It’s lunchtime inside Thom Bolsch’s new Conroe empire, and the place is teeming with customers. Some retire to a members-only back room, sinking into deep leather armchairs for a chat. Others do a little shopping, perusing the wares in their shiny display cases. Still others hang around the café, fueling up on fresh-baked muffins and espresso. They’ll need the energy—shooting guns requires a good deal of strength and stamina.
“People call us a ‘guntry club,’ but I like it,” says Bolsch, whose new Saddle River Range boasts 33,000 well-appointed square feet and bills itself as “the most luxurious, family-friendly, indoor firearms range, archery range and full retail store in Texas.” The place opened in November and already has a membership roster 600 strong, made up of a wide mix of patrons: young and old, novice and expert, and—in a nearly even split—male and female.
Originally from New Jersey, the square-jawed Bolsch settled in The Woodlands in 2010, where he quickly became a full-fledged Texas convert. The walls at Saddle River not only bear a quote from the Constitution’s Second Amendment—“the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”—but one from Davy Crockett: “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”
It’s also safe to say Bolsch knows what to do with a gun. He spent 25 years with the U.S. Secret Service and, as a cadet, won its Marksmanship Award, going on to spend his career serving on the detail for two presidents—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—and training recruits and special agents.
But in 2014, as his time with the Secret Service came to an end, Bolsch found himself contemplating a second act. “As I was approaching retirement, I asked myself what I could do as a civilian,” he says. “About five or six years ago, there were only a handful of these full-size facilities in the nation. People thought of gun stores as mom-and-pop places. But I saw it as a posh place where people should be treated with respect.”
At Saddle River, more than anything, that translates to a place that welcomes women—one where Bolsch’s wife Michelle, for example, feels welcome. The couple, he says, has experience with gun-range sexism. When he was in the Secret Service, she stayed at home alone for long stretches, and so decided she wanted to learn to handle a gun. But when the couple went to practice, “People sort of talked down to her,” he recalls. “It was that old gun culture of people talking down to you. I didn’t like that.”
These days, nobody talks down to Michelle Bolsch when she goes out to shoot a few rounds, and not just because she’s the owner’s wife. As for her comfort level behind her weapon, Bolsch says: “She’s much more confident now.”
Saddle River Range
4280 FM 1488, Conroe, 936-271-2620, saddleriverrange.com