The Shooter

Forest Service dumps are for refuse disposal, not target shooting.

 Some of the challenges of my Toiyabe National Forest fire prevention guard job had nothing at all to do with wildfire prevention. Some had to do with the fact I was often the only public servant around to handle an emergency—with that sometimes gray area between assigned duty and moral obligation on what might be termed a “now or never” basis.

Once, on my way to the busy Twin Lakes recreation area, I detoured to check the Forest Service dump I’d burned a few days before. Suddenly, I heard gunshots, just as the Lone Ranger and Tonto once did at the beginning of almost every episode. What I saw as I arrived at the dump scared me.

A big, beefy, fortyish man, standing next to a late model Cadillac sedan, was firing a high-powered rifle—not at me, but at a row of cans and bottles on an earthen berm at the opposite end of the dump. He didn’t, I quickly decided, know what lay beyond the low ridge toward which he was firing and over which his bullets could fly. And he apparently didn’t know that Mono County didn’t allow shooting in the area. Somebody had to tell him before it might be too late.

“Good Morning, sir,” I managed as I climbed out of the cab of my patrol rig.

He nodded and smiled.

“What are you shooting?” followed, though his targets were obvious.

“Just plinkin’ at cans and bottles.”

“Sir, do you know what’s over that hill about a mile?” I asked, pointing toward the southeast—the same direction he’d been shooting.

“Just sagebrush, I guess. That’s all I can see from here.”

“No, sir. The Hunewill Guest Ranch is over there. I’d guess bullets from that rifle could reach there from here.”

“Too many dudes around anyway, right?” he smirked, making light of my concern.

Deciding another appeal to common sense wouldn’t hack it, I invoked the law. There was, I told him, a Mono County ordinance that prohibited shooting within the Twin Lakes basin.

“Oh, yeah? Well, we wouldn’t want to do anything illegal, would we? Guess we’ll just go shoot somewhere else.”

And with that he got into his Cadillac and drove away. I was relieved to see him gone. A few minutes later, after my heart stopped pounding, I radioed a report of the incident to the ranger station. I never saw him again, never heard anything about him.

But, most important, nobody had been hurt.

Adapted from the 2018 third edition of Toiyabe Patrol, the writer’s memoir of five U.S. Forest Service summers on the Toiyabe National Forest in the 1960s.


2 thoughts on “The Shooter”

  1. Les,
    I enjoy your posts very much. Please continue to contribute! You are a gem, my friend. Your long experience, and writing skills translate into my excitement whenever I see your posts show up on Smokey Wire.

    I always think back on that picture of you, leaning on that old FS truck, taken 60 (or so) years ago – the photo on the cover of your “Toiyabe Control” book. Please keep it up!!

    I look forward to more insights from your experience.

    Rod Skaggs

  2. A couple of thoughts… Most ranges have a berm, and if anyone is to shoot over the berm, most rifles can carry a few miles. Two very popular ranges here have houses within those few miles. One has a popular hiking trail a quarter mile behind the berm and the other has a municipal landfill just over a quarter mile away and a mile away is a huge development of over eight hundred single family houses, townhomes, apartments, primary school, and golf course.

    Most ranges have rules such that the muzzle of a loaded firearm should never point above the berm.

    Dumps are very common safe places to shoot. I remember people used to shoot rats at our dump a gazillion years ago back when every town had a dump. It’s understandable how someone might assume shooting in a dump on a National Forest was legal. It’s legal to shoot on most National Forest.

    High power rifle is the name of a type of shooting competition, not a rifle. Most rifles you are likely to see anyone shooting could be called high powered.

    Millions of people target shoot in the US. Plinking cans is very common. Senator Tester for instance, the Senior Democratic Senator for Montana stopped his car to plink at prairie dogs mid interview for the New York Times. I suppose we are a nation of gun nuts but gunfire doesn’t cause increased heartbeats in most folk, and for sure people don’t get hurt target shooting.


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