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With archery for both hunting and target practice one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports, Missoula will soon have a free public archery range open for practice.

“As far as the caliber of the range we’ve put out there, with the distance we have and space available, I don’t think there’s anything like it,” said Hellgate Hunters and Anglers (HHA) President Adam Shaw. “We’ll have 11 lanes with targets at 20 to 80 yards. We’ll have a grand open in early July.”

On Tuesday, volunteers from the Missoula archery community came out to position the 550-pound targets and frames on the course. The picnic table-size blocks have painted bulls-eye targets backed by multiple layers of fabric to absorb the arrows.

“These should last through thousands of arrows,” said HHA board member Kit Fischer. “They’re designed for practice (blunt-tipped) arrows. If you hit it with a broadhead, it will never come out. Which is fine, because we don’t want anyone shooting broadheads.”

The range sits on a hilltop south of the intersection of Spurgin Road and Tower Street, next to the American Legion baseball field. It has a paved parking lot and entry road, a raised berm between the targets and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks office to the east, and will soon have a split-rail fence alerting nearby joggers to its boundary.

Shaw said during the planning process, he learned that municipal archery ranges are among the safest uses of public land.

“It seems inherently dangerous, but archers are pretty cognizant of what they’re doing and tend to be self-policing,” Shaw said. “This is set up as an Olympic-style target range.”

A Montana Senior Olympics competition will give the range its first trial use on June 15, although the general public won’t be admitted until the final fencing is completed. In addition to practice use, FWP hunting instructors may hold archery training classes there.

The project cost about $80,000, with significant grants from the Big Sky Stewardship Committee, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and local donors. FWP provided matching funds through its federal Pittman-Robertson Act grant account.

“The number of bow hunters has been growing rapidly,” said HHA board member Alec Underwood. “Women have been an especially fast-growing demographic. But there aren’t a lot of public places to practice. This gives people a convenient place within close driving distance of Missoula.”

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