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11 Gun Etiquette Tips for Shooting on Public Land

Public land overlooking SW Washington State

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Public land overlooking SW Washington State

Public land overlooking SW Washington State

There is always that one guy. You know who I am talking about. The drunk guy with the AR-15 and 24 Pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, firing 55 grain FMJ rounds into the trees, over a hill, into god knows where. I see him every time I shoot on public land. Sometimes there is more than one.

Sometimes going to the range or shooting on private land isn’t an option, in which case many of us head for public land where we can find a decent back stop, back the truck in, and setup for some target practice. While this is a great resource for many of us, these areas have become crowded with an influx of new shooters taking to the idea of cheap ammo and free use of public land. Along with this comes less than experienced shooters who may not be up on their public gun etiquette and best safety practices.

I’ve been compiling a short list of some things that can help everyone get along with some safety guidelines and general courtesies to remember when using public land for shooting. Here are my 11 Gun Etiquette tips for Shooting on Public Land.

1.) Know where and what you are shooting at.

If you’ve been around firearms, you should know this one. You’d think it were common sense, but somehow this idea seems to is missed on some folks, just like the targets they are trying to hit next to the edge of an open bluff. In my area, there are a variety of people that enjoy the outdoors, not just gun and hunting folks. We have hikers, bikers, backpackers, loggers, dirt bikers, campers, mushroom pickers and the whole gamut in between. Could we all agree that firing a high powered rifle into an unknown area is just plain stupid?

2.) Pay Attention to Travelers.

Are you shooting next to a road or access area? If you see a car, a mountain biker, dirt biker or whoever, stop shooting for a second and allow the person or group to pass by. This is just good being polite and courteous to those around you.

3.) Call Out Your Shots in a Group.

Are you shooting with a group of other individuals? Don’t just open fire without calling it out. Give those around you fair warning, allow them to get their eyes and ears on, and perhaps not soil their pants when you decide to fire off a 12 gauge slug 10 feet from them.

4.) Unless Agreed Upon, One Shooter at a Time.

If it’s not a competition, previous arrangement, or open shoot, don’t assume others are comfortable with you shooting next to them without prior conversation. If someone is on the line and taking aim, sit back for a minute, load a magazine and wait for your turn. Nothing is worse than taking aim and suddenly someone starts blasting away right next to me. At least defer back to #3 if nothing else and call it out.

5.) Keep the Alcohol at home.

You know what, were all adults, and the decision really is yours. Some people handle things better than others, but I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve witness absolute stupidity and the near death of someone near me by the drunk moron being careless with his pistol. Alcohol and Firearms DO NOT MIX. It sneaks up quick on a warm day, and I don’t want to watch someone, especially myself, life-flighted from the hills with a bullet hole in their chest because those last 2 snuck up on you.


6.) Rack & Clear Your Firearm Before Returning From the Line.

Make a point to do this out in the open so that others can see. It’s good manners and lets everyone else around you know that you are clear and performing safe actions for yourself and those around you. It keeps everyone at ease and is good etiquette.

7.) Don’t Shoot Someone Else’s Targets.

This should be obvious, but I witness it often. The guys next to you, even a friend, walks out 25 yards and staples up a target, takes aim and empties a magazine on it. When he/she steps back from the line, this does not mean it is your turn to shoot to shoot their target. It’s theirs, leave it along unless they state otherwise.

8.) Don’t Ask to Share a Spot with Strangers.

This irritates me more than anything. If you come across someone on a busy day that has setup a spot for themselves with a decent back stop, don’t invite yourself in. ESPECIALLY IF THEY HAVE CHILDREN or A GROUP. Sorry you showed up late to the game, but don’t assume a perfect stranger wants you or your group anywhere near them while they are trying to enjoy their time out. It’s rude, thoughtless, and it makes people incredibly uncomfortable, especially when your holding a beer in your hand.

9.) Don’t hand out Advice if it’s Not Asked for.

I was shooting in the hills with my son at a well used open hillside when an older gentleman stopped his vehicle and told me that I should be shooting to the left instead and told me the backstop was in danger of shooting into a road way. First off, no it wasn’t. The roadway was over 150 yards away, and 100 feet vertically above us, at a 60-70 degree angle. You couldn’t hit a car driving by if you tried. His great advice was that we shoot to the left, downhill, over a bluff, across an open stream, and into a dark Forrest where there were potentially mountain bikers or backpackers. I was a little infuriated at his careless and dangerously stupid advice. Unless someone is being dangerous, keep your thoughts to yourself, and even in the case you feel someone is unsafe, report it to the nearby Ranger or Forestry personnel, that’s what they are there for. Do not attempt to police strangers with guns.

Public Land Get's Trashed from Careless Behavior

Public Land Get’s Trashed from Careless Behavior

10.) Pack out your trash.

The amount of trash left behind in my local area is unbelievable. Old couches, Television Sets, Glass Bottles, Beer Cans, Food Wrappers, Mattresses, Old Tires, Kitchen Appliances, Styrofoam Packaging, Bags of Garbage and I’ve even seen someone set fire to an old car and leave it. This is all on top of the tens of thousands of old shotgun shells, plastic ammo trays, and packaging people leave on the ground. PICK IT UP. Seriously, everyone is out here trying to use the same land, and your sucking up valuable volunteer time, money, and effort to pick up your trash when those folks could be out cutting new trails and improving the land.

11.) Don’t Make Others Responsible for Tracking Your Location.

FOR THE NON-GUN FOLKS OUT THERE: If you are out on a hike, riding a mountain bike, dirt bike, quad, or whatever, don’t make the shooters track you position. A few months back I was shooting at a quarried pit when out of the Forrest comes 5 dirt bikers, deviating from their bike path and crossing my line of site before parking about 100 yards to my left. Thankfully I heard them coming before they emerged from the Forrest and lowered my pistol. They didn’t give me a second thought until they were at a safe distance and I began firing my 10mm again. I hope that got them thinking about impulsively leaving the designated bike path. Had there been a group shooting there, they may not heard the bikes coming and there could have been a fatal injury.

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8 Comments

  1. All of these tips are good, I daresay most are, or should be common sense, had I not seen many of these problems before. I will be sure to follow them!

  2. In my country when the hunting season is on, most of the forests are designated and the people who shoot and hike there know that. But anyways, hunting should always be done in a non-tense atmosphere and everyone should be enjoying their time. These are great rules to live by.

  3. I’m not a hunter, and have only shot at ranges and on private or leased land, so I never really thought of shooting on public land. I’m glad I saw this post, because I wasn’t even aware it was legal, so wouldn’t have concerned myself with being visible or letting others know I was in the vicinity. Lots of good information here, thanks!

    • Its pretty common around here. We have thousands of acres of open land that for public use. Not just for shooting, everyone shares it equally between the hunters, shooters, backpackers, hikers, mountain bikers, climbers, and everyone else who wants to take part. Unfortunately when you get such a mix of activities crossing paths, people tend to forget there are other people out there.

  4. All of this is great information that everyone who goes shooting or hunting needs to read. It kills me that so many people that have no idea how to safely operate a firearm will just go out and shoot on public property or shoot period! I hate when people don’t know all the safety precautions to take while shooting or working with firearms. Everyone should always read tips like this before going out to work with firearms.

    • Thanks for the comment. Like with anything, it is best to be educated and understand the risks and proper handling before jumping into any activity like this.

    • I wholeheartedly agree. People drinking when hunting and especially littering are a scourge of the earth. We have nice forests, let’s keep them clean! And drinking when hunting is just dumb. I bet most hunting accidents are caused by alcohol. If everyone followed these rules the world would be a lot safer.

  5. Paying attention to travelers is probably the number one advice on this entire list because the last thing you want to do is hurt someone. You have to make sure that you look out for the other people around you. It’s fun to shoot but you have to make sure that you are being safe.

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