Remember When?


October 3, 2019


OCTOBER 4, 1979


A lot of memories, most of them pleasant, spanning the past 35 years are being revived this week for M.C. “Melt” Sutherland, as the Thompson Falls Lions Club prepares to stage its 35th annual fall Turkey Shoot Sunday at the Lions Den grounds east of Thompson Falls.

Although Melt’s role in the shoots has declined in recent years because of health, his interest in them has not. He was instrumental in conducting the first shoot 35 years ago – in the fall of 1945 shortly after the local Lions Club received its charter.

The facilities which the Lions utilize today are a far cry from the crude arrange available for that first shoot staged in November 1945.

Recalls Sutherland, “The first shoot was staged at Birdland, which was owned by Con Bentley Sr., also a charter member.”

The shoot was held two years at Birdland and then the site changed for safety reasons.

The only equipment available at first was some camp equipment loaned by the Forest Service.

Sutherland recalls that the club took in a total of $40 at that first shoot, including bingo and everything “and we worked like hell,” said “Mr. Turkey Shoot.”

Those competing in the rifle shooting, laid on an old mattress and rolled up a coat or jacket to serve as an arm rest.

After two years at Birdland, the club moved its shoot to the old golf course, in the vicinity of the new city swimming pool. That didn’t prove satisfactory either, because of safety factors. Soon the shoot was shifted for a third time – this time to near its present location, on the Milton Dykstra place, then owned by the late Henry Dykstra, father of Milton.

Sanders County Ledger canvas prints

Before the next shoot rolled around, Melt cajoled Ernie McCree of the ACM Co. to donate the 17-acre site to the Lions Club where the Lions Den now is located.

When Melt suggested to Ernie that ACM donate the land, Ernie replied, “What do you suppose my bosses will say to me?”

ACM did deed the site to the club for $1 – a payment needed to make the transaction legal. The deed to the club does provide that in the event the Lions Club ceases to exist, the land will revert back to ACM – now Champion Timberlands.

When the club was formed, it had only 10 charter members. The current Lions Den was erected in 1953 with Art Turk in charge of construction. Much of the work on the building was donated. Melt and his two sons, Jim and Jack, hauled most of the rock for the fireplace at the den from Graves Creek.

Sanders County Ledger Garage Sale Special

Used railroad ties were used for the rifle range pits. Trap shooting was added later. At first, a handtrap was used to dispatch the clay pigeons for the shotgunners.

Over the years, numerous improvements have been made to the den – an improved kitchen, folding tables and chairs, the interior paneled and a new metal roof installed.

Although the Lions have always welcomed use of the rifle range, some shooters have vandalized the den. Holes were shot in the roof and some rocks at the top of the fireplace chimney have been shot away.

For a few years, the Lions, to make the shoot more realistic, gave live turkeys, grown locally, as prizes.

At one shoot, Melt recalls, George West and the Late Johnny Haman agreed to kill and pluck the turkeys for winners who wanted their prize birds dressed. “That didn’t turn out as well as planned,” recalled Melt.

“We got took on the turkeys we purchased that year. They had not been fed correctly and consequently were of poor quality. Most people would have rather received hamburger than their turkeys.”

Bingo has always been a part of the shoot and in the 1950s it was even played Saturday night, the day before the shoot. For several years Thompson Falls merchants staged a promotion in connection with the shoot and offered merchandise prizes at drawings staged at the bingo games. The games drew such a large attendance that at one time, games were played on both the main and basement floors of the old Vets Club hall, the building now owned and occupied by Stobie’s Shopping Center here. This building has been remodeled and added onto and now houses Clark Fork Title Co. and the Montana Department of Revenue.

Profits from the turkey shoots and other fund raising events go to finance numerous projects for the benefit of the general public.

Two that stand out are the club’s sponsorship of the Lions Lodge 28-unit senior citizen apartment housing development.

Another outstanding project has been the spruce trees along Main St. in Thompson Falls. Ten trees were removed from the old Courthouse lawn before construction of the current structure began and transplanted along the railroad right-of-way.

Late in the fall, the trees were dug around the base and chicken wire attached in preparation for the move. Then over a four-day span in bitterly cold weather, club members moved the trees on stone boats pulled by a dozer operated by Ed Muster (John Muster’s dad).

At noon time, the volunteers were fed chili in the Rex Theatre prepared by Helen Jensen.

The club bought and contributed six lots on Preston Ave. as the site for the city’s first swimming pool. Two years ago that old pool was sold and the proceeds went toward construction of the new pool.


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