Target shooting on WDFW lands

WDFW instructor assists two youths with target shooting
Youth target shooters at National Hunting and Fishing Day event

During the summer of 2017, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) formed a target shooting advisory group to help determine rules for target shooting on the Wenas Wildlife Area in Kittitas and Yakima counties. Members of the advisory group included representatives from a number of interested parties.

As the group developed a localized strategy for the Wenas Wildlife Area, it was clear that the department needed a comprehensive, statewide target shooting rule for all WDFW owned and managed lands. Members of the advisory group provided feedback encouraging the department to develop a draft rule that could go into effect for all WDFW lands.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a target shooting rule update in October 2020, which will go in to effect Jan. 1, 2021. The updated rule provides more direction to target shooters to increase safe practices, such as requiring a backstop. 

Target Shooting Rule Update

  1. The department may designate or restrict locations, times, and manner for recreational target shooting upon department land, consistent with resource management concerns, management agreements or requirements, recreational use compatibility, or public safety concerns.
  2. Persons must not recreationally target shoot on department land except as provided by this section.
  3. Department land is open to recreational target shooting under the conditions set forth in this section, unless closed or otherwise restricted by this section or by any department-posted signage or notice.
    1. Notwithstanding the allowances by this section, recreational target shooting is only permitted where a reasonable person, in consideration of all attendant circumstances, would believe the area between the person and the target, and the area beyond the target, is free of risk to person, animals, or property.
    2. Unless otherwise posted, recreational target shooting is only allowed one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset.
    3. Recreational target shooting using (1) firearms firing single projectile ammunition of .17 caliber or greater or shot equal to or greater than BB; or (2) compressed gas or air guns capable of shooting any projectile at over 800 feet per second, is permitted only:
      1. On department-designated recreational target shooting areas and in compliance with posted regulations; or
      2. In other areas containing an earthen backstop, as defined (reference to Definitions), which must be utilized while target shooting. A backstop is not required while using shotguns discharging shot smaller than size BB. Targets must be placed in front of and within 8 feet of the backstop, and the person must be shooting at the lower half of the backstop.
    4. Recreational target shooting using (1) archery equipment, crossbows, air bows, or (2) shotguns discharging shot smaller than size BB, is permitted:
      1. On department-designated recreational target shooting areas and in compliance with posted regulations; or
      2. In other areas consistent with subsection (3)(a).
    5. Recreational target shooting is specifically prohibited:
      1. On, from, at, along, across, or down:
        1. Any department-designated or -developed water access site or boat launch, and associated parking area;
        2. Any road;
        3. Any utility line, utility poles, or light posts;
        4. Any department-designated trail;
        5. Any water body or stream.
      2. Within 500 feet of the following (when not utilizing a department-designated recreational target shooting area):
        1. Residences, businesses, and/or other buildings or structures, including port-a-potties, etc.;
        2. Power stations, cell phone towers, utility poles, light posts, wind turbines, or other public utility structures;
        3. Campgrounds;
        4. Viewing platforms or structures;
      3. In other areas posted by the department as restricted from shooting.
  4. Authorized targets for use on department lands are restricted to items, other than exploding targets, that are commercially manufactured for the specific purpose of target shooting, or similar targets privately manufactured that are consistent with this section, and as further restricted below.
    1. Steel targets that are manufactured for the specific purpose of target shooting are allowed subject to the following restrictions:
      1. When used on a department-designated recreational target shooting area, steel targets that are manufactured for the specific purpose of target shooting are allowed year-round.
      2. When used outside a department-designated recreational target shooting area, steel targets that are manufactured for the specific purpose of target shooting are allowed from October 1 to May 31, unless otherwise posted.
    2. Clay targets, when used, must be biodegradable clay targets.
    3. Items prohibited to be used as targets or to hold or post targets include but are not limited to:
      1. Buildings;
      2. Power stations, cell phone towers, utility poles, light posts, wind turbines, or other public utility structures;
      3. Gates, fence posts, or rails;
      4. Vehicles, or parts thereof;
      5. Machinery, or parts thereof;
      6. Signs, kiosks, or informational panels of any kind;
      7. Appliances or electronics;
      8. Furniture;
      9. Pallets;
      10. Glass;
      11. Explosive and incendiary items, including binary exploding targets (i.e. Tannerite);
      12. Containers of liquids, chemicals, paints, or compressed gas;
      13. Standing or moving water;
      14. Live or dead trees or other vegetation;
      15. Animals or animal carcasses.
  5. The discharge of tracer bullets or shells, incendiary ammunition, or steel core bullets, is specifically prohibited on all department lands.
  6. At all times, it is unlawful for a person to discharge a firearm, crossbow, bow, or any other projectile shooting implement on department lands in a reckless or negligent manner. A violation of this subsection may be punishable under RCW 77.15.230, RCW 77.15.460, RCW 9A.36.050, RCW 9A.36.031, RCW 9A.36.021, RCW 9A.32.070, RCW 9A.32.060, or other relevant statute depending on the circumstances of the violation.
  7. It is unlawful for persons recreationally target shooting to fail to remove and transport from department lands for proper disposal all shell casings, shotgun hulls, ammunition packaging, and targets or target debris. Failure to remove any such item is prohibited and constitutes littering.
  8. Persons who recreationally target shoot are responsible for knowing other state, local, or federal laws that may govern their shooting activity, and compliance with this rule does not guarantee compliance with other applicable laws.

Definitions

  1. “Department-designated recreational target shooting area” means an area designated and posted by the department for the purpose of recreational target shooting.
  2. “Backstop” means an unobstructed earthen mound or bank at least 8 feet in height which must stop the progress of and contain all projectiles, fragments, and ricochets in a safe manner.
  3. “Department-designated trail” means any trail designated and posted by the department.
  4. “Clay targets,” for purposes of this chapter, refers to those targets that are commonly referred to as clay pigeons and often saucer-shaped, which are:
    1. Designed to be thrown by hand or machine, such as in skeet or trap shooting, but may also be used as stationary targets; and
    2. Designed to be easily and permanently broken by projectiles.
  5. “Biodegradable clay target” means any clay target labeled by the manufacturer as biodegradable.
  6. “Recreational target shooting” is defined for purposes of this chapter as the act of shooting projectiles for practice, sighting in, or other reasons, and involves the discharging of firearms, compressed gas or air guns, air bows, crossbows, or archery equipment. Recreational target shooting does not include the activity of lawful hunting or hunting dog training.

FAQ

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) defines recreational target shooting as the act of shooting projectiles for practice, sighting in, or other reasons, and involves the discharging of firearms, muzzleloaders, air guns, air bows, crossbows, or archery equipment. Recreational target shooting does not include lawful hunting or hunting dog training.

Currently, target shooting on WDFW-managed lands is regulated under Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Title 220 Chapter 500 Section 140: “Firearms and target practicing.” With input from stakeholders, WDFW drafted an update to its rule governing recreational target shooting on WDFW-managed lands.

The following section addresses common and anticipated questions about the draft rule update and the context for this rulemaking process.

Background

What led to this rule change proposal?

An increase in target shooting on WDFW-managed lands in recent years as well as an increase in visitors generally has created several challenges, including wildfires, concerns over public safety, and impacts to private property, littering, and damage to wildlife habitat. In addition, discrepancies with rules on adjacent state-managed lands (e.g. DNR lands) has led to confusion among shooters about the rules applicable to specific sites. The draft rule is part of an attempt to address these challenges.

What are WDFW’s goals for the rule update?

WDFW’s goals for this proposed rule update are to continue providing target shooting opportunities on WDFW lands, protect public safety and private property, reduce the risk of wildfires and other damage to habitat, and reduce confusion due to discrepancies with target shooting rules on adjacent lands.

How does the proposed rule update compare to existing target shooting rules on other Washington state lands?

The proposed rule update is based on the current rules governing recreational target shooting on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands defined in WAC 332-52-145. Like the DNR rule, it defines recreational target shooting, identifies when and where target shooting is allowed or prohibited, and defines allowable and prohibited targets for use on WDFW-managed lands. However, the proposed rule goes a step further by defining required “backstop” as “an unobstructed earthen mound or bank at least 8 feet in height which must stop the progress of and contain all projectiles, ricochets, and fragments in a safe manner.”

Why didn’t WDFW simply propose to adopt the Department of Natural Resources rule?

In working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), it became evident that the current DNR rule also has shortcomings that needed to be remedied in WDFW’s proposed rule update.

Would this proposed rule affect hunting or hunting rules?

No. The draft rule update does not affect hunting, the hunting rules, or hunting dog training.

Rulemaking Process and Timeline

What is the rule making process and when will an updated WDFW recreational target shooting rule go into effect?

WDFW rules are enacted via adoption by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission following a public process that ensures opportunities for public comment. The following State laws govern WDFW rule-making activity.

The Administrative Procedure Act (chapter 34.05 RCW) requires that agencies conduct a process that ensures public involvement opportunities and considers the economic impact of its rules.

The Regulatory Fairness Act (chapter 19.85 RCW) requires agencies to consider disproportionate impacts of rules on small businesses.

The State Environmental Policy Act (chapter 197-11 WAC) requires agencies to consider environmental impacts of rules.

WDFW hopes to have an updated recreational target shooting rule in place by late summer 2020.

Who has been involved in developing the proposed rule?

In 2017, WDFW formed a citizen advisory committee to address issues with recreational target shooting on the Wenas Wildlife Area between Yakima and Ellensburg. The Wenas Wildlife Area Target Shooting Advisory Committee was comprised of state and national interests (The Hunter’s Heritage Council, National Rifle Association), as well as neighbors and affected landowners, local law enforcement (Kittitas County Sheriff), and a broad array of recreational interests (hunters, target shooters, horseback riders, mountain bike riders, hikers, wildlife watchers, bird dog trainers, motorized users). Some local elected officials also served as ex officio members.

The advisory committee produced a December 2017 report with recommendations for addressing recreational target shooting issues and opportunities on the Wenas Wildlife Area. These include a strong recommendation to align WDFW target shooting rules with DNR rules and to develop a rule for uniform application on all WDFW-managed lands in the state. WDFW personnel expanded upon the Wenas effort to address target shooting on WDFW-managed lands statewide and will be soliciting feedback on the draft from public and private stakeholders across the state beginning in Fall 2019.

How is WDFW coordinating with DNR on this rule change?

WDFW has been in regular communication with DNR during and since the drafting of the proposed rule. DNR has expressed general support for the draft and its improvements upon the WAC governing target shooting on DNR-managed lands. The two agencies will continue working toward alignment of their rules, which is especially important where WDFW and DNR lands are interspersed.

How can the public provide comment on the proposed rule?

The public will have opportunities to comment on the proposed rule update via the formal processes required by state law (see above), via the WDFW rule-making website, or by emailing wildthing@dfw.wa.gov.

WDFW lands and enforcement

Where is target shooting allowed on WDFW lands? How will this change with the rule update?

WDFW is committed to continuing to provide opportunities for safe target shooting on WDFW-managed lands. Under the draft rule update, WDFW lands are open to target shooting at designated recreational target shooting areas and in compliance with posted regulations, as well as in other areas containing an earthen backstop and meeting other listed criteria for dispersed target shooting defined by the rule.  Targets must be placed in front of and within 8 feet of the backstop, and the person must be shooting at the lower half of the backstop. A backstop is not required while using archery equipment, crossbows, airbows, shotguns discharging shot smaller than size BB, or air rifles firing projectiles at a rate of 800 fps or less.

What will be the penalties for violating the proposed target shooting rule?

Most violations of the proposed rule update will constitute an infraction. However, some violations may constitute a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony depending on the seriousness of the violation and whether property or persons were endangered or injured by a person’s reckless discharge of a weapon. 

What will WDFW’s approach to enforcement of the rule be after it becomes effective?

WDFW understands that a change in target shooting rules may not be immediately apparent to many past users of agency-managed lands. It will be up to the discretion of the individual officer as to how an encountered violation is handled. However, our first priority will be education, especially where the violation did not present a substantial risk to person or property or was not done with malicious or reckless intent.

Specific Elements of the Rule

What is the difference between a firearm and a gun that uses air or compressed gas?

A firearm is defined in statute (RCW 9.41.010) “as a weapon or device from which a projectile or projectiles may be fired by an explosive such as gunpowder. "Firearm" does not include a flare gun or other pyrotechnic visual distress signaling device, or a powder-actuated tool or other device designed solely to be used for construction purposes.” Under this definition, guns that use compressed air or gas are not considered firearms but are included in the proposed rule update because many are now capable of high velocities and/or large caliber projectiles.

Why do backstops need to be at least 8’ in height?

Literature on the subject recommends the minimum backstop height for developed shooting ranges to be between 10 and 25 feet depending on the shooting distance, firearm type, down range topography, etc.  Implementing a minimum backstop height of 10-25’ for target shooting on WDFW-managed land could eliminate recreational target shooting in some areas where shorter backstops would be sufficient to address safety concerns.

The proposed backstop definition includes the requirement that the backstop “must stop the progress of and contain all projectiles, fragments, and ricochets in a safe manner.”  Individuals engaged in target shooting must ensure they are using a backstop at least 8’ in height that meets this requirement.  This means the backstop should be comprised of soft or loose material without larger rocks or solid rock, as well as have a face steep enough to prevent ricochets in any direction including back towards the shooter, or to the sides or over the top of the backstop.

In addition to the backstop definition, targets must be placed in front of and within 8 feet of the backstop, and the person must be shooting at the lower half of the backstop. This requirement is intended to increase the probability that the backstop will be effective at stopping all projectiles and fragments. However, individuals are ultimately responsible for utilizing an effective backstop.

What is the rationale of requiring a backstop to be used for air guns shooting projectiles at 800 feet per second (fps) or higher?

Like shotguns (commonly firing with velocities of 1000-1500 fps), air guns are capable of inflicting serious injury or death, particularly for common air gun calibers (.177 - .25) firing over 800 fps. A backstop is the most practical and effective tool to reduce that risk. Conversely, unlike shotguns, some air guns fire at low velocity (less than 800 fps) and pose a relatively small risk, thus a backstop is not necessary when safe handling practices are employed. Air guns were separated from the caliber requirement for shotguns to allow for greater flexibility in the use of “entry-level” air guns. Though not always required, use of a backstop improves safety and should be used whenever possible while recreational target shooting.

Does the rule proposal affect long range target shooting?

The proposed rule update does not limit or preclude long range target shooting, as long as the requirements in the rule are met. Individuals must utilize an unobstructed earthen backstop as defined in the rule, and also must be reasonably certain the entire area between them and the target, as well as the area beyond the target, is free of risk to person, animals, or property. Targets placed at distance and target debris must still be collected after shooting is completed at the site.

Will the rule affect areas currently being used for target shooting on WDFW-managed lands?

Areas being used for target shooting on WDFW-managed land that meet the requirements in the proposed rule update and do not pose issues related to safety, habitat, etc. may continue to be used.

Areas that do not meet proposed rule requirements, or that present safety, habitat, or other issues that cannot be eliminated or mitigated by improvements, may no longer be used. These areas may be posted closed to recreational target shooting.

Does WDFW have plans to build new or enhance existing shooting areas?

WDFW intends to develop or make minor improvements to a few areas currently being used for recreational target shooting to provide a higher quality user experience and address safety or habitat issues by directing activity to more suitable locations. Additional areas may be developed or improved in the future, subject to funding availability.

Why are there timing restrictions on the use of steel targets?

To reduce fire risk, the draft rule update prohibits the use of steel targets outside a department-designated shooting area from June 1 to September 30. WDFW will manage vegetation at department-designated shooting areas to reduce the risk of fire.

Are all clay targets biodegradable? How can the public know which are legal?

No, not all clay targets are biodegradable. Legal clay targets are labeled as biodegradable.

Why are steel core or tracer bullets not allowed?

Fires have occurred on WDFW lands from the use of these projectiles. Steel core bullets can spark when hitting a rock or steel target, so are not allowed in order to reduce the risk of fire.

How and when will WDFW address environmental issues associated with target shooting?

WDFW will address potential environmental concerns during rulemaking through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process as well as by developing environmental stewardship plans for department-designated recreational target shooting areas.

Will my family still be able to “plink” with BB guns without using a backstop?  Can aluminum cans be used as targets?

Compressed gas or air guns can be used without a backstop as long as they are not capable of shooting velocities over 800 feet per second. However, all shooters are expected to exercise safe basic firearm handling practices and be responsible in the handling and discharge of these devices. Aluminum cans, plastic bottles, etc. are not allowed to be used as targets. The proposed rule update requires targets be either commercially or privately made for the specific purpose of target shooting.