Bill Urseth peered at the blackened remains of his Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club clubhouse and restaurant, a crumbling hole in the ground littered with charred debris.
“There’s nothing left,” he said.
The rustic amber log building with stone fireplaces, brimming with elk, deer and other wildlife mounts and antler chandeliers, is only a memory now after a New Year’s Eve fire destroyed the club’s headquarters.
“We’re going to rebuild,” said Urseth, 64, of Prior Lake, co-owner of the business — a well-known Minnesota destination for shooters, hunters, dog trainers and horse aficionados. Besides five sporting-clay target-shooting courses, the club in rural Prior Lake offers hunting for pheasants, waterfowl, turkey and other game birds, and also has rifle and pistol shooting ranges.
“We shoot about 40,000 pheasants a year,” Urseth said.
The club also has horse boarding, training and riding lessons and hunting-dog breeding, training and a kennel.
About 1,000 members belong to the club, but it also drew the public to the restaurant — Triggers Saloon and Super Club — for a meal, wedding or conservation fundraisers. Youth hunts on the club’s 600 wooded acres and firearms safety training classes also are routinely held. The sporting-clay courses also are open to the public.
The clubhouse-restaurant was the focal point and gathering place.
“A lot of memories were in that building, but the good news is no one was hurt,” said co-owner Randy Travalia, 61, of Minnetonka. “The heart and soul of the business remains the outdoors — the sporting clay range and hunting fields are unaffected.”
Officials haven’t determined the cause of the fire, which was reported around 6:20 a.m. Tuesday. The 8,500-square-foot two-story building had a sprinkler system, but fire was raging when firefighters arrived. The loss is estimated at $2 million to $3 million. About 30 restaurant employees are out of work until a new one is built, Urseth said.
“We hope to have the new clubhouse up and operating by June 1,” Urseth said.
It will include a banquet facility, restaurant and bar as well as a check-in area for hunters and shooters.
“It’s tragic, but also very exciting,” he said.
He and Travalia said they gave no thought to shuttering the business and selling the valuable rolling, wooded acreage.
“It’s something we love doing,” Urseth said.
The club temporarily will operate out of a nearby smaller lodge not affected by the fire.
“We’re not going to miss a beat,” Urseth said. More than 150 shooters were expected Saturday and Sunday at the Minnesota State Pheasant Championship event.
Elk, deer and more
Also lost in the fire were more than 100 wildlife mounts, including big game such as elk, moose and deer, as well as game birds, which covered the walls of the clubhouse and restaurant.
“I lost about 80 mounts of my own,” said Urseth, who has traveled the world hunting and fishing as host of the “Quest for the One” TV show. “Among them were two 391-inch elk, five moose and a world record bush buck from Africa. There were also about 10 whitetails that scored between 140 and 165 inches, and African plains animals.”
The hunts for many of those big game animals were filmed and photographed for his show, so he’s hoping those images might be used to make replicas.
Also lost in the blaze were albums and photos and memorabilia from tournaments over the years, and guns, including ones loaned to youths and an array of new ones the club sold.
“There’s a lot of memories,” said Terry Correll, longtime manager who was among the first on the scene. “My worst nightmare happened.”
A shooting history
Urseth and another partner bought the property in 1985, which included a small lodge and 350 adjoining acres. Travalia later bought out Urseth’s partner, and the pair have operated the business together ever since.
The main building, originally built in 1972, was expanded in 1985 and 1994, and underwent a major remodeling two years ago, Urseth said. Over the years they added horse barns, dog kennels and more land.
“In 1986 we put in the second sporting clays course in the U.S., and it’s always been the largest,” Urseth said.
“We’ve tried to be a premier outdoor facility for the Midwest. Above all, we’ve tried to be a place where people can get to know each other, where relationships and friendships grow, where people can share good times together.”
Besides holding numerous charity fundraisers, the club also has a nonprofit arm that operates the Minnesota Youth Hunt Camp for boys and girls ages 12 to 16. The free weeklong camp, launched in 1986, teaches kids how to shoot and hunt and even clean and cook their own game. About 60 kids attend each summer.
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Urseth. “It’s been so gratifying.”
But now Urseth and Travalia are focused on rebuilding. Last week’s fire means a new chapter for the Horse and Hunt Club.
“We’ll be bigger and better,” Travalia said.