.com.

This article was first published in Sept. 28 – Oct. 5, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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