Shooting club promotes safety and improvement
Fish Wildlife and Parks reports that Montana has 140 shooting ranges.
The Hellgate Civilians Shooters Association invited me to one of its ranges near Missoula. Since 1938, the association has created designated, supervised facilities, away from other recreators sharing Montana's open spaces.
Dick Houldson is an officer and instructor and tells NBC Montana, "Primarily, we try to get the people out of indiscriminant shooting in the back woods. The woods are being used by more walkers, riders and motorcyclists. There's just more people in the back country, so we are trying to get the indiscriminate shooting out of the field and on to the ranges."
The group also offers regular, public safety courses.
"Since guns are part of our society and are prevalent everywhere, if they are going to be there, we'd like them to know how to recognize and identify them and make them safe," Houldson continues.
Shooting student, Lynn Mckay says, "I think everybody should know how to properly handle a firearm."
For some, shooting offers a chance to compete in a worldwide sport. The club hosts eight major matches a year. One of the most respected juniors matches in the country draws about 50 young shooters to Missoula every year. Missoula shooters are well known for earning college scholarships.
Gary Swartz explains, "Our program has produced several All American shooters at the collegiate level and several National Champions."
Several young shooters are eager to follow in the club's tradition.
Matt Marcinkoaski started at age 11 and tells NBC Montana, "I've tried other sports and I just seem to really connect. I just really felt good about it. I would like to keep going and get as good as possible."
Samantha Briggs is focusing her Hellgate High School Senior Project on shooting. "The goal of what my project is is for competition use; to see how I can do in competition and win awards," Samantha says.
Tempe Regan went from shooting in 4-H to becoming a national champion and says talented Montana shooters could stay here for college if more teams were formed, "It would be nice if UM had an NCAA team, so that Montana kids could stay in Montana and shoot."
I sat down with club members to hear their views on the current gun regulation debates going on in Washington, DC. I found their individual opinions just as diverse as those found across the nation.
The debate has not hurt participation at the gun club near Missoula. Members tell me more people continue to sign up for various programs.
Mike Marcinkoaski says, "The competitive nature of this sport will be strong. These people are here to shoot at targets and treat people and their rifle with respect."
The Hellgate Civilian Shooters Association does not hold any official stance on the current gun debate and is focusing on its 75 year mission of providing a safe environment for those who handle guns.