A gloved hand plucked up bullet-riddled, tall-boy cans of a rotgut brand of beer.
Littering the same landscape were many hundreds of spent shotgun shells — cylindrical symptoms of shirked responsibility. Volunteers raked the shells into piles before shoveling them into garbage bags.
A discarded door affixed with shooting targets displayed more bullet holes than the Ford in which desperadoes Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow died in 1934.
Eleven playing cards had been stapled to an edge of the door. Only one card displayed a bullet hole. A cleanup volunteer quipped that the aim of the shooters who had lugged in and then abandoned the door was roughly equivalent to the ethics of their behavior.
Coors and Miller Lite beer cans and the cartons that once contained them joined an eyesore collage that included plastic water bottles, bullet casings, a gallon milk jug pocked with bullet holes and much, much more.
In short, the place was a danged mess.
None of the cleanup volunteers who showed up on the morning of April 27 would disagree.
And this rubbish-strewn site a few miles south of Glacier Institute’s Big Creek Campus presented stark contrast to the wild and scenic beauty along the North Fork Road.
People favor the location, a former gravel pit screened by trees from the road, for sighting in their rifles in preparation for hunting season or for recreational shooting. The site, contained within the Flathead National Forest, offers safety and seclusion and a rustic table for resting rifles for hunters adjusting scopes. It is not an officially sanctioned shooting range, but the Forest Service says it understands the site is a safe and popular spot for rifle sighting.
Many cleanup volunteers who came to lend their labors that brisk Saturday morning said their participation reflected concerns that hunters could lose access to the site if it isn’t treated respectfully.
Josh Clark, a co-owner of two regional businesses, Hunt Montana and Glacier Values, is an avid hunter. He organized the cleanup by spreading the word through social media.
As 8 a.m. approached, he unloaded rakes, trash bags, sleds for hauling trash and other cleanup gear from his pickup.
“I hate burning a Saturday morning when I have a weekend to go hunting,” Clark said. “But stuff needs to get done.
“I guess you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem,” he said. “We’re going to be part of the solution today.”
Other volunteers began arriving.
Matthew Voelker came from Kalispell. Hudson Magone traveled from Marion.
Brothers Kevin and Craig Wolf arrived from Columbia Falls and brought a small Kubota tractor and a trailer to help scoop up and haul trash.
“We shoot here quite a bit and we’ve had the same thought about cleaning the place up,” Craig Wolf said.
He described a past visit and what he had discovered then.
“Somebody decided to get rid of an old toilet and apparently thought shooting it to pieces was the best way,” Wolf said. “If you’re going to bring something to shoot, bring pumpkins.”
Shane McCaffree of Columbia Falls joined the cleanup because he feared the Forest Service might prohibit access unless the site’s users police themselves better.
“The sad part is, we’ll do all this today and come back next year and start all over again, probably,” McCaffree said. “I don’t know if it’s young kids or people who just don’t care about the land.”
Ultimately, about 20 people showed up to help. Some knew Clark. Many did not.
As the morning progressed, the temperature dropped and a wind coming off the snow-covered Apgar Mountains to the east carried a deep chill.
The workers built a bonfire that served two purposes — consuming flammable trash and debris and providing a source of warmth.
Rob Davies is district ranger for the Hungry Horse/Glacier View Ranger District. The site cleaned up is within the Glacier View district.
“It’s emerged just through public use as a safe place to shoot,” Davies said Tuesday.
He said that although the site is not a sanctioned shooting range it meets requirements for a target shooting location on the National Forest.
Davies expressed enthusiasm for the work of the volunteers.
“I have to tell you, I am super excited and really, really grateful for those individuals who stepped up and volunteered to clean the site,” he said.
Davies said the volunteers’ proactive approach could help hunters retain access to a safe place to shoot.
“If nothing happens, and the public continues to trash the place, it can become an eyesore and a resource problem,” he said, creating a situation that could ultimately lead to closure.
Other volunteers included Jessica Bousquet and her son, Connor, 2. He seemed to find special joy in retrieving shotgun shells from a mud puddle.
Bousquet works as a licensed practical nurse at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. She said she appreciates the North Fork and noted her employer offers incentives for volunteering.
Irina Moore, a registered nurse at the medical center, and her husband, Harry Moore, also joined the effort.
Clark said there’s a larger message for people who use public lands.
“Be responsible for the land you’re using. A couple of jerks who don’t know how to pick up after themselves will get this place and others shut down,” he said.
“Maybe this event will help remind people to do better.”
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4407.