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CCW Weekend: A Brief Guide To Shooting On Public Lands

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By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

Some states have a generous supply of public lands. Others do not. Now, those states with ample public land allow target shooting on some of it.

If you’re a total newbie shooter and wondering where to go, public land can be an option. The beauty parlor of course is that they’re a heck of a lot cheaper than joining a gun club or a private range and gun shop. Better yet, some are free!

Now, if you happen to live in a part of these United States that has little or no public land, it’s to the private range with you and we hope that the RSO isn’t a complete tool.


Anyhow, if you do live in a state with generous or at least some public land that’s available for target shooting, here are a few things to know.

First, some areas are basically just wild places where target shooting is allowed and some areas actually have public ranges.

Typically, the latter will involve a use fee or membership fees, which goes toward the maintenance and upkeep of the range and so on. However, public ranges also usually come with rules and regulations much like public ranges; the exact nature of them depends on the range in question.

The former? Literally just a place out in nature where people go shooting.

Which is better? That depends a whole lot on your outlook. There are pluses and minuses to both.

Public ranges are more orderly and maintained. While some bridle at the rules – .50 BMG rifles are often verboten, you can only shoot at targets, there are range safety officers and some of them are garbage-tier humans – a bit of order and having some facilities is helpful.

Public shooting areas, if we could call undeveloped areas that, are not, and there generally aren’t any facilities to speak of. There’s no one to listen to, no rules to follow, but that also means that shooting in a safe manner, setting up targets and so on is all up to you.

More freedom, but the problem with freedom is that it comes with a lot more responsibility. In fact, it comes with all of it, and if you go there for target practice, all of that responsibility is yours.

Time now for a public service announcement:

If shooting on public lands, pack out your trash.

Some people will haul in things like household objects, glass bottles and so on and blast them to watch them disintegrate. While it’s fun, the sort of people who do this stuff also are the sort of people who leave said detritus behind.

That’s being a garbage human, in every sense. Don’t be a garbage human.

If you pack it in, pack it out. It’s not hard. And yes, that includes your spent casings.

If you haven’t picked it up by now, one of the drawbacks of the less-regulated public shooting ranges is they tend to be littered. Sometimes badly.

Look, we have enough of “those people” around making everything miserable for everyone else, so don’t be one yourself. Everyone is that guy at one time or another, but let’s all try to not be that guy when we can help it.

Also, and this cannot be stressed harder without resorting to profanity:


Exploding targets have been repeatedly linked to wildfires, and they will be linked to new ones.

Every year, some godawful moron (or group of morons) goes out to the sticks to watch some stuff blow up without taking a second to actually think about other people or that there might actually be consequences to their actions. Next thing you know, thousands of acres are torched.

It costs millions of dollars to fight wildfires. When Cletus Steven Ray William Ray Lee Hogswallop and his buddies want to watch a ” ‘splosion” it devastates the landscape and puts the firefighters in harm’s way.

So just stop. Please. For the love of God and everything else.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get onto more practical matters.

What public lands should you look at?

First, see if there are any public ranges in your area. Public ranges are usually constructed as part of the Civilian Marksmanship Program and built using funds from the Pittman-Robertson Act excise tax on the sale of guns, ammunition and other sporting equipment.

Outside of dedicated public ranges, public land falls into one of two categories: federal and state.

Federal lands include national parks, national forests (NFS) and the Bureau of Land Management or BLM.

Whether shooting is allowed or not depends on the parcel; some are designated as shooting areas and others are not. Be sure to know ahead of time.

State lands can fall under the jurisdiction of a number of state agencies. What’s typical is for state lands to be governed by a state Department of Natural Resources, which is the most common nomenclature.

Just as with federal lands, whether or not target shooting is allowed is entirely within the purview of the state agency. Some areas are deemed acceptable, others are not. Again, be sure to know beforehand.

Let’s say that you’ve taken the next step. You’ve identified a public area for shooting, it’s okay to go, and you’re going to go there for your next shooting session. What should you know prior to actually using the area?

First is that unlike a nice indoor range and gun shop, you have to bring everything. Have your gun, your ammunition, magazines, safety gear like ear and eye pro, and your targets packed up.

Some public ranges have a small store where you can get ear plugs and maybe some targets, but usually not much else. Undeveloped public shooting areas have nothing. So double-check that you have everything before you leave.

Public ranges, which again are maintained and staffed and so on, are going to be orderly and pretty self-explanatory in terms of rules and so on. There’s a firing line, an RSO and so on and so forth.

Public shooting areas on the other hand, that’s where things get a bit tricky.

If other people are around, be where they can see you and you can see them. If at all possible, find an area to shoot that’s parallel to where they’re shooting. Imagine there’s a firing line in front of them and stay behind it, sort of like a line of scrimmage in football.

Don’t go down range while they’re shooting and don’t shoot when they’re going down range.

Remember, safety is paramount when shooting. When you’re potentially an hour away from medical attention or more? Doubly so.

If you feel like the people around you are acting in an unsafe fashion? Leave. What you don’t want to do is get into some sort of confrontation or argument. Just get out of there.

Police your area. Pick up your brass, and whatever you pack in, pack out.

Remember, we all own our public lands. We’re all entitled to their use, for our recreation and enjoyment, and they have been preserved for that purpose not only for us but for future generations to come. It’s a good idea to take care of them, so that we may be able to continue to do so.

Public shooting spaces can be a great way to get your target practice in while getting some fresh air. Also, many such spaces give you the option to practice with multiple types of firearms, from pistols to long guns instead of having to go from shooting bay to shooting bay.

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Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit

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