Hanging Tree Archery Range a blessing for Central Montana

Charlie Denison

Michael Prater shoots at a target during the LBA Bonanza Shoot earlier this year.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Prater

Eight miles east of town off Highway 87 – up on the divide –lies a bowhunter’s paradise: Hanging Tree Archery Range.

“To me, it doesn’t get any better,” said Mark Schwomeyer, president of the Lewistown Bowhunters Association. “You’re walking through the timber. You’ve got open shots and tight shots in the trees. You can stand anywhere you want and make a real-life shot.”

An LBA member since 2006, Schwomeyer is a regular on the range. It continually amazes him.

“It’s probably the largest land area range in the state, as well as the most ergonomical,” he said. “I believe we have 14 simulated targets and close to 30 other animal targets.”

An Indiana native, Schwomeyer said archers and bowhunters of Central Montana should feel fortunate to have this range here.

And it’s all made possible because of the generosity of owners Mel and Becky Jackson.

“The LBA board owes them a world of gratitude,” Schwomeyer said. “They move the cows out of their big pasture every fall for us to have our two-day archery shoot.”

 In the 1970s, Mel Jackson’s parents, Jim and Helen, offered the use of their land for the archery range.

Shooters have taken them up on it.

“The Jacksons have been very gracious with the use of their land,” Schwomeyer said. “They don’t get anything for it; they just do it out of the kindness of their hearts.”

 Mel said it’s a pleasure to host the archers and bowhunters.

“We like being able to provide the nice setting for the range,” Mel said, “and we like how it positively impacts our community.”

Positively impacting the community is a goal of the Jacksons, who want the range to be used for good, wholesome family activities. LBA members share this mission. Through the years they have helped make the range as kid-friendly as possible.

“There is a lot for them to do out there,” Schwomeyer said. “They like shooting the bows and love shooting the bullseyes. It’s friendly competition. They also like to just play around on the range. Sometimes it seems like the last thing they want to do is shoot their bows.”

“We so appreciate seeing young families out there,” Becky added. “It’s a great activity, and it’s not electronic. You’re outdoors.”

This family-friendly atmosphere makes Hanging Tree is a cool place to get together, whether shooting of not.

“You can come up here and have a picnic, your kids can play on the playground and there is a sand pit for sighting in broad heads,” Schwomeyer said. “You can even walk the course in the evening and simulate real-life shoots.”

LBA board secretary Stephanie Prater is also thrilled with the range.

“I’ve been to a couple of different archery ranges across the state and ours in Lewistown is very nice,” she said. “We are lucky to have this range.”

Prater said the LBA tries to keep the Jacksons’ best interests in mind and ask for members to be respectful of the land.

“We ask members to not smoke, litter, harass wildlife or livestock and pick up after their pets,” she said. “It would be devastating to the archers and bowhunters in Central Montana to lose the privilege of the Hanging Tree Archery Range.”

The Jacksons appreciate this courtesy, as well as the LBA’s commitment to upkeep.

“[LBA] has shown a dedication to improving the range each year and does a good job maintaining the land and any improvements,” Mel said. “Any concerns we’ve had have been promptly addressed.”

As a result of this good relationship, the Jacksons have allowed the LBA to “utilize land outside of the range for various shoots and to add semi-permanent improvements to the range itself.”


The word is out

Schwomeyer said more and more are coming out to use Hanging Tree Archery Range.

“We’ve had record attendance for the last two Bonanza shoots,” he said. “We had somewhere near 168 different shooters that shot more than 300 scorable rounds. That doesn’t count the people out here who weren’t keeping score. There were a lot of them.”

As a result of the range’s growing popularity, more events are being scheduled for shooters.

“We’ve been having a progressive shoot on the same weekend as our foul weather shoot,” he said. “We had a Winter Fair shoot and other winter shoots for the kids, which are free.”

The LBA also gives back to the community by letting organizations borrow equipment or use the range.

“4-H, Camp Lewtana, little kids wrestling and other groups have borrowed bows and used the range,” Schwomeyer said. “Wrestlers did a fundraiser where they got pledges per target for a 3-D shoot, which was open to anybody.”


Humble hunters

The Jacksons are the ones that made this possible, Schwomeyer reiterated, but the community has also been tremendously supportive.

“There are so many,” he said. “I’d be in fear to list them because I think I’d leave someone out. That’s the most humbling thing about this: so many have given to keep this going.”

As the momentum continues, LBA members are encouraged not to take it for granted.

“We’d like to keep the archery range out here forever,” Schwomeyer said. “We’re kind of spoiled.”




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