FORSYTH – Every Father’s Day weekend, there’s a noticeable uptick in business in this quiet Yellowstone River town as 600 or so visitors toting boxes of ammunition and fancy large-caliber firearms take aim north of town.
“It’s an exciting thing for our community, no doubt about it,” said Darrell Grogan, president of Forsyth’s First State Bank.
The reason for the flood of folks is the Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match, a long-range shooting event utilizing old-style rifles, now in its 22nd year. It all started because a couple of friends went to see a movie -- “Quigley Down Under” -- about a sharpshooting American, played by Tom Selleck, who travels to Australia as a gun for hire but ends up helping the folks he was brought to kill.
Birth of a shoot
In 1991, the Forsyth Rifle and Pistol Club held its first match, with 29 entrants. Last year, 635 shooters from 40 states and four foreign nations made a pilgrimage to the site – a cow pasture north of town that on this weekend turns into a temporary small city.
“Wisconsin and Minnesota have some of the biggest numbers coming in,” said match director Buz Coker.
Keith Lay, a doctor from Bay Springs, Miss., drove for two days to reach the shoot.
“If you do the sport, you really need to shoot this match,” he said. “It dwarfs every other event.”
Competitors line up over two days to shoot large-caliber, single-shot "buffalo rifles" at metal targets 350 to 805 yards away. The entire match consists of 48 shots, with the winner recording the most hits registered by the loud "ping" of lead striking steel.
The tally of shooters doesn’t count the folks who don’t ever fire a shot: family and friends, vendors and volunteers and people just curious about what all the hubbub is about.
Brittany Boles, 14, of Polson doesn’t compete but likes to attend with her father and dress up in period costumes or flashy clothing. Last year she sported thigh-high striped socks.
The shoot has grown and the Quigley is now the largest event of its kind anywhere.
“We’ve got a cross-section of humanity here, the good, the bad and the ugly,” joked founder Al Lee.
“You drive out there and it looks like a county fair may be going on,” Grogan said, with a row of 40 vendors and RVs, tents and campers spread out away from the firing line that’s a half-mile long.
“It’s world renowned,” said motel owner Colleen Hoppert. “We get customers from Germany, Australia, England and New Zealand.”
“We tease the Australians about coming over here and trying to do a Quigley in reverse,” Coker said.
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The competitive shooting doesn’t take place until Saturday and Sunday. But marksmen start showing up as much as a week before the match, some of them camping out at the site for free, some of them taking hotel rooms, eating at restaurants, buying groceries and gas.
Quigley is good for Forsyth’s businesses.
For the two days of the match, Hoppert is guaranteed to have her 81 hotel rooms filled by match participants. The rooms are often booked a year in advance.
“It has a very large impact on our business,” she said.
Businesses also come to Forsyth looking to cash in, including makers of jewelry and shooting equipment and food vendors. Quigley competitive shooter Tammy Smith talked her mother, Norma, into driving up from Jefferson, Texas, to set up her homemade ice cream booth. They arrived on Tuesday and by Thursday had already sold out and were hurrying to make more ice cream.
Grogan pondered the economic impact that the Quigley shoot has on Forsyth, a community of about 1,700, but couldn’t calculate a dollar amount.
“I don’t think it’s as big as the county fair in terms of the number of people, but the economic impact may be as good or better, because it brings people in from out of the area,” he said. “And many of these folks are here for a week.”
According to Vicky Fink, manager of the Rosebud-Treasure County Fair, the event in mid-July can see as many as 10,000 to 12,000 people pass through the turnstiles over four days. Many of those people also come from outside the area to compete in the rodeo or take in a live musical performance at night. The county estimates that income generated by the fair ranges from about $75,000 to $90,000, depending on attendance.
But there are also less obvious benefits from the Quigley shoot. For one thing, the Boy Scout troop that sets up a vending site may be one of the best funded in the state. The one event pays for all of the scouting activities and gear through the year, said Coker, a former scout master.
“This troop has been to the Florida Keys twice to do high adventure camp,” he said, all funded by money raised at the Quigley shoot.
The shoot’s organizers, the members of the Forsyth Rifle and Pistol Club, also fund a $1,000 high school scholarship – one, sometimes two a year -- and over the course of the event have donated $17,000 to the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm.
“It’s a great opportunity for some of the local organizations to raise some money,” said Tina Sears of the Forsyth Chamber of Commerce. “The Scouts have done really, really well. And they do a lot of projects around town.”
Grogan noted that it’s not just an event for shooting aficionados. His daughter is looking forward to traveling to the site simply to socialize.
“It’s a family event,” he said. “The only thing we could top it off with is to get Tom Selleck here.”