Dear MSSA Friends,

Below is my comment to the Gallatin Forest about their proposal to close a large chunk of public land to shooting.  See the closure area map at:

If you wish to comment also, an easy way to do so is to just say you concur with the MSSA position.  Email your comment to:

The Subject should be:  Hyalite Shooting Restrictions


Dear Gallatin Forest,

To aid you in assessing this comment, first allow me to introduce myself.

I am accepted in state and federal courts as an expert concerning firearm safety, use of force, shooting ranges, and more.  I am the president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, the primary political advocate for gun owners in Montana.  In that capacity, I am the original author of the Montana Shooting Range Protection Act, and of the Montana Shooting Range Development Act.  I was invited to attend and was an active participant in the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy in Reno, Nevada, on October 1–3, 2008, one finding of which was that federal public land managers should do more to promote and allow recreational shooting on public lands (see the Conference report).  I am a lifetime hunter and also shoot competitively in the discipline of long range precision rifle.  I have aided and advised many Montana communities concerning provision of safe and suitable places for people to shoot.

A.  Background

About the Hyalite Canyon issue, a number of things are given.

1.  Among public land users there will be responsible users and irresponsible users.  Hikers will include those who drop their litter along trails.  While it is understandable to dislike littering (I do), it is also not very smart to ban hiking just because a few hikers litter.  The more acceptable response is education and peer pressure for culture change.

2.  Montana has a high incidence of firearm ownership and use.  MSSA estimates that more than 90% of the homes in Montana contain firearms, usually multiple firearms.  While the Bozeman area might fall below that 90%, the incidence of firearms ownership will still be high.  Montana has the highest percentage of its population purchasing hunting licenses of any state.  Montana has active shooting in all usual shooting disciplines.  Our common culture of firearms ownership and use in Montana is not going to change any time soon.

3.  In my experience, all communities that have problems with unsafe recreational shooting have that problem primarily because the community is underserved by safe and suitable places for people to shoot.  Communities that have developed safe and suitable places for people to shoot have dramatically reduced land use conflicts from unsafe shooting.

4.  All public lands use has the potential to create use conflicts.  Horseback riders will see conflict with mountain bikers.  Fly fishermen see conflict with river floaters.  Hikers see conflict with motorized trail riders.  The usual way such conflicts are managed is not to ban them, but to direct them to suitable locations.

5.  The conflicts in the Hyalite Canyon will be both imagined and actual.  Certainly, perceived danger from shooting can be imaginary.  Some people may hear a distant gunshot and fear for their lives.  I have heard tens of thousands of gunshots close by at shooting events and have never been fearful for my safety.  Actual danger depends on more than someone’s perception of danger.

6.  In my experience, most of the trash (not all of it, but most) attributed to irresponsible target shooters is actually trash dumped by others, and only used as a target of opportunity by target shooters.  For example, it is unusual for there to be bullet holes in a broken washing machine dumped illegally in a vacant city lot.  People with firearms don’t usually haul appliances out to the forest to shoot at them.  People do dump appliances in the forest to avoid landfill fees.  When trash is left in the forest, it does make an attractive target, causing some people who may not do well with logic to assume without other evidence that it was the shooter who dumped the trash.  Think of the easy assumption some people might make seeing a trashy neighborhood in Chicago, Detroit, or Atlanta that is populated by Black people and jumping to the conclusion that Black people create trashy neighborhoods.  Correlation does not equal causation.  That all murderers drink water doesn’t mean that water causes murder.  Because trash found has rain on it doesn’t prove that it fell from the sky.  Because some trash has holes in it doesn’t prove it was dumped by target shooters.

B.  Questions

1.  The proposal to prohibit target shooting in the Hyalite Canyon must also contemplate some enforcement.  What is the authority for any such enforcement?  Specifically, what federal statute allows for that enforcement, and what specific language within that law allows for such enforcement?  Also, what federal regulation allows Gallatin National Forest to enforce such a proposal, and what specific language within the regulation is being relied upon?

2.  What has Gallatin National Forest actually done to provide a safe and suitable place for people to shoot in the Hyalite Canyon?  Has the GNF identified any particular terrain that can accommodate safe shooting?  Has the GNF applied any signage directing shooting to any such area?  What other attempts has GNF made to educate the public and direct the public to such safe and suitable area(s)?  What meetings has GNF had with Gallatin County authorities about developing safe and suitable places for people to shoot?

3.  What contact has GNF had with existing shooting facilities in Gallatin County in attempt to redirect shooting in the Hyalite Canyon to established safe shooting facilities in Gallatin County?

4.  If existing recreational users of Hyalite Canyon next complain about shooting for hunting in the Canyon, will the GNF consider closing these public lands to hunting as well?

5.  What is the evidence that target shooters actually produce the majority of the trash that accumulates in the Hyalite Canyon and that appears to be used to justify the proposed rule?

6.  Who are the persons assigned to conduct the environmental analysis, and from what entities or sources is this analysis taking input?  Will this analysis consider the cultural and economic impact of the proposed rules?

C.  Recommendations

1.  Seek and offer proof before implying or accusing that target shooters created a trash problem in the Hyalite Canyon.

2.  Engage with people who have expertise in safe shooting to help identify terrain in the Hyalite Canyon where target shooting can be directed.

3.  Erect signage to direct target shooters to designated safe shooting locations and other public land users away from any such location.

4.  Work with Gallatin county authorities to determine the need for and plans for additional safe shooting facilities to serve the community.

5.  Recruit citizen volunteers and groups to promote safe shooting standards.

6.  Conduct outreach and educational efforts to publicize safe shooting standards.

7.  Educate other Hyalite Canyon users to be tolerant of target shooting done under conditions that doesn’t create actual risk.

8.  Withdraw any effort at closing public land to shooting until these goals are met.

Please answer the questions posed here by email to me at  Thank you.


--   Gary Marbut, president  Montana Shooting Sports Association  Author, Gun Laws of Montana

By mssa