TACTIC gun range

A home sits near the entrance to TACTIC gun range Friday in Gallatin County. Neighbors are trying to convince the county to close the range.

Nancy Kershner often hears gunfire from the gun range down the road from her property. One night, she was unable to hear her TV over the sound of semi-automatic fire. Another time, she and her husband, Jeff, were standing in their yard when they heard a bullet ricochet overhead.

Kershner and her neighbors have been asking Gallatin County for two years to close the gun range, which is on Camp Creek Road west of Four Corners.

County officials say there is little they can do about the range because it’s in an unzoned neighborhood without covenants, meaning it’s completely legal.

Chris Forrest, the owner of the gun range, said he wishes his neighbors would come to him so he could work with them to address their concerns.

Forrest opened the range — called TACTIC — in 2017 on 303 acres in the hills near a handful homes. At the gun range and in a Four Corners office, he hosts a variety of classes, including handgun training, “Carbine Gluttony,” “Avoiding Violence” and “Fighting From a Vehicle,” according to his website. He also hosts the Camp Creek Gun Club, a membership organization that gives his students a chance to visit the range to practice without supervision. He said he has about 20 members and won’t accept more than 33 members total.

Nearby homeowners want Gallatin County to create additional regulations for gun ranges. They said they are worried about safety, noise, increased traffic and a decline in property values. They sent a petition with about 25 signatures to the county in 2017 and have followed up with letters, emails and phone calls. They attended a planning board meeting this fall to request TACTIC be shut down.

They say they have received little response from the county.

“The county needs to stop shrugging its shoulders and step up and do the right thing,” Kershner said. “Having a gun range open up in a residential neighborhood should be of countywide concern. It sets a bad precedent and is a public safety concern for the whole county.”

Camp Creek homeowners said they are exploring whether to ask the county for zoning in the area. That wouldn’t stop the gun range as it would be grandfathered in, but could prevent similar conflicts in the future.

They have pushed for the county commissioners to create an ordinance that outlines regulations for gun ranges.

“I’m not sure we can do an ordinance, but if we could, I’m not sure if that’s something we would do,” Commissioner Joe Skinner said.

State law says state and local government and the courts cannot close a shooting range unless “the range presents a clear and provable safety hazard to the adjacent population.”

The county attorney’s office said it has been advising the county commissioners on the law and therefore can’t comment on it.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin has heard the complaints about the range and visited it. But he’s not worried about it.

“Obviously, there are homes in the area, but the way it’s set up, I don’t see any safety concerns for those homes,” Gootkin said.

However, there are other state laws, such as those regarding public nuisances, that the homeowners might be able to use to address their concerns, Gootkin added.

A homeowner whose property borders TACTIC submitted an official citizen complaint form to the county, alleging the gun range is a public nuisance and requesting it be shut down. The homeowner said county employees told him there was nothing they could do and suggested that he get a lawyer.

Forrest said he oriented his targets so that, on impact, bullets hit the ground, eliminating ricochets. He also took other safety precautions, including the use of a specific steel for the targets and the construction of berms high enough so rounds wouldn’t skip off the group and travel upward.

To reduce the noise his neighbors hear, Forrest said he hired a consultant who specializes in limiting train and gun range sounds. Forrest is a former Navy SEAL, has taught firearm classes for a decade and has advised several gun ranges on safety.

“We designed this to be really safe and to minimize the impact,” he said.

There are other worries Camp Creek homeowners have but aren’t sure how to address. Rick Hainsworth has raised concerns about the effect lead from the gun range might have on the groundwater and on Camp Creek, an impaired tributary of the Gallatin River.

There are no state or local requirements for gun ranges to conduct environmental assessments or monitoring. However, Forrest said he hired CTA Engineers to review the property before he purchased it. The review indicated that the soils in the area wouldn’t allow lead to leach into the ground.

Others have brought up issues with night shooting, which Forrest said is limited.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is among those who have used the range a few times. The office decided to stop using TACTIC after hearing of the neighbors’ complaints, said Sheriff Phil Fortner.

“I wish I had known about the issues sooner because then we wouldn’t have been out there,” he said. “Our office really doesn’t want to be an aggravation to the neighborhood, so we certainly won’t be shooting out there.”

Forrest hopes his neighbors will bring their concerns to him, so they can work out solutions. He sent a letter when he first opened TACTIC and his wife has visited the neighbors. In those communications, they talked about the gun range, offered a free class and urged their neighbors to send them feedback.

But he said he’s received little response.

“None of the neighbors have made a point to have a conversation with us. They’ve called the sheriff, they’ve called the county commissioners, and I think rather than try to work something out, their strategy has been to put a lot of pressure to have us not have a gun range here,” he said. “We’d be willing to work with them, but unfortunately, our interactions have been pretty negative.”

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.