6 Terrible Shooting Practices to Avoid in the Backwoods

Even if there's nobody to hear The 3 Rules of Gun Safety being broken, it still makes an awful sound.

posted on May 9, 2022
Tree destroyed by gunfire

As you have probably witnessed on a casual hike in the woods, there are people out there who work hard to give the shooting sports a bad name: treating gun safety like a suggestion, making messes in the wilderness, upsetting landowners. Bad precedents are to blame for people believing that careless behavior is actually okay. To avoid being "that person," familiarize yourself with the following list of bad shooting practices.

1. Punishing that Old TV and Leaving the Carnage!

There is nothing worse than pulling up to a spot in the woods and discovering what resembles a war zone. For years public land has been littered with remnants of old electronics and appliances. Once decommissioned from their intended use, they literally find themselves as targets of aggression. If you can't resist the urge to go "Office Space" on that old printer, just have the courtesy to pick up after yourself. You can still reign supreme over your arch-nemesis while simultaneously being a responsible adult. The woods are no place for a sea of smashed glass and broken plastics, so choose targets that can be easily cleaned up.

2. Shooting Trees

Trees can seem like the perfect place to hang your zombie target. However, many people don't realize that they have an actual casualty from their shooting drill—the tree! Over time multiple bullets will kill an otherwise healthy tree. High winds will eventually cause these structurally compromised trees to come crashing down.

If you are shooting in an area where trees are harvested for lumber or paper products, you could be causing thousands of dollars in damage. Public and private landowners rely on these resources for revenue. Loggers and lumber mills are not interested in purchasing lumber that is full of lead. The bullet fragments destroy expensive saws and milling equipment.

3. Shooting into Bodies of Water

If you are looking for an exploding target, there are plenty of options available at a sporting goods store near you. While watching that water fly several feet into the air is cool, the aftermath is less than stellar. The surface of a body of water can actually cause bullets to ricochet and travel in directions you didn’t intend…or damage things you didn’t want damaged. If you still want the thrill of shooting water, shoot a large water jug; just make sure to clean it up!

4. Skyline Shooting

One of the first things that a new shooter will learn is the importance of a backstop. You must know what is behind your target before you squeeze that trigger. Hillsides or dirt mounds are generally sufficient for stopping a stray bullet.

The horizon is the line that you see where the earth meets the sky. As a general rule, you should never shoot at (or above) that line. For example, never shoot into the air because you have no way of knowing where that bullet will end up. If you shoot at a target on top of a hill, there is no backstop to prevent your bullet from traveling far beyond your intended point of impact.

If you are not shooting at a designated range, always take the time to walk the area behind where you will be shooting. When walking in the area behind your target, be sure to verify your proximity to houses and roads. It can be easy to misjudge distance if you are on unfamiliar land.

There are exceptions to the skyline shooting rule. For instance, it is acceptable to use shotguns (with birdshot) to hunt or shoot sporting clays. Shotguns are generally unable to generate a lethal payload past 60-70 yards, so they are commonly used for shooting at targets in the air. Shooters should familiarize themselves with the maximum range of their ammo. Knowing the maximum range of your shot is essential for establishing a safe distance from dwelling structures and roads. Always leave plenty of extra distance as an added measure of safety.

5. Shooting Clay Pigeons in Undesignated Areas

Shooting clay pigeons is a ton of fun. Finding areas littered with someone else's clay pigeons isn't! While the box may say biodegradable, it is important to note that this process can take years. If you want to shoot clay pigeons, make sure to get permission or find areas designated for shooting them.

6. Shooting on Private Land Without Permission

It is difficult to find private land to shoot on. Don't make this worse by going to someone's property without permission and launching an assault on targets. While there may be clear evidence that people have been "allowed" to shoot there before, never assume that this invitation has been extended to you. Disrespecting a landowner by trespassing and shooting on their property is a great way to ensure that another chunk of land gets a new gate and signs.

The Upshot (So to Speak)

The next time that you go shooting, be sure to pick up your trash! Police your rounds and don't shoot targets made of glass. Always be considerate of surrounding landowners and observe reasonable shooting hours. Be respectful and respectable so that you don't lose access to the property. Although a bad precedent may have already been set, don't be part of the problem. Access to good shooting areas is tough to come by, and all shooting enthusiasts need to do their part in representing our sport well.


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