Scott Robbins used to hike to the top of Coyote Butte, to the southwest of Bend’s urban growth boundary, to take in views of Central Oregon sunsets.
During his last few hikes up the butte, however, the walk has been marred by bullets from nearby target shooters whizzing overhead.
“People knew we were up there, and they kept shooting,” Robbins said.
Robbins, who lives in the nearby neighborhood of Sundance, isn’t the only neighbor to have issues with people shooting guns nearby. The public land near Coyote Butte, along with nearby Cabin Butte, has long been a haven for target shooters. While shooting is legal in that part of the Deschutes National Forest, neighbors have growing concerns about the noise, debris and danger that shooters bring with them — and they’re done being quiet.
“It’s almost like we’re waiting for an event,” said Jim Moran, another resident of Sundance. “It’s just an inevitability, and I don’t think we have to wait for it.”
Kevin Larkin, district ranger for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest, acknowledged that the situation is not new, but added that more residents have called and emailed his office in recent weeks. He added that the district is planning to sit down with concerned residents in the next few weeks to hear their thoughts on possible solutions, which could include banning target shooting near Coyote and Cabin buttes.
“The complexity of this issue means that there aren’t easy solutions,” Larkin said.
Shooting is legal on most public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, although there are restrictions around where and how visitors can do it. People aren’t allowed to shoot within 150 feet of a campground or trailhead, and shooting across roads, rivers and lakes is prohibited, according to the Forest Service’s website. Shooters are expected to fire at targets with a solid backstop, like a cinder pit, and shooting at trees is not allowed.
Areas near the two buttes are popular among Central Oregon’s target-shooting community because of their large cinder pits and relative proximity to Bend. However, Moran said the location is deceptive, as it feels to visitors like it is well out in the woods, but has a neighborhood containing about 200 homes nearby.
“Because they’ve driven those five miles out China Hat (Road), they think they’re out in the woods; they think there’s nobody else there,” Moran said of target shooters in the area.
Moran, who has lived in the neighborhood for 16 years, said there has long been a group of people shooting in the area, including him and other Sundance residents. However, he added that it’s become more disruptive in recent years, with more visitors shooting automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the area.
As a result, Moran and other neighbors are concerned about a stray bullet hitting them in their homes or while they’re using public lands. While many residents moved to the neighborhood to recreate, Moran said many have taken to avoiding areas frequented by shooters.
In 2005, a Forest Service employee was shot in the thigh near the Woodside Ranch subdivision, leading the Deschutes County Commission to ban shooting in the area the following year, according to The Bulletin’s archives. More recently, an Arizona resident was struck and killed by a stray bullet in a recreational shooting area west of Phoenix managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
“It just reminded me of what’s going on at China Hat,” Robbins said of the incident in Arizona.
Noise is a factor, as well. Ann Bond, who lives near the edge of Sundance, said individual gunshots aren’t terribly loud at her house, but the consistent noise can cause problems, and recently kept her awake until 2 a.m.
“It sounds like how you would imagine Beirut to sound like, on a Tuesday afternoon,” Moran added.
Above all, Robbins pointed to a rise in bad behavior among visitors in the area, with shooters not exhibiting proper gun etiquette and leaving bullet casings in the forest, as the biggest problem.
“The behavior I’ve seen is just too irresponsible,” Robbins said.
Larkin said the Forest Service couldn’t confirm that there has been a rise in semi-automatic weapons, but he acknowledged that there has been an increase in bad behavior, including visitors shooting at explosives like Tannerite, during the last month.
“Over the holiday, there seemed to be an increase in illegal activity,” Larkin said.
Robbins said he supports banning target shooting in the area, unless the Forest Service increases enforcement of its rules for shooters.
He and Moran agreed that they’d love to see visitors be more respectful and responsible.
“It’s not about gun rights or anything else; it’s just about being practical,” Moran said.
Larkin emphasized that the Forest Service is far too early in the process to consider potential changes, but he said he understands neighbors’ concerns and will take them under consideration.
“The conversations we’ll have will really be about trying to find that balance,” Larkin said.
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