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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Firing site now out of range

A free-for-all firing range near Coeur d’Alene has been shut down because of growing concerns over safety and litter.

The site along Fernan Lake Road, about five miles east of Coeur d’Alene, was easily accessible from Interstate 90 and heavily used by gunslingers from across the region. Most people picked up their targets and spent ammunition, but enough litter was being left behind to blacken the reputation of all responsible gun owners, said Bob Smith, director of the Fernan Rod and Gun Club, which is now managing the site.

“I’m a gun rights advocate, but I don’t advocate stupidity,” said Smith, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and a professional firearms safety trainer.

“No one has a carte blanche right to go out and blow the hell out of everything and put people into danger.”

Last week, members of the Fernan Rod and Gun Club hauled off the site 5,060 pounds of bullet-riddled trash, including paint cans, bottles, appliances, computers and televisions.

Last year, someone used an old freezer packed full of rotten food for a target. One of the sites is surrounded by steep cliffs and is a high risk for a ricochet bullet. Another informal target range straddles a mountain stream.

The shooting area is on national forest land. U.S. Forest Service Spokesman Dave O’Brien said the area has been a concern for more than a decade, but the region’s growth has pushed the issue. “This road is really one of the most popular gateways to the forest.”

Shooting remains legal and free in most areas of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, O’Brien added. There’s some concern that the closure will simply push shooters into other forest parcels near town, including an already popular site along Hayden Creek.

Some shooters have reacted angrily. One man recently left a threat on Smith’s answering machine. He’s had trouble before, however.

A few years ago Smith was punched in the head after he told a drunken man at the shooting area that a permit was required to use a machine gun. Others in the free area have fired shots down the roadway or aimed their muzzles at passing vehicles.

Only 1 or 2 percent of shooters are responsible for the trash and poor behavior, Smith estimated. But it’s enough to make all gun owners look like slobs.

“Quite frankly, if a person leaves their brass on the ground, that is irresponsible gun ownership.

It’s littering and it’s being a pig shooter – much less bringing out a TV set, propane tank or other trash and shooting it out in the middle of a creek that’s home to trout,” Smith said.

“They want to be able to have their Jack Daniels in one hand and shoot with the other and blow up things. … I’m not impressed with that attitude.”

Although the agreement with the Forest Service is not yet finalized, the Fernan Rod and Gun Club has asked for the shooting areas to be encompassed by the same permit that gives the club control over a private shooting range nearby.

The club has a special use permit from the Forest Service for the gun range – much in the same way a ski resort is given a permit to use public land. The new permit will encompass about 25 acres of land and the club will be responsible for cleanup and security.

“We took the monkey on our back,” Smith said.

The Fernan Rod and Gun Club is open to the public and offers a basic annual membership for $75, which is good for an entire family. Military and police use the target range for free. The club is also open to the public, usually on the first weekend of the month.

The Forest Service has been unable to keep up with the garbage at the site, O’Brien said. The Fernan Rod and Gun Club previously tried to increase safety in the free-shooting area by installing benches and targets. “Usually within two weekends all that stuff was destroyed,” Smith said.

“People burn the benches, burn the target posts, shoot them to hell. It’s just gone beyond our resources.”

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