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Recreational Shooting on Public Land

While most public lands are open to target shooting, bad behavior increasingly leads to closures.

Recreational Shooting on Public Land

Glenn Martin was seated around a campfire in Colorado’s Pike National Forest in July 2015, roasting marshmallows with his grandchildren, when he reportedly jerked forward and said, “Ow.”

That was his final word. Martin, 60, had been struck by an errant bullet, apparently fired by another user of the national forest, a recreational target shooter. Martin died on the scene. The person who fired the shot that killed him was never identified.

On many tracts of public land, especially in the West and particularly close to urban areas, the most popular activity isn’t hiking, or camping, or even hunting. It’s target shooting, and highly accessible spots show indelible evidence left by participants: broken bottles, shattered televisions, empty shell casings, shot-up signs.

On one popular tract of public land west of Utah Lake in central Utah, petroglyphs that are thousands of years old have been sniped, either intentionally or unintentionally, by shooters. The destruction of irreplaceable prehistoric artifacts became so intense that the land managers, which include the Bureau of Land Management and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), petitioned to prohibit shooting on much of the land.


Just this past year, the BLM granted the restriction, closing a 2,004-acre area in the Eastern Lake Mountains to target shooting. The Utah state BLM office cited its authority under Executive Order 12866 and 13563, federal rules that allow land managers to restrict activities that have less than $100 million economic impact and don’t affect the environment or society. The rule specifically noted that it “does not restrict other public activities in or access to or through the Lake Mountains, including legal hunting.”


But the fact that land managers felt they had no recourse other than closure to shooting shows the extent of the problem. One group, Tread Lightly, is trying to educate shooters on appropriate behavior rather than trying to reopen land that’s been closed, which it acknowledges is difficult.

Among the best practices Tread Lightly provides for public-land target shooters: know your target and beyond; don’t shoot across roads; don’t shoot in developed recreation areas; don’t shoot appliances or other household items lest observers think you brought these items to the public parcel; and pack out all target trash, including rifle and shotgun shells, fragmented targets, or any other debris, whether you caused it or not.

As for the Utah Lake public parcel, following the shooting closure, the BLM and SITLA donated 160 acres to Utah County to be used for a public shooting range.

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