Shooter-trash: Time to clean up our act

By Jeff Knox

Typical shooter trash from an Oregon forest. (Photo courtesy of TrashDogs.org)
Typical shooter trash from an Oregon forest. (Photo courtesy of TrashDogs.org)

Over the past 30 years or so, gun owners have done a spectacular job of improving firearm safety habits. By every measure, unintentional injuries involving firearms have gone down even as the number of guns has risen. That fact is rarely reported in the general media, but it’s something gun owners can proudly point to. We are, by and large, responsible and safe. But there is one big area where all shooters can improve how shooters and gun owners are perceived by the general public. We need to be more conscientious about where we shoot, what we shoot at and especially about cleaning up after ourselves. Anyone who has ever spent any time wandering the outdoors has run across areas that have been used as informal shooting ranges. The ground is covered with bullet-riddled boxes, cans, televisions, washing machines, broken glass and a carpet of empty cases and shells. The problem is more obvious in the West where there is less ground cover and vegetation to conceal the shooter trash.

Spent cases are an often neglected source of litter that shooters too frequently just leave, even if they clean up their targets. The metallic cases are pretty inert and fade from view as the shine weathers, but plastic shotgun hulls and wads are a different story. They have been alleged to break down into some fairly nasty chemicals that we really don’t want leaching into our groundwater, and all of it is unsightly and should be picked up as much as possible. Manufacturers might be able to help by producing more environmentally friendly wads and hulls as well.

Much of the target trash is actually not generated by shooters, but rather simply dumped by others who don’t want to pay the fee at the county landfill. Unfortunately, once the first would-be gunslinger fills an object with holes, the mess becomes shooter-trash, and its existence will always be blamed on all recreational shooters.

There will always be those who won’t clean up after themselves, but that just means it’s up to the rest of us to cover for them, while doing our best to educate them about their inconsiderate ways. The No. 1 rule is the same as with hiking or camping: If you brought it in, you take it out. Putting down an old bed sheet or tarp, or simply shooting with a pickup bed to your right, makes brass collection a simple proposition. Not to mention that stuff can be sold to reloaders or recyclers. Shooting glass or ceramics is generally a bad idea, but if you must, again, an old sheet or a tarp can make cleanup a simple matter.

Another rule every shooter should incorporate into his or her ethic is the idea that if you shoot it, you own it. If some joker dumped an old washing machine in the desert, that’s on him. If you fill that washing machine with holes, it’s yours now. That’s a pretty tough rule to live by, but if we don’t police ourselves – and clean up after the inconsiderate idiots – the result is always the same: More areas will be closed to shooting, and we will have to travel even farther to find a place to shoot.

At a minimum, every shooter should always clean up his own mess and make it a point to clean up at least some of the mess left by the folks who came before. If most of us would practice that simple rule, we would not have the disaster areas we so often find. Instead, too many shooters find themselves practicing in an area others have left a mess, and they decide that their little bit of extra trash won’t hurt and that cleaning up a little of the last guy’s trash won’t help, so the problem areas just keep getting worse and worse.

Another rule, which I shouldn’t even have to mention, is to never shoot anything that belongs to someone else. Fence posts, water tanks, gates, “abandoned” buildings or sheds, electrical towers and water troughs all make tempting targets to a certain class – a low class. And then there are signs. I don’t know what it is that compels some idiots to shoot at signs: road signs, trail signs, No Trespassing signs, safety and warning signs, “No Shooting” signs … Some morons just seem to be drawn to the idea of putting holes in signs. Unfortunately, no amount of criticism or complaining is likely to have any influence over these jackasses. It’s likely that they can’t even read. All we can do is report them when we see them and hope that they’ll get tagged with the heavy fines that are typically levied for vandalism.

Shooting is a fun and interesting pastime. It can be safe and enjoyable for the whole family. When gun magazines, shooting clubs and hunting organizations started focusing on the importance of safety, and shooters started applying a few simple safety rules, we saw steady declines in unintentional firearm-related injuries. Now we need to apply the same sort of focus and awareness to the issue of shooter-trash, or we’re going to find ourselves fenced out with nowhere to shoot.

Do your part. Be a safe, responsible, and environmentally conscientious shooter, and encourage others to do the same. Remember, “every litter bit hurts.”

Media wishing to interview Jeff Knox, please contact [email protected].

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