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Recreational shooting raises concerns for property, life

A shot-up can of tire repair litters the ground at the West Santa Fe Recreation Area off Old Buckman Road. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

After numerous reports of residents hearing gunshots at all hours of the day, having bullet holes in their cars and home, and life-or-death safety concerns, the Santa Fe County Commission is looking at options to solve the recreational shooting problems near the Las Campanas community.

Despite the commission’s willingness to help residents, the problem lies mostly outside its jurisdiction. The majority of the recreational shooting near community residents is on federal land run by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which allows shooting there.

“Over the years, I have experienced bullets flying over my head,” resident Tammy Maynard said. “I have been followed home and threatened by armed individuals who are scared of the area being shut down to shooting.”

Her husband is an 18-year-veteran of the U.S. Army, she said, and just got back from his fourth deployment. The constant gunfire causes him extreme anxiety and trauma after his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She said her home has bullet holes in it and her 2-year-old can’t really play outside due to the danger. Her son learned to run into the house whenever he hears gunfire.

“Our lives are in constant danger every single day because of the shooting,” she said.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who represents District 2, said there’s no shooting range in Santa Fe County and recreational shooting has increased in these areas over the past five years.

She said the shooting is occurring way too close to people’s homes, and she saw firsthand dead cows near Alamo Creek due to recreational shooting.

“So no one is trying to take away anybody’s right. What we’re trying to do is provide a safe place for people to go shoot,” she said. “We need to provide a responsible place where gun owners can shoot.”

Considering options

Juan Rios, Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office media coordinator, said deputies do respond to calls regarding shooting on BLM land and in the Las Campanas areas. He said there isn’t much deputies can do because the shooting occurs on federal land.

He added that deputies conduct close patrols in those areas, make reports and investigate when necessary. Deputies do try to dissuade people from discharging firearms in these areas, but don’t have the authority to enforce a ban.

Pamela Mathis, Taos Field Office manager for the BLM, said the recreational shooting is an allowed use on this federal land. Mathis said the BLM has been working for the past few years on ways to improve public safety surrounding the recreational shooting in the area.

The BLM recognizes that recreational shooting is occurring close to residential areas. To address the matter, it formed a focus group, which proposed developing shooting ranges near the areas where the unsafe shooting was taking place.

“Let me be clear, there’s no ideal location on public lands for developing shooting ranges – we’re having to consider the trade-offs,” Brad Hidgon, BLM project manager, said. “Any development of shooting ranges would involve, you know, environmental consequences.”

Higdon proposed three locations for a developed target shooting range in the same area. One is near Alamo Creek close to Buckman, another is near Camel Tracks and the other is close to the San Pedro Mountains. These are also areas where recreational shooting is already concentrated.

Mathis said New Mexico Game and Fish would have to apply for a grant to fund one of these shooting ranges. Right now, the best option appears to be the Camel Track location.

What the BLM doesn’t have at this time is a private entity willing to operate a shooting range, she said.

The BLM will soon begin an environmental assessment to analyze locations for a shooting range and remediation for current shooting locations. Part of this process will include seeking input from people, tribes, shooting organizations and others.

Safe shooting

Thomas Turner, president of the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club, said shooting ranges offer more structured shooting than the kind taking place on BLM land. He said if people choose to shoot on BLM land, the shooter is responsible for the bullet.

“If I’m taking a shot on open land, I would want to know where the bullet was because you’re responsible for the bullet after it leaves the gun, and bullets can have a range of a mile easily,” he said.

At a shooting range, there are berms set up to stop the bullet after it leaves the gun, Turner said, and the range also makes sure people are shooting in a safe direction.

That being said, Turner added that shooting on BLM land can be a safe experience as long as the shooter is shooting in a safe direction and has a backstop to stop the bullet. This can mean shooting into a canyon wall, or other methods, he said.

It’s also important to be aware of the distance a bullet can travel because this changes depending on the type of gun and the caliber of bullet, he said. It’s also important for shooters to pick up after themselves because shooting areas can turn into trashy places, he said, adding that no one should be shooting at glass targets.

Thousands of used shotgun shells and rifle cartridges cover the ground at the West Santa Fe Recreation Area off Old Buckman Road near Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“I’ve gone shooting down by the volcanoes in Albuquerque … you see shot-up cars in the arroyos, or old washing machines people have left out there,” he said. “It can be kind of a trashy environment, but you can go out there, you can shoot, and if you pick up after yourself – I’m good with it.”

But not everyone picks up after themselves. The area of concern near Las Campanas is littered with spent shell casings, rifle cartridges, shot-up cans, bullet-ridden wood and metal targets, and other debris.

The BLM prohibits recreational shooting across or from roadways and in developed recreation sites, according to its website. The agency also instructs shooters to check with local states on regulations regarding exploding targets.

Jillian Aragon, public affairs specialist for the BLM, said via email that BLM New Mexico has supplementary rules that state shooters have to be at least 150 yards from a private residence or structure. They also have to have a suitable backdrop to prevent stray bullets.

“Target shooters who are not using safe shooting practices a suitable backdrop, etc.) can be contacted by a Law Enforcement Ranger and educated,” she wrote. “In cases where shooting practices are intentionally hazardous, or downright egregious, the Ranger can issue a citation for ‘creating a hazard.’ ”

Shooters are also required to clean up after themselves and may not dump any materials on public lands, Aragon said.

Public concern

However, local residents said these prohibitions do little to protect their safety.

Charles Harris, a longtime resident of Santa Fe County, said people who shoot at night on BLM land are likely the type of people who would never use a managed shooting range. These are the same people who kill cows, leave trash and shoot across fences into private property, he said, adding that all of these things have happened in his neighborhood.

“There are obviously issues that haven’t been addressed yet, but this is an earnest, welcome start,” he said. “Probably the most serious admission is the lack of planning to deal with those currently abusing the public trust.”

Ralf Fahrenbach, who bought his land in Tierra Nueva with his wife eight years ago, faced similar issues.

He used to be able to hike, ride his bike and walk his dogs on his property and on BLM land near his house. But he says he can’t do that any longer. Recreational shooters have begun to shoot beer bottles, dump trash and shoot in the direction of his property.

“My house has been hit. My car has been hit. I’ve seen dead dogs in the morning from the nights of shooting before,” he said. “When I’m in my kitchen or in my dining room, I can see the muzzle flashes that instigates an instinct to drop to the ground, to take cover, and all of that has led to the fact that my wife and I don’t live there any more. It’s too dangerous.”

The couple moved and now live on the East Coast, he said.

Chip Munday, general manager of Las Campanas Homeowners Association, said another area not mentioned by the BLM is the Camino Real trailhead.

He said recreational shooters are very active in that area, causing safety concerns for hikers, as well as environmental concerns.

“We’re very concerned about the environmental impacts; you can’t go out there without seeing shell casings, furniture, appliances and all kinds of debris,” He said. “But also the people using the Camino Real trail, and you can’t go outside on any day of the year and not hear gunfire.”