Major Long Bow event
proposed on Game Range

Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


September 6, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

Traditional Bowhunters Proposing Longbow Safari

by Mike Thompson

I have been aligned for quite some time with the interests of the Traditional Bowhunters of Montana.

Why, thirty years ago I single-handedly dissuaded my nephew from his instinctive attraction to the pulleys, cables and gee-gaws of a shiny chartreuse compound bow. Reluctantly, he selected a recurve model as his first primitive weapon instead.

But, like so many others who can't appreciate simplicity, Nephew was compelled to add gadgets. One such was called "nock-rite," a little strip of leatherish material that the hunter could attach to the riser of his bow and clip to his nocked arrow to keep the arrow in a ready position on the string and rest as he stalked all day through the woods. The instructions assured us that nock-rite would automatically release its hold on the arrow as soon as the archer began to draw back for a shot.

As fate would have it, the buck that would have been Nephew's first archery-killed deer walked within only a few feet of him while his arrow was still secured by nock-rite. No problem, though, because nock-rite would surely release the arrow immediately and silently when Nephew began his draw. Wrong. Quality control technicians at the nock-rite factory had never tested their product while overcome with buck fever. So, Nephew's arrow chased the departing buck in a relatively slow, tumbling fashion, while still attached to both his bow and the stubborn nock-rite, accompanied by a stream of profanities. The buck avoided all easily and escaped unscathed.

My reaction to the story, after catching my breath, was to reaffirm my commitment to traditional simplicity and disavow any interest in the evil nock-rite. Nephew's reaction was to buy a compound bow. Thirty years later, I believe Nephew has killed more deer with a bow than he can count on fingers and toes. As for me, I've killed about that many fewer. Still, I'm satisfied with my position on the high road, and will remain there as long as Nephew keeps sharing his venison with me.

Which is why the Traditional Bowhunters of Montana found a sympathetic ear when they asked to hold the twentieth annual Longbow Safari on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range next summer. This international target shoot would be held from July 4-7, and could attract as many as 1,200 participants.

But, could the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) permit an event of this magnitude on lands dedicated first and foremost to wildlife and its habitat? It's a question that FWP is analyzing in a brief environmental assessment (EA), which will be released for public comment in the near futureif the proposal survives FWP's internal analysis.

Location, location, location. It's what makes or breaks an event like this in a potentially sensitive area. Fortunately, we do have a confined location on the Game Range that is already "hardened" from the effects of numerous past events of smaller scale, and is located in a place where impacts to wildlife and other natural resources would be low under most foreseeable circumstances. I'm referring to FWP's ownership on a grassy bench overlooking the west shore of the Clearwater River, about 1-mile north of Highway 200.

It's the same site where the Five Valleys Archery Club holds its annual weekend target shoot for up to 400 archers every June. And, it's the most popular recreation destination on the Game Range for families who just want to pitch a tent or park the old camper and beat the heat for a weekend. If this location was ill-suited to such heavy use, we should be seeing damage in the form of degraded native vegetation, eroded soils, and ever-widening and worsening roads. Somewhat surprisingly, there is little lasting evidence of these types of impacts in this location, indicating that it might not collapse under the weight of 1,200 people for 4 daysif the people are well supervised and well behaved.

That's a big plus for the Traditional Bowhunters of Montana. They have a proven track record as excellent event organizers and conscientious stewards of the event site. They typically leave the area cleaner than they found it, and are careful about the way they use the land. Even so, FWP proposes to collect a bond from the group in advance of the event to cover any unforeseen restoration expenses, just in case.

Just in case of rain, for example. If permitted, the show would go on, rain or shine. FWP's EA envisions a worst case scenario of 600 vehicles and 1,200 archers plodding and wallowing around in saturated soils for 4 days. It's not terribly likely, but it certainly is possible. How would we respond? Could we respond?

According to the draft EA (still in rough form), if the rains come, participants would be required to drive straight to their parking/camping site and remain parked there until they are ready to leave for home. This would minimize the amount of spinning, rutting and unintentional road-widening as vehicles jockey to pass each other during the four-day period. After the event, if reseeding of native grasses was deemed necessary, the bond money would be used to do so, as well as erect fencing as needed to keep other vehicles from driving on the reclaimed sites.


There are other issues as well. The Game Range has a number of neighbors in this location. One is the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), which owns part of the grassland and forest that the archers would have to use to hold the event. So, permission for this event must be contingent upon concurrence from DNRC. FWP has also received complaints from private neighbors in the past after impromptu beer blasts and other loud parties have taken place on the west bank of the Clearwater.


And, there's the small matter of 600 vehicles entering and departing from Highway 200 in a marginally suited location over the July 4th holiday. Thus, FWP permission would be contingent upon concurrence and support from the Missoula County Sheriffs Department.


If you are interested in this issue, please feel free to call me at 542-5523. We are trying to identify all concerns and all reasonable alternatives. Your help would be appreciated.