Rifles and homes aren’t mixing well in Walkerville anymore, and at least one stray round hit a house recently, so there’s a push to get the town included in a county no-shoot zone that covers urban Butte and outlying areas.

“When I was a kid, we used to walk out back and hunt rabbits and there was never an issue, but now there are several homes back there and some toward the reservoir,” said Walkerville Mayor John Ries.

“We have had people not only within the (town) boundaries but beyond that farther north who have had deer shot on their property or they are wounded and people find the carcasses, and there are several people worried about the shooting,” he said.

Ries said he understands the other side, too, from people who bought property with a few acres or more who want to raise animals and shoot their guns. But the town council recently voted unanimously to be included in Butte’s no-shooting zone.

That requires a change to Butte-Silver Bow’s ordinances, a process that its commissioners oversee. It can take weeks, but the request was sent this week to a council committee to get the ball rolling.

Mark Neary, Butte-Silver Bow’s public works director, said it was his home in Walkerville that was hit. A bullet struck the side of the house and fell onto the deck on the first day of rifle season for deer and elk in October, he said. He was out hunting elsewhere, and nobody was hurt.

Sheriff Ed Lester, whose officers enforce the no-shooting law, is OK with adding Walkerville.

He likens the situation to the area behind the Big Butte, or Big M, near Montana Tech that was an informal gun range for decades before county officials formally banned shooting there last year, given new houses and walking trails.

“My comment then was, you’ve got to have a walking trail or shooting,” the sheriff said. “I don’t care which one you take, but it’s not a real good relationship to have both.”

The current no-shooting zone includes the old Butte city limits before city-county consolidation in 1977, which covers what’s easily recognizable as “urban Butte,” plus some areas to the south, southeast, and west to Rocker because of more housing there.

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By local ordinance, it is unlawful to shoot firearms or bows and arrows within those boundaries. Violations are misdemeanors that carry fines of up to $500 and six months in jail, with cases overseen by Butte City Court.

The new area would take in all of urban Walkerville and the rest of its town limits, which stretch a ways north.

Police respond to reported violations of the ordinance and have cited people in the past, Lester said, but they often involve people who didn’t know the boundaries included their area.

They are often given warnings first, especially if they are being cautious and haven’t created a dangerous situation, he said.

Ries said he met recently with several county officials, including Chief Executive Dave Palmer, and there was consensus that shooting had become a problem around Walkerville.

“Plus there were some homeowners there who expressed their fears,” Ries said.

He and Lester know that not everyone will be pleased.

“I’m sure there will be people who don’t agree with the changes, but the residents are concerned, and if I lived in that area, I’d be concerned, too,” Lester said. “The makeup of the area has changed, and safety has to be a priority.”

The change is not a done deal, so anyone who wants to weigh in can contact county officials or commissioners or speak on the matter during public comment periods of council meetings. The next meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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