It’s not the Wild West anymore. Look before you shoot.

Carrying a gun in the backcountry isn’t the issue—responsible use is.

 

I am getting tired of being shot at. The perpetrators may not realize they are shooting at me, but that only makes it worse.

People in the Wild West like to carry their guns with them when they venture into the outdoors. So far, so good. Problems arise when they get bored, pull out said guns and start plinking away at various objects. Shots from a rifle may travel more than a mile. The shooters cannot actually see that far.

Hiking in the national forest and hearing the BOOM of a high-powered rifle — one knows not where — is disconcerting, to say the least. In Arizona, it is illegal to shoot at trees, signs or outbuildings. Firearms must not be discharged within 150 yards of residences, buildings, campsites, occupied areas, recreational areas or domestic livestock. Shooting across a road, trail, or watercourse (with or without water in it) is prohibited. 

Someone who decides to get in a little target practice on the public lands may not know if there is a trail, road or recreation area close by. Some do not appear to care.

East of Phoenix, Usery Mountain is within range of a popular impromptu shooting area. There is a sign on the hiking trails to “watch out” for random gunfire. I am not sure exactly what I am watching out for. By the time I hear or see the bullet, I am guessing that it is probably too late.

In the Superstition Mountain Wilderness, also near Phoenix, hikers are liable to hear gunfire even though recreational shooting is prohibited. I informed some shooters at the junction of five trails that no matter what direction they aimed, they would surely be shooting across a trail.  I was told curtly that they “knew what they were doing.”

Another day I was relaxing by the trail, when a BOOM went off right in my ear. I took off at a dead run, much to the amusement of the man in camo concealed nearby, who had, in fact, fired the gun. Whether or not he was trying to frighten me or simply didn’t realize I was there, I wasn’t going to hang around.

Many are the times I have stood in an open area, listening to gunfire, yelling at the shooters that there were hikers in their backstop. Often they resignedly put up their guns until I was more or less out of range. Usually I am scolded for wandering around where they are trying to shoot. 

Several people each year are killed or injured by random bullets or from guns fired into the air during events such as New Year’s Eve. In Arizona, a young girl’s death in 2002 resulted in the passing of “Shannon’s Law,” making the discharge of a firearm into the air illegal. 

Target practice can harm more than people. The lead detritus from the bullets degrades the soil and the water, and plastic shotgun shells will never biodegrade. Shooting at glass (illegal) scatters shards far and wide. It is not uncommon (though also illegal) for people to drag old appliances into the desert to use as target practice. The riddled refrigerator is, of course, left there. Then there are those unspeakables who use Native American rock art as targets. 

During seasons of high fire danger, national forests are closed to recreational shooting because the spark from a gun may start a fire. Since 2009, as many as 81 fires have been started in Tonto National Forest in Arizona by target shooters. The Doce Fire in Prescott, Arizona, in 2013, started in a shooting area and burned over 7,000 acres. 

Cacti are tempting targets, however prohibited. Will anyone forget the shooter of saguaro cactus who was crushed in 1982, when his multi-ton target fell on him? His demise was chronicled in the Austin Lounge Lizards song “Saguaro.” In 2015, 2 percent of the Sonoran Desert National Monument outside of Phoenix was closed to target shooting due to damage to the environment, the cactus and the endangered desert tortoise. 

Carrying a gun in the backcountry is not the issue. The irresponsible use of said gun is. Gun owners do themselves no favors when hikers, bikers, equestrians, or ATV riders unwittingly become moving targets. Responsible gun users call the perpetrators of these abuses the “loony-toon” shooters. However, when a ban is put into place, they are all affected. 

Spoiler alert: This is not the Wild West anymore. Rustlers may no longer lurk behind each boulder, but a group of birdwatchers may. And we are rather unhappy about being shot at. 

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of NewTowncarShare News. She is an educator in Grand Canyon National Park.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of NewTowncarShare News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • 2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...