First commercial shooting range opens

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Doug Davis, assistant manager of sales, prepares to open the store on Nov. 13 at Northwest Shooter on U.S.  2 southwest of Columbia Falls.

The National Rifle Association has a web page on “places to shoot” in Montana with no fewer than seven organized trap clubs or shooting ranges in and around the Flathead Valley.

Most are either fee or membership clubs that have loyal followings, but combined they are a testament to an enthusiastic shooting constituency that figures into the business plan for Jeff Hughes, owner of the valley’s first commercial shooting range, Northwest Shooter.

“For one thing, it’s Montana,” Hughes said. “We figured there’s a lot of people around who like to shoot ... We’ve been doing very well and I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface for the people who don’t even know we’re here.”

Located about two miles north of Glacier Park International Airport on U.S. 2, Northwest Shooter is primarily a firearms dealership specializing in new handguns, with about 180 different makes from 16 manufacturers. 

But there is much more to the store, starting with an indoor shooting range in the back with 10 shooting lanes. There are automated target retrievers that allow a shooter to set distances out to 25 yards. There’s a classroom upstairs for courses including basic pistol training and concealed weapons.

The closest commercial facilities that are similar are in Billings or Post Falls, Idaho, said Hughes, who describes the business as a natural offshoot of his interest in hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

“We’re gun-friendly guys and we wanted to find someplace to shoot indoors,” he said.

Hughes estimates the pistol range attracts about 40 to 50 shooters a day during winter and spring months.

Ten years ago, he noted, a person could drive 10 minutes from populated areas in the valley and find a place to shoot, “but now not so much anymore.”

That helped spark the idea of establishing a shooting venue for Hughes, and he’s not alone. 

 

ONE OF The newest shooting clubs in the valley is the Marion Shooters Club that was started from scratch on property owned by the club’s president, Dean Hazuka.

“When I saw all of the building going on here seven years ago ... I thought we better secure a place to shoot in the future,” said Hazuka, adding that several subdivisions cropped up in the Marion area around that time. 

A 100-yard range with covered shooting benches was built on land donated by Hazuka for the club, with a handful of volunteers doing the work. But Hazuka said it’s been a struggle getting public support to build the club and establish regular shooting from May through October, except in October when hunters want to sight-in their rifles.

“I set it up mostly as an educational club, so we encourage new shooters,” he said. The club offers classes on concealed carry, home defense and classes for women and beginning shooters, most often held at the Marion Fire Hall.

“It’s open to the public,” he said, noting that class schedules and other club information can be found online at marionshootersclub.org

The latest development for the club was establishing a shooting range in a county gravel pit just off U.S. 2, three miles west of Marion. 

“During the summer, we can get up to 200 yards there,” he said. “It provides a great opportunity. I just hope enough people turn out to make it worthwhile.”

 

Hughes, meanwhile, sees plenty of potential for growth at Northwest Shooter.

“We’re in the progress of planning an indoor tactical rifle range,” he said, adding that construction of a north-south addition to the building could get under way by next summer. 

He said the indoor facility would provide shooters with a 50 to 60 yard range with tactical targets “kind of like a SWAT team training kind of place.”

Once a rifle range is in place, Hughes expects to expand the retail store’s inventory to include rifles and shotguns.

Currently, there are friendly competitions on the pistol range, but Hughes foresees eventual league competitions. As it is, there are no membership requirements.

“It’s show up and shoot,” Hughes said. The charge is $10 an hour or annual passes are available at individual or family rates. More information on classes, shooting hours and more can be found at: www.northwestshooter.com.

 

Other places to shoot in the Flathead Valley include:

• Bigfork Gun Club, a full-service facility located on Montana 83, three miles south of the Montana 209 junction; for more information go to www.bigforkgunclub.com.

• North Valley Sportsman Club, located in the North Fork three miles north of Columbia Falls; call 892-4006.

• Flathead Clay Target Club, 1290 Prairie View Road north of Kalispell; call 755-4828.

• The Lester O. Bauska Indoor Target Range, 1280 Prairie View Road north of Kalispell; call 755-3980.

• Flathead County 4-H Shooting Sports, 465 Small Lane, Kalispell; call 755-2554.

• Whitefish Rifle and Pistol Club; call 881-4404 or go to www.whitefishriflepistol.org.

• Whitefish Rifle Range; call 862-3989.

Jeff Hughes is the owner of Northwest Shooter.

 

Jeff Hughes demonstrates shooting at the indoor range at Northwest Shooter.

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