Controversial gun club opens for business

The Auckland Shooting Club is open for business.
Delwyn Dickey

The Auckland Shooting Club is open for business.

OPINION: The controversial Auckland Shooters Club at Makarau has been officially opened by Deputy Prime Minister and Police Minister Paula Bennett.

Around 150 people were at the invitation-only event including Police National Manager Professional Standards Superintendent Anna Jackson. 

Flight problems from Wellington saw Rodney MP and Minister of Defence Mark Mitchell unable to attend.

Raymond O'Brien and Victoria Pilcher hope to establish the biggest gun club in Australiasia in the Makarau valley.
Delwyn Dickey

Raymond O'Brien and Victoria Pilcher hope to establish the biggest gun club in Australiasia in the Makarau valley.

Media were excluded on the day but co-owner Raymond O'Brien showed Stuff reporter Delwyn Dickey around the site a few days later.

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Guns vs meditation

The sign facing south – the most likely direction traffic would be coming from - shouted 'Community says NO! to Auckland Shooting Club' when I turned off the seal of State Highway 16 and onto unsealed Tuhirangi Rd.

Signs dot the  properties lining Tuhirangi Rd.
Delwyn Dickey

Signs dot the properties lining Tuhirangi Rd.

Most properties along the road tout one of these signs - some three or four.

I follow O'Brien on his 4WD mule down the steep, soggy gravel driveway at the Auckland Shooters Club.  

Nearby Vipassana Auckland Meditation Centre has been in battle with the gun club over the granting of the certificate of compliance. A recent High Court decision found the grant of the certificate was flawed in two respects: the application failed to record the existence of a building, and the application contained no information about discharges of contaminants (lead) to the environment. The High Court decided not to quash the certificate, but has referred it back to Council to decide.

Raymond O'Brien stands on the site he hopes to build a house, overlooking the club ranges.
Delwyn Dickey

Raymond O'Brien stands on the site he hopes to build a house, overlooking the club ranges.

Unaware of the meditation centre when they bought the property, the strong support for it and the level of ill-will toward the club, by some, blind-sided O'Brien and wife Victoria Pichler, he said.

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Having put their life savings into the gun club, the hearing was very stressful, he said, aggrieved papers were served on Christmas Eve. 

There is nothing sophisticated about the rugged landscape or the six high earth walled shooting ranges. Three are grassed but the wet weather has seen an end to work on the other three over winter. A gravel walkway to the ranges has just gone in instead of using the mule to get through the mud.

Raymond O'Brien weaves around the course shooting as he goes.
Delwyn Dickey

Raymond O'Brien weaves around the course shooting as he goes.

This is tough farming land. Commercial pine forest grows high on two boundaries. A stream and patches of native bush the only saving graces. 

O'Brien and Pichler added their neighbour Kris Allen's 74 hectare lifestyle farm to the original 37-hectare property. 

Allen had been a vocal opponent since finding out about the club on his boundary.

Not a cheap sport O'Brien uses around 2,500 rounds a week, recycling casings to keep costs down.
Delwyn Dickey

Not a cheap sport O'Brien uses around 2,500 rounds a week, recycling casings to keep costs down.

O'Brien is now an unexpected farmer and has organised someone to farm the land for him.

"There is no limit to the number of people we can have on the property under 'recreational pursuit", O'Brien said. 

A resource consent will be needed for some of the 30 ranges with a double story club room totalling 1600 square metres.  

Sound crackles around the small valley from shooters using the ranges. Pistols, rifles and shotguns can now be used in them. I feel sorry for the neighbour whose house overlooks the narrow valley. While O'Brien insists noise stays within accepted levels, the staccato shots are nothing like the background hum of traffic.

That property's value will have dropped, possibly only of interest to a gun enthusiast now, a local real estate agent later said.

Invited to shoot at the French National Championships, O'Brien and Pichler leave this week.

They have a business there and plan to stay on for the World Champs a month later.

The pair are new to competitive shooting after "having a go" less than three years ago, but have become enthusiasts, and patrons to the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC).

O'Brien and I went for a muddy gaunt in the mule up to a lookout point overlooking the ranges where they intend to build a house. 

Used to riding a quad bike, the steep terrain made me pleased to be buckled in with a roll bar. 

A motorcycle club used to be here, he said, annoyed no one complained about that noise.

Rather than a club, the owner had been a keen motorcross rider who rode and did stunt jumping with his friends once or twice a week during the summer months, neighbours said. They sometimes went and watched the acrobatics.

Competition shooting is expensive. O'Brien goes through around 2,500 rounds a week. Costing around $1000 new. Recycling casings and making his own halves that cost, he said.

O'Brien runs, and weaves, shooting as he goes down the range.

It is fast and intense and I can see it requires a good level of fitness and skill.

Under his supervision, I have a go at straight target shooting

Coming off a farm, I've occasionally handled guns before. But I was uncomfortable with how easy the pistol was to flick around and soon handed it back.​

Eventually I head up the steep drive, relieved the car reaches the top, and head past the angry signs - some in the verge outside properties of people Pichler "knows for a fact" don't oppose the club.

I turn onto SH16 again and head south.

It's hard to see how O'Brien and Pichler will be accepted into the rural community they say they want to make their home. In truth they seem better suited to city life than low-key country living.

 - Stuff

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