For those who are fortunate enough to live near public outdoor shooting ranges — and yes, they do exist — few sights are as frustrating and disheartening as that of a trashed range. Many of you know all too well what I’m talking about: wooden target stands shot to pieces by what probably weren’t all accidental bullet holes, paper targets blowing all over the place and, worst of all, actual garbage strewn all over the firing line and downrange. It’s disgusting, and it’s something we as shooters need to fight. Fortunately, there are a few tried-and-tested techniques you can employ.
Start With the Obvious
Treat your range trips like Boy Scouts treat their hikes: Endeavor to leave as little impact as you can. This means the simple first step of always bringing a trash bag with you whenever you head out to shoot. This is especially important since you have no idea what the condition of the range trash receptacles will be when you arrive. Most public outdoor ranges are minimally staffed by volunteers or maybe an employee from the county who stops by now and again. It can be easy for trash to pile up before anyone gets a chance to empty it.
Your trash bag will leave with you, carrying the target litter you create as well as anything that you feel comfortable picking up off the ground and bringing home to dispose of. I’m not suggesting any heroics here … I don’t expect you to personally handle and drive home every last cigarette butt, spitter and Band-Aid you find on the ground. But if you don’t mind sacrificing a pair of latex or nitrile gloves, when safe to do so, it’s awfully sporting of you to pick up some empty water bottles and target trash that’s lying around.
Don’t Be a Jerk
Though I’m certain no one reading this would ever be responsible for such behavior, most of the problems public outdoor ranges get visited upon them are caused by willful, intentional acts. The worst examples of this kind of jerkery I’ve seen almost always involved appliances: computers, televisions, water heaters. I’ve been amazed over the years what kind of junk some people will drag out to the ranges I frequent and then be kind enough to spread over a 30-yard radius for everyone to enjoy.
It is this kind of behavior that leads to the “PAPER TARGETS ONLY” signs that bar your steel silhouettes. Never bring anything to the range that you know is going to leave permanent litter, and by “permanent” I mean “anything other than paper or wood pieces.” This means no balloons, no glass of any kind, nothing that’s going to leave anything you don’t bring back and put in the trash barrel other than a few staples and a few pieces of confetti. (And no, ammo boxes don’t count. If you absolutely must shoot them, pick them up and throw them away when you’re done.) I’m not going to stand here and demand that every American give up the time-honored sport of Can Hunting, but I would definitely ask that anyone who bags his or her limit clean up afterward.
Buy a Mailbox
I first saw this at the Fried Family Marksmanship Complex in Moffit, North Dakota, and it works wonders for ranges staffed by volunteers who control the range’s finances. A simple mailbox, stocked with envelopes addressed to the range’s PO Box, will allow shooters who either inadvertently cause damage or are embarrassed by one of their guest’s behavior that resulted in damage to make it right without making a scene. Don’t limit the donations to damage, either. Your sign can also state that if a guest has particularly enjoyed the facilities, donations are always welcome to help ensure the range will be just as enjoyable for many years to come.
Organize a Bag Brigade
You will often notice that actual centerfire brass is oddly rare on the ground at an outdoor shooting range. Even if everything is a total mess, it often isn’t because no one has been out there picking anything up. It’s just that people have only been picking up what they find valuable. If you’ve had it up to your eyebrows with how nasty the range gets, there probably isn’t anything stopping you from heading out there alone or with a few volunteers and picking up steel ammo cases, shotgun hulls, shot cups and all of the other detritus that can quickly accumulate wherever people shoot.
I would advise that if you do so, you wear disposable cloth work gloves and a simple hardware-store fiber mask and thoroughly wash your hands and forearms with a lead-removal soap like Hygenall’s LeadOff when you’re done. It’s not like you’re stripping all of the asbestos out of an old attic though. You’re picking up range trash. And if you’re up for it, you’re a better citizen than many.
Look Into Leadless
Leadless ammunition contains lead in neither the projectile nor the primer compound. Some new ranges in certain parts of the country are switching over to this new technology, though it’s a tough sell at certain clubs and ranges. I’ve had excellent luck with the leadless stuff I’ve run, but some shooters find it to be too expensive when compared to traditional ammo and don’t trust it for defensive use. I can tell you right now that a solid copper projectile is effective not only for defensive use but also for thick-skinned-dangerous-game hunting. Copper solids were a standard for rhino, Cape buffalo and elephant back in Hemingway’s day. Like so many other aspects of the responsibly armed lifestyle, this one’s entirely your call.
Those of you who are familiar with my work likely saw this one coming. Concealed Carry Magazine founder and USCCA CEO Tim Schmidt’s father taught him an important reminder early on in life: “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” What this means is that if there’s something you want to accomplish or if there’s a wrong that you think needs to be righted, anything that happens from your end is going to have to start with … you. If you are retired or even if you just love the outdoors and the shooting sports and are willing to make time in your schedule to support both, get involved. If your nail-on-a-stick and trash-bag years are behind you, see what other work needs to be done. If it turns out that the best way you can help would be to arrange for a bundle of 8-foot 2x4s to be delivered to the range every two months or to arrange for snow plowing through a private contractor, everyone would appreciate the help.
Never Give Up
Where they can be found, public outdoor shooting areas are true gems and one of the little perks that makes America such an amazing nation. Were every shooter to exert even a little bit of effort, not only would the health of our public outdoor ranges skyrocket and flourish, it might even be easier to get more of them made. The more we can do to improve where we shoot and the public’s impression of our sport and its participants, the better it will be for all of us as shooters, defenders and stewards of this country’s outdoor resources.