(MT) Zeroing in on a shooting range


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Drizzt
February 21, 2003, 04:38 PM
Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT)


February 13, 2003 Thursday

SECTION: OUTDOORS; Pg. 1O

LENGTH: 766 words

HEADLINE: Zeroing in on a shooting range

BYLINE: Michael Babcock, Staff

BODY:
Public can take a crack at shooting range plans

By MICHAEL BABCOCK Tribune Outdoor Editor

While this is no time for an itchy trigger finger, there is progress on the long awaited shooting range north of Great Falls.

Under the best conditions, shooters may be using it by as early as this coming autumn, but more likely first shots will be fired there a year from now.

"It is coming along. The guys on the board want to see it come together," said Jim Panagopoulos, head of the Great Falls Shooting Sports Complex board. "It is one of those things that takes time. "If anybody shoots there this fall, it would be the law enforcement. The area they are going to use is pretty much already notched out of the hillside," he said. "More likely, first shots will be fired at the range a year from now."

The Shooting Sports Complex will be located on about 947 acres of property around what commonly is referred to as Radio Tower Butte three miles north of Great Falls just east of Highway 87.

Fish, Wildlife & Parks has purchased 600 acres at the site, and a board of directors, made up of members from local shooting groups and the public, is working to raise money to buy the remaining land.

Just last week, the Missouri Gobblers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation said it plans to give $10,000 to the shooting complex this year and the chapter pledged another $10,000 next year.

Last month, the Mule Deer Foundation donated $20,000 toward the project and the local chapter kicked in nearly $500 more.

The Great Falls Shooting Sports Complex board includes representatives from the Missouri River Shooters Association, the Sun River Skeet Club, the Ed McGivern Pistol Club, the Montana Plainsmen Black Powder Club, the Russell Country Sportsmen and a representative of the public.

The group has been meeting regularly for about 18 months and tonight will present its plan so far to the public for comment.

"What we present may not be what the public wants, but what we are looking for is input," Panagopoulos said.

"We came up with something we think is viable, but we are just seven people and this is something to be set up for the public as well as the different shooting organizations. We want some input to see if we are headed down the

right road or if we want something different."

Panagopoulos said there will be enough land at the site to allow different shooting ranges for each of the groups involved, from shorter ranges for pistol shooters to long ranges for the high-powered rifle shooters.

"Initially there will be 100-, 200- and 300-yard bench ranges," he said. "What would be a high-powered range, with distances of from 200 to 1,000 yards will come later."

Panagopoulos said eventually a clubhouse will be constructed in conjunction with indoor small-bore and pistol ranges.

A separate range for the public may become part of the complex, although amenities will be limited.

"Anyone who uses the shooting complex must either belong to one of the sponsoring groups or pay a fee," Panagopoulos said.

He likened it to using Giant Springs State Park or Glacier National Park: everybody has to pay.

Membership fees range from the $15 it costs to join the Montana Plainsmen Black Powder Club to the $30 membership fee to join Missouri River Shooters Association.

"If Joe Public wants to come out and doesn't want to join an existing club, he will have to pay a fee," Panagopoulos said. "But the amenities will be limited. We want to encourage interest and participation in the organized shooting sports. The clubs want to maintain a certain amount of control."

Bruce Auchly, information officer for Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Great Falls, said FWP has turned development and management of the range over to the Shooting Sports Complex board because FWP is not in the business of running shooting ranges.

"This really was sort of a shotgun marriage," said FWP Information Officer Bruce Auchly. "It forced all of the groups to work together because the state just would not deal with 20 different lessees."

Auchly said that while there will be a place for the public to shoot, the range will not be open at all hours.

"This never was planned to be a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week range," he said.

Shooting range update:

A public meeting on the Great Falls Shooting Sports Complex will be today at 7 p.m., at the MSU-Great Falls College of Technology, 2100 16th Ave. S.

The group will seek public comment on a set bylaws, a mission statement and operating rules developed since last summer for the shooting sports complex.

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