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home : sports & recreation : sports & recreation January 16, 2018

1/2/2018 6:30:00 PM
Setting sights on safe shooting
A safe backstop and appropriate targets are key components of safe shooting, which is allowed throughout the Sisters Ranger District. photo by Ceili Cornelius
+ click to enlarge
A safe backstop and appropriate targets are key components of safe shooting, which is allowed throughout the Sisters Ranger District. photo by Ceili Cornelius

By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

There are a lot of people out in the woods these days. Some are hiking; some are riding mountain bikes; some are riding horseback; some are target shooting.

With recreation on the Deschutes National Forest increasing 15 to 20 percent over the past three years, the Forest Service is seeking to raise awareness of all activities so that conflicts are minimized.

Forest Service spokesperson Jean Nelson-Dean told The Nugget that many recreational users - especially those new to the area - don't realize that target shooting is allowed almost everywhere on public lands (see exceptions in the sidebar story on page 24).

"We're starting to get more questions," Nelson-Dean. And, she said, she's heard anecdotal reports of "close calls" where people have felt endangered by shooting in the forest.

Sometimes that sense of danger is simply the result of being startled by the sound of gunfire erupting in the forest. While the cadence of a well-run AR-15 engaged in a Mozambique Drill (2 fast/1 slow) may be a symphony for some, for those unaccustomed to firearms, the sound itself can be alarming. And, if done unsafely, target shooting can put others in danger.

"There's safe ways to target shoot, and there's unsafe ways to target shoot," Nelson-Dean said.

The primary consideration is to be sure of your target - and what lies behind it. A good backstop helps ensure that "stray" bullets or ricochets don't pose a danger to people hiking or riding in the forest. Most local shooters congregate at one of Sisters Country's many gravel pits, where piles of dirt and cinder and tall slopes keep the activity confined and safe.

One of those gravel pits in Sisters has been a focus of discussion. The McKenzie Gravel Pit just west of Crossroads off Highway 242 lies relatively close to the subdivision, and the equestrian Jimerson Trail runs nearby. The sound of gunfire is plainly audible from Crossroads, and some horseback riders have felt insecure in the area. Some locals want to see the pit closed to shooting.

"I don't know where discussions are, but it's not yet closed," Nelson-Dean reported.

It is worth noting that the entire National Forest in the area - except within 150 feet of Crossroads - is open to shooting.

The discussions around the McKenzie Pit illustrate the conflicting values that can come into play in the forest, potentially pitting local residents who value their peace and quiet, and hikers and horseback riders concerned about their safety against target shooters. But then some of those shooters are also hikers, horseback riders, and local residents themselves.

"The more people we add into a situation, the more complex it becomes," Nelson-Dean acknowledged.

Nelson-Dean said that the Forest Service wants everyone in the forest to be aware that there are others pursuing their recreation out there - and to act responsibly so that the agency does not have to step in with additional management actions.

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