National Forest Lands provide many different types of recreational access.
Hiking, biking, camping and forests also provide a legal public place for shooting firearms. Forest Rangers need to occasionally remind the public of the rules of forest gun use.
“These trailheads that are close to town get constant pressure. All hours of the day and night,” Helena National Forest Recreation and Trails Manager Roy Barkley said while walking a few reporters around a spot in the misty Elkhorn Mountains.
He’s looking to spread the word about proper forest shooting etiquette, by showing us evidence of the opposite.
“We had reports that there was multiple TVs and computer monitors and a microwave that had just been destroyed by gunfire,” he said.
Public Affairs Officer Kathy Bushnell explains the rules
“people can’t be within 150 yards of developed campsites, buildings,” said Public Affairs Officer Kathy Bushnell, explaining the rules.
You also can’t shoot over roadways or water ways. Standing on a bend of a gravel, forest service road, it’s actually hard to find rules that aren’t being broken here.
“Well, you’re not supposed to be shooting at trailheads at roads or across roads, or down trails, so we have all of that right here” Barkley said.
The brass glint of shell casings shine amongst the dull gravel. The shards of countless clay pigeons litter orange on the gentle hillsides beyond, and reflect from the bottom of a small mountain stream.
Barkley says they can’t even keep a no-shooting sign at this location without it being vandalized in a matter of days or even hours. He points up the path in front of us.
“Picture yourself, if you were a trail-user trying to come back down this trail to your vehicle and somebody’s been shooting trap in that direction,” he said. “Right up the trail. Do you feel safe enough to walk up, scream and yell and hope they quit long enough for you to get back to your vehicle?”
Reporter with the Helena Independent Record, Eve Byron, has been wandering around the area. She comes back holding a spent shotgun shell and the shreds of a paperback book cover.
“Called Talking Back to Civilization. Obviously somebody’s been shooting it up and that’s how they talk back to civilization,” she said ironically.
Barkley says he doesn’t want to dissuade people from using firearms on forest lands, we have that right.
“Yes, we want people to use their National Forest but we want them to use them ethically,” he said. “Clean up after themselves, clean up their targets. Shoot in a safe manner where you’re not endangering or displacing other forest users that aren’t shooting. and be considerate of other users as well.”
He says anyone caught breaking the rules can be subject to a fine of up to $3500.
That includes anyone that’s been shooting at this particular trailhead.