Rural Living, Specialty/Niche December 01, 2023
A Long, Long Shot
The movie Quigley Down Under inspired a Montana rancher to start his own long-range shoot.
Sure, the metal silhouette targets look small from the shooting line at the Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match in Forsyth, Montana, but the distance really sinks in when the view is reversed.
The target pictured above sits 350 yards from the line. It's the closest target shooters will take aim at during the two-day contest and the week of practice leading up to the June event at Lee Ranch.
At 805 yards, the famous buffalo target claims the longest shot. A several-second delay separates the gun firing from the distinctive plink alerting shooters their heavy lead bullet hit the mark.
"I don't care about winning, but it makes me feel good when I hear the steel ring," says Ted Floyd of Snyder, Texas. He attended his first Quigley in 2012. "I had a ball and I've been coming ever since."
The Quigley is the only competition many shooters at the event ever enter. For some, it's the only time they shoot a gun all year.
Bob Saathoff has been coming with his Minnesota-based gun club since 2003. One year his daughter, Robyne Fritz, was returning from Yellowstone Park and stopped by for a quick visit.
"I put her on the line and she hit four out of seven shots on the buffalo," he says. She was hooked and has been back four times since. "She 'owns' the diamond target now. She's got two 8-pins on it."
Pins are earned when all eight shots taken during a round hit. Fritz had earned another eight-pin on the diamond target just moments before.
Fritz and Saathoff are one of many generational family competitors numbered among more than 600 shooters at the match. It's something ranchers and Forsyth Rifle and Pistol Club members Al Lee and Earnie Cornett probably didn't envision when they dreamed up the shoot in 1990.
They had just seen the hit movie Quigley Down Under with their wives when they hatched a plan for their own long-distance buffalo rifle shoot.
"That movie was a MOVIE," Lee says of the western set in Australia. Tom Selleck played quip-slinging, sharp-shooting Mathew Quigley. In an iconic scene, Quigley shoots a bucket at roughly 800 yards three times from a standing position, proving his skills to his new employer.
Lee and Cornett (who passed in 2022) created a range that gives shooters the same feel as the movie. "People have come from 48 states and nine countries to shoot guns here because where they live they don't have that kind of range to shoot," Lee says.
At the 2023 shoot, 93-year-old Lee greets new shooters and those who have been at all 31 Quigleys. "Go feed my lead mine! Get to it," he says, referencing the flattened bullets surrounding the targets.
Family fun. Many features make the Quigley a favorite. Lee lets everyone camp for free, vendors set up shop for free, and rules are minimal.
"Dad used to start the match saying, 'We only have one rule and that is that there ain't no rules...but there are a few procedures,'" says Brian Lee, Al's oldest son. Now the rules read, "Rule #1, Have Fun! Rule #2, Be safe following Rule #1!" Attendee spirits reflect the tone and hospitality of their host.
Expensive equipment is left unattended. Shooters are quick to step in as spotters for a competitor, lend a critical piece of equipment, or offer a bit of advice to a new shooter.
"You could drop something on the ground and it will show up 30 minutes later in lost and found," Saathoff says.
Regular shooter John Rusting liked the people and the town so much he moved to Forsyth when he retired.
He found a strong sense of community on the range and off. "For most of us it's a social event with a little bit of shooting thrown in, too," he says.
Shooting the breeze. Conditions make the Quigley as challenging as it is fun. The Eastern Montana wind is as much a feature of the shoot as the targets. Shots are taken across a creek and slightly uphill to hit targets at 350, 417, 405, 530, 600, and 805 yards.
"How you do depends on your ability to read the wind, and it's tricky here," says veteran shooter, Randy Anderson. "The wind can be significantly different at the target from what a shooter feels and sees on the line."
The range is rife with wind indicators. Official flags to found items like feathers, grocery bags, and ribbons tied to string grab at the breeze. Their direction of flutter shifts constantly.
Anderson assesses conditions by looking at grass through the scope and the gun smoke on the line. "For the last 5 minutes we had a left-right wind down range and a right-left wind on the line. Within the last few seconds they completely switched," he says. Then there's elevation. With black powder the bullet trajectory is an arc. "We have no idea what the wind is doing up there."
From nearby Miles City, Anderson provided as much advice as possible to his family-filled crew. It must have been solid advice as his cousin, Spencer Anderson, took fourth in the Men's Division.
Beyond the shooters, more than a thousand others come to spectate, visit vendors, and see the guns. Each is a work of art, a piece of history, or a little of both.
The Sharps rifles are at home on Al Lee's range. They were used by soldiers, hunters, and homesteaders throughout the west including the Eastern Montana prairies where the Quigley is held. Lee's family has a few wild west gun tales to lend credibility.
When the Lees bought the Forsyth ranch in 1945 it was among the last of the open range, says Bob Lee, Lee's middle son.
His grandfather fenced their 150 sections off from the few sections owned by an outfit running 1,000 horses. After many cut fences giving the horses free reign of his grass, his Texas-born grandfather had had enough.
"He walked into the bar in Forsyth and said, 'I don't know who's cutting the fences, but starting Monday horse season is open and I'm shooting every horse on my land." Bob said. He then bought 1,000 rounds for 1,000 horses. "Come Monday morning, the fences were fixed and there wasn't a horse on the place."
The west isn't as wild, but the locale is still harsh and isolated.
"It boggles my mind that people come from all over the world to this God-forsaken country to shoot in this match. If you win, you don't get anything, just a little trophy. But I've had people tell me they'd rather win this match any day than a national championship.
"I love seeing people enjoying themselves. [The Quigley shoot] is something I can give them to enjoy," Lee says. ‡
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