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County drops case against shooting range

October 10, 2018

Gun shop owner Michael Krachun continues to assert that a controversial shooting range on private property he owns near Echo Lake in Flathead County has no commercial ties to his business in Bigfork and never has.

Last week, county officials closed a zoning violation case which, if it had been pursued, could have required Krachun to obtain a conditional-use permit for the shooting range, which occupies a portion of about 60 acres at 395 Echo Bay Trail.

Neighbors of the range have expressed concerns about safety, gunfire noise and traffic on a narrow rural road.

Mark Mussman, director of the Flathead County Planning Office, said the county felt Krachun had removed all apparent commercial links between the range and Krachun’s Bigfork Guns and Ammo on Grand Drive.

For example, advertising and social media previously had encouraged customers to try products before buying them and to experience shooting a firearm on full automatic as a “bucket list” pursuit and to contact the store to schedule such an opportunity.

During a Monday interview, Krachun said the “try before you buy” slogan did not refer specifically to firearms. He said his store sells other products, including rifle scopes.

“It’s just a saying,” he said. “I guess you could take it several ways.”

In April 2016, Krachun applied to the county for a conditional-use permit for a rifle range on the property, which is zoned agricultural. He withdrew that application about a month later after a contentious hearing before the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee, during which many neighbors expressed vehement opposition to the range.

He said Monday that a bout with cancer led him to focus on having the shooting range be private, which would not require a conditional-use permit.

But the county continued to field complaints that Krachun’s range had business ties to his gun store. In June, the Planning Office notified him that the county had determined the range violated zoning regulations.

Krachun and his lawyer appealed and last week the county opted to close the case.

Krachun has emphasized that the range has been inspected by the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and found to be safe.

On Tuesday, Sheriff Chuck Curry confirmed that report, but with an asterisk.

“It depends on what he shoots,” Curry said, noting that shooting large-caliber firearms on fully automatic mode could create hazards.

He said the Sheriff’s Office has heard from people who live down range who are worried about ricocheting bullets.

Duncan Scott is a lawyer in Kalispell who once represented some of the neighbors concerned about the range.

“I have spoken with down-range neighbors who have heard ricocheting bullets,” Scott said.

Krachun said he is not inclined to try to compromise with neighbors about the range’s hours of operation or other issues. He said he tried to work with them when first seeking a conditional-use permit for the commercial range and encountered stiff opposition.

“They shot themselves in the foot,” he said. “It operates whenever I feel like I want to shoot. It’s a private gun range.”

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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