John Cornelius runs an AR-15 rifle at Zimmerman Butte, where tall backstops and a lack of obstacles creates a safe shooting environment. photo by Jim Cornelius
John Cornelius runs an AR-15 rifle at Zimmerman Butte, where tall backstops and a lack of obstacles creates a safe shooting environment. photo by Jim Cornelius
Recreational target shooting is an increasingly popular activity on the Deschutes National Forest. That popularity has an impact on local residents who are not happy hearing frequent gunfire.
Shooting is allowed across the Sisters Ranger District, except within 150 yards of residences or developed campgrounds and across roads. The Forest Service does not maintain shooting ranges or even recommend specific shooting areas — but it has identified numerous areas as suitable for safe, responsible shooting.
A good backstop is the top criteria for a safe shooting environment, District Ranger Ian Reid told The Nugget.
“The height of the berm… is the major factor,” Reid said.
The identified areas are all cinder pits. The Sisters Ranger District office has a list of suitable areas and a map identifying their locations.
“Every one that’s on (the list) our law enforcement has looked at,” Reid said.
The areas have clear sight lines, tall backstops, and are away from or shielded from other activities — “all of the things that responsible shooters should want,” as Reid described it.
Some of them are active rock pits that the Forest Service contracts out to ODOT for mining for road cinders, and, as such, are subject to periodic temporary closure.
The most popular spot is at Zimmerman Butte, about 4.5 miles west of Sisters. It is a deep cinder pit with a significant backstop, and is easily accessible from Highway 20 by any type of vehicle. That also means it gets heavy use. That use is within earshot of many local residences, and some of those living nearby have complained of the shooting noise. (Disclosure: Nugget Editor in Chief Jim Cornelius shoots several times a week at Zimmerman Butte.)
In a letter to the editor last year, Stephen King, who lives at Cascade Meadow Estates, said that, “corralling shooting into one location for hours a day causes noise pollution, physical harm for people with PTSD and potential fire danger, within a mile of Sisters. I would urge the Forest Service to do a better job of managing these areas.”
Local resident Pete Kershaw wrote to The Nugget, “Target practice at the Zimmerman Cinder Pit has been going on for decades. We have lived within earshot of it since 1992. Until about 10 years ago, the noise was just a single shot to a target…The normal hours were mostly weekends between 8 a.m. and early evening. I took part in this sport at the pit and greatly enjoyed it. Shooters picked up their brass and cartridges, etc.
“… It’s a different crowd up there now. Some are not sportsmen at all. They litter the area and the firing goes on non-stop with every type of rapid-fire rifle along with the exploding targets. Shooting starts at daylight and goes well after dark. Rapid fire that is easily heard in the residential communities of Indian Ford, Cascade Meadow Ranch, and Tollgate and other surrounding areas. This annoyance needs to be curtailed.”
Reid emphasizes that the Forest Service does not manage or regulate the shooting sites.
Other sites in the District see less use than Zimmerman Butte — in part because they are less accessible. That can actually make them more attractive to shooters looking to evade a crowd.
Last August, about 20 shooting enthusiasts, along with Forest Service personnel and local law enforcement officers, gathered on Saturday morning to conduct a stewardship cleanup at the Zimmerman Butte shooting area, under the auspices of a shooting sports organization called Trash No Land, Trash No Land. That organization promotes safe, responsible shooting in the National Forests.
Safe, responsible shooting includes observing basic safety protocols, including treating all firearms as loaded and being aware of and accounting for any other recreational activity in the area, and practicing good stewardship by picking up empty cartridge casings and packing out whatever targets and target stands are brought into a shooting area.
Tannerite exploding targets are not allowed anywhere on the National Forest. Shooters should not fire at trees, which damages them to the point of killing them, and can pose a fire hazard if using steel-jacketed bullets.
As all types of recreation increase in the National Forest and as more people move into the urban-wildland interface, citizens and the Forest Service that serves them will continue to have to find ways to balance sometimes competing values and activities.