Cheap Shot

Target-shooting in Hyalite.

For as long as most people can remember, Bozeman has been hard to define. Cow town, college town, ski town, tourist town, New West yuppie town—just what is this place, anyway? The answer, of course, is that Bozeman is all these things. It’s a town of rich history and broad diversity, where all manner of interests coexist in a single community.

Our outdoor recreation reflects this wide variety, with skiers sharing the same slopes as snowmobilers, bikers and hikers following the same trails, and college-aged climbers swapping stories with retirees out for a day of bird-watching. There’s conflict, of course, as one party’s idea of fun often interferes with another’s; but all in all, we’ve all learned to share this bounty of outdoor offerings that surrounds our mountain town. Live and let live.

Of late this tolerance seems to be eroding, as yuppie newcomers—and newly yuppified locals—attempt to outlaw trapping statewide and otherwise trim the diverse fabric of our community to better fit their particular shape and size. Their latest assault on outdoor egalitarianism is a proposed ban on target-shooting in Hyalite.

Yes, Hyalite is busy, and no, we don’t want people blasting guns in all directions. But we also don’t want to demonize any element of our disparate demographic, nor should we recklessly exclude those out there enjoying the same woods we are. There are ways to mitigate risk and ensure both the safety of the public and the health of the resource, without sending the shooters packing.

Make no mistake: we understand the problem, and we don’t begrudge the Forest Service for emplacing last summer’s moratorium. Things were out of control, and there are a lot of dumb, inconsiderate people who really shouldn’t have guns at all. But a permanent ban is not the answer—at least not yet. A more reasonable option is to impose restrictions gradually, the same way we deal with other conflicts among recreationists. Certain user groups have caused problems before, but have they ever been kicked out of the forest?

Not to mention the cultural costs of exclusion. That same mountain-man grit that informed our early identity must live on, to keep our community grounded and connected to our past. Like hunting, trapping, and spin-fishing, shooting is a rough-around-the-edges activity—the yin to Bozeman’s sporty, Lycra-laden yang—that helps keeps us in balance. Each side needs the other.

Here’s what we suggest: a designated shooting area, well-chosen for its safe backdrop and absence of nearby trails. Mark it clearly and send a uniformed officer out every so often to educate folks and keep them honest. Hyalite has been a firearms free-for-all for decades without any serious consequences to human safety. Dialing it back a notch should be the first response, with an outright ban being the final, regrettable alternative.