Elijah Harder (left) and Wyatt Cohen enjoy pancakes slathered in maple syrup after a morning of community service and camaraderie at Big Sky’s shooting range. Volunteers from Big Sky and Bozeman convened at the Red Cliff shooting range to clean up what other users left behind. The range is located on Forest Service land, and if trash continues to pile up, the area could be closed off to the public.

Guns, pancakes and trash bags

Community teams up to clean up Big Sky’s shooting range

The Red Cliff shooting range in Big Sky has long been used by the community as a close and convenient venue for honing in shooting skills and sighting in guns. But since it’s on Forest Service land, there’s no singular entity in charge of maintaining the undesignated area–that task falls upon its users.

On Sept. 29, Big Sky’s Sons of American Legion sponsored the cleanup for the third year, offering up an all-you-can-eat breakfast to the workers and a “turkey shoot” shooting contest for those that stuck around. At $3 per shot, whoever made it closest to the bullseye won a turkey from the Country Market - this year Harder’s son Elijah was the kids champion and Brett Schlehofer took home a ticket for a turkey in the adult category. 

The cleanup crew found quite the assortment of rubbish left behind by shooters, from the expected shotgun shells and plastic casings to shot-up oven pans, an unidentified carcass, and a hodgepodge of other bits of trash and bullet hole-ridden wood, plastic and metal. “There were literally bags and bags we filled with shells,” Harder said. Fortunately the crew had a broom-like device with a magnet that made picking up the non-aluminum metal pieces easier. “And it was impossible to clean it all up.”

Coincidentally, another group from Bozeman with representatives from the Forest Service and Change Your Range, were also at the range on Saturday with the same goal in mind. So in all 40 or so volunteers joined forces to clean up the scattered debris. 

The effort to keep the Red Cliff range clean has been ongoing for years. And for those that work to keep it up, it can be a bit discouraging that users just don’t get the picture - the range is on National Forest land, and just like other public lands, it’s a pack-in, pack-out scenario. “It’s pretty disgusting what people just leave there,” Harder said. “Especially when we bring our kids there to learn about shooting. It’s gross.”

A few years ago the Gallatin Riverhouse crew led an effort that enhanced the range with shooting stations and big metal barrels to put spent shells and trash into. Unfortunately range users chose to shoot those additions to pieces, which won’t likely be reinstalled. 

While maintaining the range can be frustrating, Harder and the rest of the American Legion were happy to do their part. “Our mission is to educate people about things, it doesn’t have to just be veteran-related things, it’s also about service to the community,” explained Harder. “So we invite people, cook some breakfast, have some fun and clean up.”


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