Flathead Valley Community College has its sights set on a program that could draw firearms enthusiasts from around the region.
Beginning this summer, FVCC will offer multiple courses in its new gunsmithing program. It is one of just five short-term gunsmithing programs offered in the country, and the first of its kind in the northwest, according to FVCC.
Susie Burch, FVCC executive director of economic development and continuing education, said the new program will give hobbyists the chance to learn gunsmithing skills from some of the best in the business, and local law enforcement will have the opportunity to work on their continuing education credits.
“It complements the skill and quality of the workmanship that is available and exists in the Flathead,” Burch said.
The courses will facilitate making one gun at a time, Burch said, and will not focus on mass production.
Brandon Miller, owner of Miller Precision Arms in Kalispell, helped the college develop the gunsmithing program and its curriculum based on his experience teaching at a similar program at Murray State College in Tishomingo, Okla.
“It’s really going to be a huge benefit for the community,” Miller said.
Miller will teach the AR-15/AR-10 Armorer/Customization, Color Case Hardening, and Shotgun Armorers courses this summer. Professionally, he focuses on long-range rifles and his company is getting ready to present a new model.
He also has experience in law enforcement, having spent several years in special operations in military and police units, serving as a tactical medic on a Dallas-area SWAT.
The FVCC program recently received Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training certification for the AR-15 and AR-10 armorer courses, which means law enforcement officers can attend classes as part of their required continuing education, Miller said.
When Miller worked in Oklahoma, that program attracted about 300 students and their families for the summer. FVCC’s program could mean a boon for the economy if people travel to attend, and the students’ families will have plenty of recreation options in the Flathead Valley.
“We’ve got more to offer here than we have anywhere in the country as far as I’m concerned,” Miller said.
Fred Zeglin, owner of Z-Hat Custom Inc. in Kalispell, will teach Designing Wildcat Cartridges, Alternative Finishes, and Glass Bedding courses for the program. Zeglin earned his associate of arts degree and professional certificate in gunsmithing at Lassen Community College in Susanville, Calif. He also designed and produced specialty tools for wildcatting and accurate ammunition reloading.
Bigfork resident Lee Helgeland, a nationally renowned stockmaker, will teach the program’s Checkering course. Helgeland is on the board of directors of the American Custom Gunmakers Guild, and has more than 30 years of experience in his field.
FVCC also hopes to have affiliation with the National Rifle Association, Burch said, which would mean that the program would be listed under “education and training” on the NRA’s website.
The program is still in its beginning stages, but when fully developed it should last from seven to nine weeks, Burch said, and will hopefully attract instructors from all over the country.
A gunsmithing program also connects the college to the local firearm manufacturers, Burch said, and the firearm professionals attracted to the program could be beneficial for all parties involved.
Courses begin the week of July 16 through July 20, and will include AR-15 & AR-10 Armorer/Customization and Designing Wildcat Cartridges. July 23 through July 27 will include Alternative Finishes, Color Case Hardening, and Checkering courses. July 30 through Aug. 3 courses will include Glass Bedding and Shotgun Armorers.
According to the college, students enrolled in the gunsmithing courses will have assigned parking spaces and class instructors will check firearms before they are brought into class to make sure they are unloaded. Ammunition is prohibited on campus.
Each course costs $300.
For more information or to register, call 406-756-3832, email [email protected] or visit www.fvcc.edu/continuingeducation.html.
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