Get Out There: Guide to Shooting on Public Lands

What’s a BLM? BLM is the Bureau of Land Management. They’re the guys who run the open public lands, mainly in the western United States. They manage oil, gas, and mineral leasing rights on US property, along with grazing rights and rights to other things I can’t begin to understand. BLM also manages our National Monuments, like Craters of the Moon in Idaho and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in California. Their most recognized accomplishment is the National Landscape Conservation System, which includes over 9 million acres of designated Wilderness Areas, including the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in southwestern Montana and the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness in Arizona. So, what does this have to do with guns? . . .

BLM lands that aren’t designated as National Wilderness or Special Areas are wide open for sport shooting. We’re talking hundreds of millions of acres in the western United States. There are a few basic rules to follow, and then you’re good to go. Here are some shooting guidelines from the BLM Colorado web page,

Shooting and possession and use of firearms are allowed on public lands managed by the BLM as long as the activity:

• Does not create a public hazard, public nuisance or direct threat to public safety and use. This includes the shooting any weapon from, across, or toward any road or trail, regardless of the road or trail surface, shooting in an unsafe manner, or shooting in an unsafe direction.

• Does not damage or destroy natural features, native plants, cultural resources, historic structures or government/private property. This includes using any vegetation or structure as a target, backstop, or target holder.

• Does not facilitate and create a condition of littering, refuse accumulation and abandoned personal property. The shooting of any glass bottle, container, or material that would break into small pieces and create a hazard or litter is prohibited. All spent shells or brass are considered litter and must be removed by the shooter.

• Does not violate an existing use restriction, closure order or supplementary rules notice.

• You must not possess or discharge a firearm or explosive device in violation of any applicable State Law.


That last part is really important, especially if you live in California. Again, be sure to check with your BLM district office before lugging your arsenal into the hills.

Now, let’s talk about not being stupid. The opportunity to shoot on BLM land can be considered a privilege, in that they can take it away if we screw things up. Nothing brings this literally closer to home than watching my favorite patch of BLM land, Bear Trap Canyon in Montana, burn to the ground because some idiot was careless with fireworks.

Respect the power of this land. Clean up after yourself, and don’t set anything on fire. That means no incendiary or tracer rounds. I try to adhere to the same “Leave No Trace” guidlines that hikers and campers follow, but without a brass catcher it’s kinda hard to avoid leaving a few casing behind.

Okay, we all agree to respect the land and be safe. Where can one find this magical shooting place called BLM? You can start at the website, select “Our Offices/Centers” then pick your state. The Maps page will get you links for purchasing BLM maps. In addition, a bit of digging under Recreation or Resource Management can yield maps for specific areas.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Last Best Place, the Montana Cadastral Survey  will show you land borders down to the inch. There are likely similar products for other states, so do some research and find one for yours.

You can also shoot on many National Forest Lands; has a great map of National Wilderness and National Forest areas, but remember, you cannot shoot in a National Wilderness area.

So now you’ve found a place to shoot. What else do you need to know?

First and foremost, be respectful of others. Pack out what you brought in. Don’t leave old targets and stands behind. Follow the regulations and guidelines provided by the National Forest Service and the BLM:

* You cannot discharge a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, road, parking lot, body of water, high-use trail, etc.
* You cannot shoot at night.
* You cannot shoot in restricted areas.
* Don’t be a dick (my words, not theirs). If you’re 151 yards from a family with with toddlers enjoying a picnic at the lake, find a better place to shoot.
Gun enthusiasts have enough problems with their public image, so don’t give the government a reason to chase shooting enthusiasts off their bigass lawn. The right to shoot on public lands is as ingrained in our charter as the right to self defense.

If you need more info, your favorite search engine is your friend. Here are some search terms (be sure to add “in ‘yourstate'”): “BLM Recreational Shooting Areas”, “Firearms Regulations on BLM (or National Forest) Land” “Cadastral Survey Map” “BLM Land Map” “BLM Land Boundaries” “Target Shooting on BLM Land (or Public Land)”.