November 21, 2000

Len Broberg, Chairman
Missoula City/County Planning Board
Missoula City Hall
Missoula, Montana 59802

Dear Mr. Broberg,

The Planning Board is beginning to review a proposed development for the Bandman Flats area near East Missoula.  This letter will serve to introduce the Western Montana Fish and Game Association, and its Deer Creek Shooting Range, which has existed in the Hellgate Canyon near the proposed development for a quarter-century.

The Western Montana Fish and Game Association is a non-profit corporation under Montana law, and is Montana’s oldest and largest regional organization of sportsmen and women.  The Association was founded in 1911, and we have about 1,000 local members.

What is important to this communication is that we own and operate the Deer Creek Range near East Missoula, one of the most well-developed shooting ranges in the northwest.  Our Range is located west of the Deer Creek Road and south of the Montana Rail Link tracks, and is up against the foot of the mountain on the south side of the Hellgate Canyon.  We first leased this property from the Jacobs family for a shooting range and began developing for shooting range purposes in 1976.  In 1991 we entered into a contract to purchase the Range property, and completed the purchase in 1994.  We own about 88 acres.

At the Range, we cater to and allow all types of shooting and shooting arms.  We have active areas and programs for rifles, pistols, shotguns, and archery.  We allow full-auto arms in designated areas on the Range, and have even had Civil War replica black powder muzzleloading cannons fire at the Range.  In addition to use by our members, we occasionally host programs for local law enforcement, military and security agencies.  The Department of Military Science at the U. of M. uses the Range for ROTC candidate training and qualification.  National Guard personnel have used the Range for training.  The Range is used by Boy Scouts for safety and training classes, and is used by local Hunter Safety instructors for hunter safety classes.  The Range is used for local and regional competitive shooting events in various shooting disciplines.  We expect to continue all of these activities, and in the future we will probably accommodate others not yet on the list.

At the Range, all individual shooting ranges point south and southwest.  Thus, all shooting at the Range is towards the south.  All projectile impact is against the foot of the mountain on the south side of the Range.  Carefully drafted safety rules are posted at the Range and are enforced.  All members agree to abide by these safety rules when they apply for membership.  Because I am in the business of manufacturing shooting range equipment, and because I am a competitive shooter, I have visited and fired at dozens of ranges all over the U.S.  I am convinced that the Deer Creek Range is one of the most safe ranges I have ever seen.

We wish to be proactive in establishing good neighbor relations with anyone who plans to construct a residential development in the neighborhood of our range.  It is estimated that about 90% of the homes in Montana contain firearms.  Thus, it is likely that homes established in the vicinity of the Range will be owned by people who also own guns.  People who own guns usually need a safe and suitable place to shoot.  As it is often advertised as an attractive amenity to have a golf course near a residential development, we believe it would also be attractive to advertise that there is an appropriate shooting range near a residential development.  We would like to explore ways that we can work cooperatively with those implementing any development in the area.  We could talk about cooperation with the developers in providing Range memberships to persons or families moving in to the area, or about any other kinds of cooperation that could be mutually beneficial.

We especially wish to avoid any conflict between our Range and people who would move newly into the area.  We wish not to have people move in who would then complain about the sound of gunfire.  There is a very solid shooting range protection act in the laws of Montana, which I wrote, and which was passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor at the behest of the Association and many Montana sportsmen and women.  However, we would prefer to rely on proactive neighborliness to prevent conflict, than on the existing law to deflect conflict.

If there is anything we can do to work cooperatively and proactively with those who may develop the property near our Range, we would be pleased to do so.

However, we wish to be clearly on record as owning and operating the Deer Creek Range near the proposed development, and we wish to forestall the possibility that some future residents of the proposed development might move in, and then begin to complain about the nearness of a shooting range.

We wish to declare our grandfathered and established use of our property as a shooting range.  We wish to put the developers, the Planning Board, and any subsequent residents on notice of the existence of our shooting range in the area, and our intent to operate the location as a shooting range forever.

As you consider the developers plans, the Board should remember that there is a shooting range in the area, developer plans should take this into account, and you should look for ways to minimize the impact so the new development doesn't cause us problems in future years.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Marbut, Secretary
Chairman, Range Committee