LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The April 28 Roger Hill Memorial Shoot honors the namesake Lakewood Ranch manager and 43-year employee of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch at the opening event of the Ancient Oak Gun Club.
Several neighbors of the new facility, including residents, a school and a church. had raised concerns about possible noise from the range. Despite those challenges, the county in March approved the clay sport shooting range at 16800 S.R. 64 East. The course is surrounded by sod farms, orange groves and tree stands.
The event is named for Hill, who was instrumental in the creation of Ancient Oak Gun Club. He died unexpectedly March 1 at the age of 68.
Hill, who gave up his architectural studies because he wanted to work outdoors, knew every inch of the 50-square-mile working ranch that became Lakewood Ranch, friends and family said.
As a young man, he started a fence company and won a contract to install fences for SMR, the Lakewood Ranch developer, said his daughter, Valerie Ellery. He was later offered a job at SMR through that association.
Hill served as ranch manager since 1981, and became known as the go-to-person for projects. He oversaw development of the Sarasota Polo Club and Premier Sports Campus.
The sport is becoming more popular today, according to Ancient Oak officials.
"Shooting clay is the fastest-grow
ing sport in the United States," said Ancient Oak manager Wayne Evans. "I've hunted all my life. In Pennsylvania you could hunt on a farm. Now nobody lets you hunt anymore. For anybody who was in hunting sports, this whole sporting place lets you replicate shooting sports. There are 120,000 hunters in the state of Florida with no place to go to hunting."
Before joining SMR to run Ancient Oak, Evans was part owner in another gun range in Hillsborough County. He sold his shares in that facility, but soon missed the business.
"Four years ago, I got invited to a charity shoot," Evans said. "I was reluctant to go because it sounded boring, but when I went it was actually pretty fun."
Byron Teates of Parrish, a master class shooter, knew Hill through business and plans to participate in the memorial tournament at Ancient Oak.
"There's this conception that shooting and the shooting sports is just a bunch of old redneck men. That is the perception by most people, but there are a lot of professional people. It's not a cheap game to play or a cheap sport. It can get costly," Teates said.
"There's a lot of professional people that shoot in the sport. In the last few years there's been a large number of kids, women participants and shooters," he said. "They even have a scholastic shooting through the schools where they teach and train kids. It has started growing rapidly these last couple of years."
"The skills required involve hand-eye coordination rather than body strength. It's a visual and reactive type of game, no different from tennis. If you don't see the ball coming or you can't react to it, you're gonna miss the swing," Evans said. "You can be 8 or 9, or you can be 85 years old, and it's not gender-specific because there's no physical requirement like football. Its just a great sport."
Ancient Oak is a member club of the National and Florida Sporting Clays Association.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.