Off target: Slob shooters taking a toll on public lands

2012-07-06T10:00:00Z Off target: Slob shooters taking a toll on public landsBy EVE BYRON Independent Record
July 06, 2012 10:00 am  • 

ELKHORN MOUNTAINS — Standing near the Crystal Creek Trailhead, Kathy Bushnell grimly shakes her head in wonder at the damage done to the Helena National Forest by people shooting guns. The evidence shows that just about every rule covering target practicing was broken here recently.

While people are safely using a hillside as a backdrop, they have to shoot at it from across the road. Up from the trailhead lie bullet casings and sporting clays, revealing how people are shooting up the trail. Cement posts, meant to keep motorized vehicles off the trail, are pock-marked from being shot. Broken sporting clays lie in the creek. Live trees are shot in half or are missing branches.

Less than half a mile down the road, someone hauled a television and microwave to a secluded opening in the forest, then set the two items on a large, downed tree trunk and shot them. Glass shards cover the ground on both sides of the tree, and the microwave and television are now lying in pieces behind the log.

Roy Barkley, the recreational trails and program manager for the Helena National Forest, said he’s amazed not just at what people leave behind, but also with what they drag into the woods and shoot.

“We’ve found multiple TVs, computer monitors and microwaves, all destroyed,” Barkley said. “Yes, we want people to use their national forests, but to do it ethically. They need to clean up after themselves, clean up their targets and don’t displace other forest users.”

People leaving trash on public lands isn’t a new problem. Game warden Dave Loewen notes that they’ve had problems for years in the North Hills of Helena, as well as on state lands at fishing sites and parks. If wardens see someone trashing a place or violating gun safety rules they’ll issue tickets.

“We’re not seeing more — I think the level is about the same — but people’s tolerance for it is going down,” Loewen said. “In our line of work we see a tremendous amount of vandalism.”

He added that people vandalizing property at state parks or at fishing access sites can lose their fishing and hunting licenses for a year.

Barkley and Bushnell said that there are ways to safely target practice on public lands.

“The ideal person would put out a tarp below them to catch the bullet casings,” Bushnell said. “If you hang a target on a tree, have it be a dead one, not a nice green one.”

Barkley recommended that shooters stay away from trailheads, and never shoot up a trail.

“Picture if you’re coming back to your car and someone is shooting right up that trail,” Barkley said, pointing at a bend in the trail about a dozen yards from the trailhead, where someone’s obviously been target practicing. “That’s a bad situation no one wants to find themselves in.”

They note that a suitable backstop for shooters also is necessary, and it’s illegal to shoot across a road or waterway.

“You also can’t be within 150 feet of developed campsites or buildings,” Bushnell added. “We’re just saying that people need to be considerate of others, and there’s room for all sorts of recreational use on the Helena Forest.”

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076, or Twitter@IR_EveByron

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - July 06, 2012 1:35 pm
    There's plenty of responsible gun owners around, but unfortunately some are not responsible. I resent your implying that many gun owners are irresponsible. I used to shoot in the Deer Creek area, and I always picked up my targets, didn't shoot trees, etc. But too many shooters take their junk out, shoot it up and leave it to litter the area, or shoot trees. Several large Ponderosa pines and Douglas fir were shot down, leading to Deer Creek being closed to shooting; I don't like it, but I can understand the necessity for the closure. Now I usually shoot at the Deer Creek Shooting Center.
  2. Josh
    Report Abuse
    Josh - July 06, 2012 10:48 am
    Slob shooters are definitely taking a toll around Missoula. It seems like many shooters believe shooting a gun gives them a free pass to litter and vandalize our forests. Unfortunately the slobs that leave their shell casings, ammo boxes, targets, tv's, milk jugs, and other trash seem to be the rule and not the exception. Take a drive up Miller Creek, Deer Creek, Gold Creek or any other forest road and you'll have no trouble finding these wastelands. Just follow the shot up signs along the road.

    There's no excuse for this kind of behavior. Where are all these "responsible gun owners" I'm always hearing about?
Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian ( may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Search our events calendar