The O/B outing at Gallatin Sporting Clays.

On a crisp October morning with a fresh dusting of snow on the ground, we load up at the O/B office with shotguns and a half-dozen boxes of shells. We’re heading to Gallatin Sporting Clays, tucked back into a discreet drainage in the juniper hills north of Logan. Upland bird season is well underway, and some of us need a mid-season tune-up. Some of us, perhaps, feel like we’ve got something to prove.

We park in front of a small building—the type of hybrid office-shed found at every good shooting range. We’re greeted by Lee Richards, president of the operation, and he brings us inside to sign waivers. As we lay our shell boxes on the desk to make sure they fit the range’s requirements, Lee smirks. “That’s all you brought?”

None of us know what to say, so Lee turns around, opens a cabinet, and pulls out 20 more boxes. “I’ll give you the members’ rate. There are 800 targets loaded on this card. You guys have some shooting to do.”

800 targets? My jaw’s on the floor. I thought we’d come for an hour, each shoot a box, talk some shit, then leave. There are six of us, so this divvies out to over 130 clays per person. By my calculations, I’m going to have a black-and-blue shoulder. Lee hands me a plastic RFID card, which activates the launchers.

Gallatin Sporting Clays offered one of the best staff outings we’ve ever had.

We walk outside to get the lay of the land. There are three ranges: an easier 50-target course designed to mimic common bird-hunting shots, a harder 100-target course with difficult shots for competitions, and a five-stand range with launchers dispersed in every direction. This’ll surely settle the score over who’s the sharpest shooter at O/B.

“We host competitions here every year, and the best shooters come from all over the country,” Lee explains. “No one’s ever shot a perfect round. That’s why they keep coming back.” I’m starting to think we’ll be lucky if we hit anything.

The 50-target course seems like a good place to start. Lee shows us how to load the RFID card into the launcher’s control board and hands us the remote. “Have fun!” he says, leaving us to our own devices.

After a few rotations, I’m taking the lead. Chris and Mike heckle me for calling pull with the gun already shouldered. “That’s not how it works when you’re hunting,” they say. “Hey, check the scoreboard,” I reply. All those weeks shooting trap as a kid at summer camp are serving me well. I pretend it’s beginner’s luck.

As we head through the competition course, Chris is gaining on me. My six-shot lead is reduced to four, three, two. We’re neck-and-neck going into the five-stand. My shoulder is getting sore.

Then, all hell breaks loose. We’ve got targets flying every which way across the open sky, some seemingly launched from a quarter-mile away. My head is spinning and I don’t know which way to look. Chris, with an eye for the field, edges out my focused aim. When the card is spent, he’s got a one-shot lead. I’m glad no one’s ego is bruised as badly as my shoulder, and we head for beers after three hours of nonstop shooting.

hunting, montana, shooting, Gallatin Sporting Clays, bozeman

“More people oughta know about this,” says Mike between sips. “I mean, what a hoot.” And he’s right; Gallatin Sporting Clays offered one of the best staff outings we’ve ever had. The range is exquisitely designed and maintained. And it’s simple: as a member, you can pick up a card at the range, or at Empire Arms in Manhattan, and shoot clays whenever you like. There are instructors available if you’re looking for some expert feedback, and programs for kids, too. It’s a beautiful setting above the Missouri Headwaters—just don’t be tempted to wander off in search of live birds.  And we’ll see you out on the range.