Even in vast Montana, 500-yard-or-greater shooting opportunities are limited
Ah, the wide-open spaces of the Big Sky State – where pronghorn antelope play on the prairie and deer and elk far outnumber the state’s 1 million people.
Even though Montana has a smaller human population than many midsize cities in the Midwest, there are plenty of opportunities for range shooting near rural communities but usually with fewer amenities than their more developed range cousins back East. But there’s no need for a rental shop, concessions or warming huts, if straight shooting is what you’re after.
Although it’s the Big Sky State, formal opportunities to shoot at 500 yards or farther are few and far between. This Undercover Shooter visited and compared two shooting facilities that accommodated long-range shooting in the western part of the state.
Do-it-yourself, but a range master may be watching
This well-established range in the Missoula area is a reflection of Montana itself because it’s a drive to get there, is forested and on the way there are plenty of chances to relish numerous river and mountain views. If making a morning visit, you might see an elk or bear.
Immediately upon driving through the facility’s gate, shooters pull up and park in front of a do-it-yourself registration area and fee pay, similar to self-registration at a U.S. Forest campground. Members sign-in on a clipboard.
I recommend wearing ear protection before exiting the truck to register.
This 100-acre facility is leased from the State of Montana and managed by a local, nonprofit shooting club. The caretaker lives on site and doubles as a range master on heavy-use days, especially before and during Montana’s big-game hunting season, when use is high.
To access shooting lanes farther than 200 yards, shooters must purchase a nominal annual membership, which provides access to lanes with plywood frames set out at 200, 300, 385, 500 and 600 yards. Bring your own targets!
For admittance to long-range shooting, from the sign-in area, proceed right, go through a gate and drive about a half-mile to the 600-yard range, complete with covered firing lines built on a concrete slab with benches and rifle stands.
This range is 100 yards wide and longer than 600 yards with dirt berms heaped up after target stands at each aforementioned distance. For distances of 300 yards or farther, shooters are required to use the far-right shooting lane, where one concrete shooting bench offers absolute steadiness.
A gravel road parallels the far-right shooting lane. It’s okay to drive your vehicle to target stands; signage makes it absolutely clear that handling of firearms is not acceptable when persons are downrange.
Parking and outdoor toilets are available at both ends of the property, which is laid out in linear fashion. A pavilion is in the center of the facility, but no other services are available other than shooting stations.
To access this long-range shooting on the east side of the property, a $35 per-year membership is required. The fee covers spouses and children under 18 and also gains entry into the day-use, public-portion of the range, which is immediately to the left of the sign-in area, and the west side of property. For $3 a day, anyone can use the 100/200-yard range, which also has plywood frames at 25 and 50 yards for smallbore rifles and handguns.
One of the oldest private gun clubs in America
This shooting range is easy access and just a couple minutes off the Interstate. To enter, a padlock must be unlocked and a gate opened before proceeding inside.
Range B is located on steppe highlands of southwestern Montana. This shooting facility spreads out over a rolling, open landscape dotted with sagebrush and a few shrubs. Hills and excavated piles of dirt and rock serve as backstops.
After proceeding inside, immediately to the left is a range with benches with target boards placed at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. Two metal hanging targets are further out. Range finders are required to figure shooting distances. Bring your own targets.
There is no on-site registration or sign-in box. Your membership must be secured by U.S. mail in advance of your visit. It took one week to receive mine. Applications are available at local sporting stores and from the shooting club’s website. My membership included rules, a map, a combination to unlock the gate padlock and a badge, which must be worn at all times while on the property. I wore mine on the lapel of my jacket, as others did.
Range B is owned by a private gun club—one of the oldest in America, according to membership information. Signage on the property discloses a strict “no guest” policy.
West of the aforementioned 100-200 yard range are firing lines excavated out of sagebrush. There are no amenities other the a few cinders to designate shooting spots. Target boards are out there at 300, 600 and 800 yards. With a much more developed long-distance shooting facility on the southern portion of the property, I recommend bypassing these firing lines as they are in poor condition, likely used during the early days of the facility’s history.
The long-distance silhouette range is on the opposite end of the property. This one has five numbered target boards each staggered at 200, 300, 385 and 500 meters, rather than yards. The firing line is on a concrete slab covered by a roof, and it serves all targets. There are no shooting benches or chairs. The only way to tell distances is to read the fine print on the map that comes with the membership – or use a range finder. Although advertised as a “metallic silhouette range,” only two metal targets were available to shoot. Using the prone shooting position on the concrete slab, I shot and hit the metal turkey target at 385 meters, but repeatedly missed the round metal target at 500. I was more successful hitting the larger target boards at that distance.
Annual club memberships are $65 for individuals, $75 for family members that live in the county. A $20 discount is offered for members of the National Rifle Association. If your family member lives outside the county, a special $25 membership is required, which provides them access four times per year. Memberships expire April 1 of each year. No proration is available.
UNDERCOVER SHOOTER SCORECARD
Each category is rated on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest score.
Editor’s note: The Undercover Shooter is an experienced recreational shooter but is not trained in the technical aspects of range design and operation.
Range A Customer Satisfaction Rating
Signage and Visibility: 5
- It’s a drive to get there, but prominent signage appears at intersections of two commonly used area roads. Range hours and distances are posted.
- Noticeable signage is at the range entrance and at registration, and shooting stations are well marked with shooting rules.
Layout and Setting: 4
- The layout is linear with all ranges facing the mountain, which serves as a backstop in addition to piles of soil heaped up behind plywood-framed sporting targets.
- The setting is forested. Between shoots, a white-tailed deer walked through one of the high-powered rifle ranges.
- Clean outdoor toilets are adjacent to two parking areas. A small pavilion is in the center of the facility.
Retail Product Availability: 0
- No ammunition, concessions or clothing available.
Rental Availability: 0
- No firearms are available to rent.
Staff Friendliness: 4
- The caretaker resides on the property. He is respectful and polite and can answer any and all questions about the range, scheduled events and special safety considerations. However, he may seem abrasive to those who violate safety rules.
- Shooters are required to read well-posted safety rules at check-in and in front of each shooting station.
- The caretaker doubles as a range master during heavy-use periods. The day I visited, between shoots he announced through a bullhorn, “Read Rule No. 1. Then read Rule No. 2, please.” (Rules are posted in front of each shooting bench. Rule 1: Stand behind the yellow line and do not handle or touch firearms while people are down range. Rule 2: Actions must be open and empty when not on the firing line in the presence of shooters.)
- A few spent shell casings were scattered about, but most shooters were considerate enough to pickup and deposit spent casing in cans hung from posts that support the shooting canopy. Trash cans with garbage bags were placed at intervals, and being that it was first thing in the morning, trash bags were mostly empty.
- In general, the facility and grounds appear in good repair and are well maintained.
- This facility can accommodate special 1,000-yard shooting events, but this range was neither set up nor available the day I visited. During 1,000-yard events, all other shooting ranges are closed.
- The shooting of breakables including glass, cinder blocks, bowling pins or other miscellaneous items are not permitted.
- Shooting hours are 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. or dusk, whichever comes first. This facility is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Range B Customer Satisfaction Rating
Signage and Visibility: 2
- To ascertain target distances, shooters must refer to a map that comes with the membership packet or use a range finder.
- Although signage on the entrance gate specifies which type of shooting is allowed on specified days, e.g. benchrest/pistol shooting Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays; high-power rifle/silhouette on alternate days – to those unfamiliar with the facility, the lack of adequate signage makes it difficult to tell which firing line you are actually on.
Layout and Setting: 2
- The rolling landscape makes it difficult to tell exactly where you are on the property while driving the network of roads.
- While driving the facility, I recommend paying close attention to the map’s fine print and your position on the property in relation to the map.
Retail Product Availability: 0
- No items are available for purchase.
Rental Availability: 0
- No items are available for rent.
Staff Friendliness: 0
- No staff present at the facility the days of my visits.
- •Although the rolling terrain, hills and excavated piles of soil and rock stop bullets’ paths of travel, road barricades are required to ensure safety when either long-distance range is used. For a shooter new to the facility, there is room for confusion as to which barricade goes where, even after reading the fine print on the map or the small signs on the property.
- One road winds through hilly terrain that actually takes you through silhouette target stands. In the absence of staff to serve as a guide and to review safety procedures, you’re relying on fellow shooters to follow the rules to a “t,” which raises safety concerns.
- One of my visits was the day after a shooting competition; overall the premise was free of debris, but the 100/200 yard range had some litter in front of the firing line.
- The meeting house was neat and clean. Long-distance firing lines were free of litter.
- Although a membership is required for participation, exceptions include hunter safety, law enforcement events and club-sponsored competitions.
- Shooters are invited to take shelter in the meeting house, complete with wood for the wood stove. The facility also doubles as a meeting house for hunter safety and other events.
- Open seven days a week. No shooting hours are specified in the membership packet or anywhere I could find on the property. However, the front gate has a sign that says, “Day Use.”
Range A may appear Spartan for those wanting more amenities than straight shooting at lengthy distances. If you’re looking for a range with all the comforts that the indoors might offer – complete with concessions and/or a lounge where you can plug-in your laptop to check your investment portfolio—this isn’t the place. But the drive is beautiful and the range adequate with an attentive caretaker who emphasizes safety, and the price is dirt cheap.
Deep Creek Range
Hellgate Civilian Shooters Association
17770 Deep Creek Rd.
Missoula, MT 59804-9435
406-543-3075 ∙ www.hellgatecsa.org
All reports, comments, impressions, opinions or advice expressed in the Undercover Shooter column are solely those of independent, recreational shooting range consumers and do not necessarily represent those of the National Shooting Sports Foundation or its affiliates. Neither the NSSF nor its affiliates make any warranty or assume any liability with respect to the accuracy or reliability of any information provided by Undercover Shooter contributors. Readers are encouraged to and should perform their own investigation of the information provided herein.