SHOOTING SAFE RECREATIONALLY IN THE WOODS
Shooting safety is incredibly important. The basic safety concepts are always key components in any shooting scenario. In the case of shooting in a wooded area, whether private or public land, these safety basics will go a long way to ensuring you go home safely and have no regrets after a hunting or shooting trip.
Always apply the 4 Basic Rules of Firearms Safety:
1. Treat all guns as if they are always loaded
2. Always keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction
3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target and you have made the decision to shoot
4. Be sure of your target and what lies behind it
In a wooded or forested area, the following ideas can help to ensure additional safety and a great outcome with the desired benefit of still having a good time.
Some good rules of thumb:
· Trees shouldn’t be used as a target location. The softness and density of most trees can cause deflections and ricochets. Rocks also shouldn’t be shot at, in close range.
· Glass, pressurized vessels, or other debris-creating targets should be avoided to minimize additional risk exposure to bystanders or other shooters. Exploding targets should never be used in the woods; they are fire hazards. There are excellent places to shoot explosive targets—the woods aren’t one of those places.
· Make sure you are verifying that movement you notice is an animal (and the animal you intend to shoot) before you take a shot; preferably before you take the safety off or line up a shot. Don’t hunt out of season.
· Make sure you are aware of the open hunting seasons and ask rangers or park offices if such facilities are present, and if they are aware of hunting parties in the area you intend to shoot in that day (during certain parts of the season, this may be an obvious answer).
· In the case of meeting up with rangers or game wardens, make sure you are communicating clearly and offer extra information if you feel it may help them to assess your activities or understand that you are not a risk. Let them lead the conversation and don’t be overly defensive, even if you know you are in the right.
· If you see inappropriate activities, don’t be afraid to note it and provide details to other parties, rangers, or law enforcement as necessary.
· CLEAN UP YOUR MESS! There is no worse impression we can leave to people who don’t shoot and enjoy the woods than leaving brass, targets, and debris behind after target shooting. It gives shooters a bad name and risks our ability to recreationally shoot.
When Shooting in a Group
While in a group, it’s important that you establish clear communication and protocols regarding when to fire/not fire and where the firing line is for those who are shooting at targets. Generally, a shooting location should be picked based on the ability for the existing backstop to contain all projectiles. It should also go without saying that strategic target placement should be exercised to avoid errant shots that can easily travel over the backstop.
Be aware of what’s beyond your bullet. Be aware of the impact your shooting activities might have on nearby parties or people, whether hunting or target shooting.
When Shooting Solo
Make sure you are easily recognizable as a human being in heavily trafficked areas; understand the terrain and know where parties are shooting so you can avoid the areas if that is conducive to your recreational activities.
Tell someone back at home where you will be, and if you relocate, let someone know these changes.
While in a national forest, it’s ILLEGAL to discharge a firearm within 150 yards of a residence/cabin/campsite/occupied area. It is also ILLEGAL to shoot across a road or a body of water, period. It just makes sense for any shooter who understands even basic safety principles to avoid all of these scenarios.
Furthermore, many state and regional regulations are far more restrictive. It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss the minutia of state and regional shooting regulations (they vary widely), but suffice it to say, you should be aware of your jurisdiction’s regulations prior to your shooting or hunting trip.
Shooting is fun. It doesn’t have to be overregulated, and if shooters self-regulate and understand their impact and the potential of certain actions, it makes for a much better experience.
At times, safety articles like this one can seem preachy or lecture-like, but the overall goal is to reinforce basic commonly accepted ideas that each shooter can easily implement. Utilizing common sense and basic safety-minded planning can improve your experience regardless of the situation and help you come home safe and satisfied as a recreational shooter.