Tester tests Pondera Shooting Sports Complex

Conrad Independent Observer

by Buck Traxler

CENTER CUT — With Pondera Shooting Sports Club representative Bruce Martin looking on, Sen. Jon Tester tests out the small bore range at the new shooting complex. The Senator put his shots in the bulls eye and then autographed the target for the club.

It mirrors the movie, Field of Dreams, which starred Kevin Costner. Build a ball field in a corn patch in Iowa and “they will come.”

Almost surrounded by fields of grain, outside of the city, down a dusty road sits the best small bore, archery, and trap shooting range under the Big Sky, “They built it and they came.”

Tuesday morning Senator Jon Tester (D) along with his Ag liaison, Jacob Cowgill, Andrea Helling, press secretary, Dayna Swanson, deputy state director and Cheryl Ulmer his regional field director were here to tour and “test” the Pondera Shooting Sports Complex.

The purpose of having Sen. Tester visit was not so much political as it was to show case what a determined group of volunteering individuals can accomplish.

He is a powerful advocate for gun rights and vice-chairman of the Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus back in Washington, D.C.

There was no federal stimulus money that came into the project. Adele Stenson, Bruce Martin, Roger Erickson, Mayor John Shevlin and Gary Olson from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were on hand to explain and show the Senator different aspects of the building.

A dream and an idea was brought together in October of 2007 when members of small bore, adult archery, Hunter Education, 4-H Shooting Sports, trap shooters and the Extension office to see about constructing one building to house all the shooting entities.

With the concept laid out, no time was wasted. The Pondera 4-H Shooters held a coyote calling seminar to raise funds and donated $10,000 to the project. Another $10,000 came in from an anonymous donor, land was donated for a parking lot while the trap range and building are on county land.

As this was being explained to the senator and staff one could tell by their expressions that they were impressed.

Chris Berg and the Extension office collaborated on a grant that brought in $39,000 for the National Rifle Association (NRA). The Extension office didn’t stop there, they worked on another grant that resulted in FW&P sending in  $139,868.

They also wrote a grant and received $3,000 from Northwest Farm Credit Services; a fund-raiser and gun raffle for a rifle engraved by Jerome Glimm brought in $24,000.

The Conrad Lions Club donated $3,500 to construct the entry way into the building and NorthWestern Energy granted the project $750.

And while the funding helps make it possible, it’s the manpower that puts it all together.

The project is still a work in progress in which over 140 people have amassed almost 4,600 hours of physical labor in putting the 120×70-foot Shooting Sports Complex together.

Erickson, who is a top ranked shooter and board member told Sen. Tester that most other clubs have six lanes. “With our 13, our facility is impressive and big.”

A lot of those hours were logged in on Sundays and even working in freezing temperatures.

What started as an idea in 2007 saw the first event, a 4-H archery shoot in the indoor range on Nov. 30, 2009!

There are 13 lanes for shooting at targets from 50 feet down range in all four positions; prone, sitting, kneeling, and offhand (standing).

It was explained to the Senator that the building is also open to the public and can be used for 4-H, pellet pistol and rifle shooting, archery and it is sanctioned by the NRA for .22 caliber small bore.

The complex is also multifunctional and handicap accessible, both for bathrooms and shooting. A wedding has been held out there and other community events can utilize the building on a year-round basis. On the outside, improvements were made for trap shooting and there are plans to add outdoor lighting to extend the shooting time for that sport.

Tester also had the opportunity to touch off a few rounds with a rifle provided by Martin.

He has not lost his eye for shooting by being in Washington. The Senator nailed some center-cut bulls’ eyes and then autographed the target which will find a prominent place to be displayed after it is framed.

Mayor Shevlin noted, “It doesn’t make any difference whether there is an R or a D behind their name, these folks just need to get out and see what can be accomplished, this complex is just amazing.”

Senator Tester echoed that. He and his staff were rightfully impressed by what a strong-willed group of folks have put together.

On Oct. 9, an Open House is being planned and the Senator was invited back for that.

A staff member marked the date down and if possible, he will be back.