Trashing the Rockies: Why Shooters Should Preserve Public Land

Trashing the Rockies: Why Shooters Should Preserve Public Land

As a Westerner by birth and inclination, I have one major complaint with some of my fellow western public-land shooters: the way they absolutely trash the public land where they pursue their chosen hobby. Not only does it defile the beautiful places where they have the right to recreation, it soils the image of shooters everywhere — something we can ill afford in this era of constant attacks on our gun rights. Makes me so mad I could spit.

This is a problem that doesn't really exist in areas with little or no public land. Shooters don't leave shot-up rubbish strewn about the back forty of their own farm, or even Uncle Waldo's timber patch. But somehow, here in the wide-open West, some shooters cast off responsibility just because the places where they shoot are public.

I'm unable to conceive of such a mindset. It's an odd conundrum, considering that, like me, most passionate shooters — in the West, at any rate — consider themselves dyed-in-the-wool conservatives and curse with bulging eyes anything that reeks of entitlement. Yet shrugging off the stewardship that comes with the use of public land is — to my mind — a heinous form of an entitlement attitude.

If you leave your shooting trash behind, you tacitly imply that you expect someone else to clean up your mess. You expect some BLM or Forest Service ranger, cop or volunteer to come along and pick up the broken glass, the shredded computer tower, the perforated truck door, the shotgun-blasted oil jugs and soda bottles — for crying out loud, the dirty underwear that you've shot full of holes! You imply that because the place you shoot is public, the responsibility to look after it falls on the public, too. Yet somehow you, who just blew the heck out of various objects that splatter rubbish across the hillside, are above cleaning up after yourself.

To shooters who cart a load of garbage onto public land, shoot it to pieces and leave it there consider this: The rest of us get really tired of cleaning up your messes. Pull yourself out of the sportsman's gutter, take responsibility, and help us maintain the right to shoot on our public land.

Wildlife conservation plays a part in the issue, too. Not just because shot-up plastics, synthetics, glass, ceramics and whatnot can maim ecosystems and — even if it's in a small way — contribute to shrinking habitat, but because without the support of non-hunting, non-shooting, public-land users who may not partake in our way of life but support our right to do so, we'll eventually lose critical ground to anti-gun, anti-hunting and anti-wilderness-use advocates.

Without taking responsibility now, and without demonstrating that we are good stewards of the public places where we pursue our passions, future shooters may lose access to those places.

Sadly, some shooters shrug that potential loss off onto the shoulders of their posterity. Too lazy to take a few minutes and toss the garbage they so gleefully blew to pieces back into their truck, they give leverage to radical environmentalists and anti-gunners. Instead of doing their part, they leave in their dust proof-positive that they personally are unqualified to partake of and care for the blessings of public land access.

Do Your Part to Preserve Our Land

As you can tell, I have zero tolerance for trashy shooters. But let me attempt to turn this rant to a positive note: With a bit of effort I believe we can turn the wayward trash shooter from his garbage-scattering ways. We may never convert him to a disciple of conservation, but perhaps we can at least pause him in his negligence. After all, it doesn't really take that much effort to clean up after ourselves, especially if we use a bit of common sense in choosing our targets. In other words, if you want to shoot up an old empty propane tank, by all means, bang away. Just remember to toss it back in the truck when you're done. Shooting glass bottles, on the other hand, scatters tire puncturing, foot lacerating, non-degradable shards of glass that are really, really hard to retrieve. Common sense solution: Don't shoot glass.

How do we individually make a difference? In simple ways. If there's rubbish lying about where you do your shooting, pick up after yourself and then some. If there's just a bit of trash around, take ten minutes and collect it all. If the opposite's true, and you won't be able to get it all or even make a visible dent in the trash, you can still take twice as much as you brought, leaving the place better off for your having been there. In such situations I try to focus on dangerous, habitat-damaging or really unsightly junk.

Additionally, we can try to provide a good example for others. Most trashy shooters don't take kindly to anyone verbally pointing out the error of their ways, but serious, accomplished shooters conscientiously maintaining the area where they shoot can make an impression on the less scrupulous.

And finally, we can get new shooters started right. Instead of leaving plastic shotshell hulls — which take decades to deteriorate — scattered around after taking a first-timer out and shrugging off the cardboard shotshell boxes laying torn in the grass with an offhand, "It's just cardboard — it'll dissolve in the rain," we can put silent emphasis on policing those plastic hulls and tossing the empty shotshell boxes in the back of the vehicle after a shooting session.

I vividly remember the day my father told me that in the afterlife, litterers would have to crawl on hands and knees to personally retrieve every piece of trash they left scattered on the earth.

Sure, he was making a metaphorical point, but I was a bit young to fully grasp that, and I accepted the statement as fact. Sheepishly, I retrieved whatever bit of rubbish I'd just tossed down on the side of the trail and tucked it in my pocket, and I've never been able to bring myself to deliberately litter since.

Me, I don't want to be wearing out my kneecaps in the hereafter poking around for garbage with bullet holes in it.

For more information on how to promote responsible recreation through ethics education, visit Tread Lightly.

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