Is Shooting At Trees Safe?


There is nothing better than going out into the forest (BLM Land), and target shooting with your friends and family. While it is nice to be out in nature shooting, there is much more that you have to watch out for. When you are at a standard range, they take precautions for you and you have targets that you can hang up, and also walls in between you and the people next to you shooting. We wanted to put this up for anyone that does use the national forest to shoot, and if hanging your targets on a tree, bushes, and foliage is actually okay for both you and the environment.

Is shooting at trees safe? Shooting at trees is not a safe practice, and harming or destroying trees is illegal in the US. Shooting into trees can cause a ricochet to occur which can cause your bullet to come back and hit you, or someone you are shooting with. You also damage the tree and could cause it to die, or have serious issues that could cause it to stop further growth. Always follow all of the US Forest Department guidelines before you go out and set up targets in the national forest.

Will It Ricochet?

Shooting at a tree can cause the bullet to ricochet off and change direction. While trees are softer than rocks and metal, they still can cause your bullet to bounce and sometimes come back at you. This is extremely important because when you shoot, you might not be by yourself, so you need to always check your surroundings. Depending on how close you are to the tree, and what type of gun you are shooting, there is a risk of your bullet changing direction to come back at you which could cause you, or your friends and family to be shot by the stray bullet causing injury or worse. If you are extremely close, you could run the risk of also having the tree splinter off in your direction causing some nasty cuts and splinters.

Hurting The Trees

Trees are of course living things, so just like if you shot a real person, shooting at a tree can injure it. While you might not think this is a big deal, there is a US law that prevents you from harming trees and foliage, which could land you a hefty fine, and possible jail time. While trees cannot scream or cry in pain, they can stop producing fruit, seeds, and even oxygen which is an integral part of the ecosystem. There could also be wildlife living in the tree, and if you shoot it and it dies, the wildlife might have to move, especially if the tree dies and falls over. While we do not want to tell you what to do, at least think of what you might be doing when you shoot at a tree.

Does They Type Of Tree Matter?

There are a ton of different types of trees in our national forests. Cedar, Pine, Oak, Redwood, and many other types living in our BLM land. It typically will not matter what type of tree you shoot into, but there are some types of trees that have a “harder” wood core than others, so your chances of ricochet might go up depending on what you shoot at. Oak trees tend to be much more hardwood than a cedar tree. Keep in mind that the softer the tree is, the more of the tree might get injured and you could possibly cause it to fall, which could injure you. Make sure that no matter what you shoot at, you are at a very safe distance from harm.

Can I Shoot At A Fence?

Most state laws say that you cannot shoot anywhere near a home or occupied structure by at least 150 yards. With that in mind, if you do live near a forest or on acreage, it is not a very good idea to shoot at a fence. Shooting at a fence will be less likely to ricochet, but will tear up your fence quickly. Anything larger than a bb gun will most likely go right through the fence and will not be stopped. If you have neighbors or something important behind your fence, I would use extreme caution when hanging a target on your fence. Even if you are shooting a bb gun, you might find that there are holes or bb’s stuck in your fence when you are done shooting.

Safety Measures

We found a great video from the US Forest Service that goes into the safety of shooting in national forests, and how you can better protect yourself and others from harm. Check it out below.

Where Should I Put My Target?

When picking a spot to shoot, make sure that you have a backstop which a wall of loose dirt. You need to make sure there are no big rocks or anything that could cause the bullet to ricochet off of. You can use PVC piping or you can buy a target holder that will be up off the ground and will have very little chance of ricochet. You want to keep your target below the top of the backstop so that there is no way of it going too far. There are a ton of options online for target holders, so there is no reason why you would ever need to use a tree to hold your target.

Does The Caliber Matter?

When thinking about tree damage and ricochet, the higher the velocity of the bullet, the more chance you have for it to bounce or ricochet. Shotguns will probably have the lowest ricochet because they are a scattergun, and the lead pellets are normally pretty soft. The problem with this is that shotguns will do a lot more damage to the tree causing it do die or fall. The typical bullets you will want to use extreme caution with are going to be 9mm, 45, 22, and larger caliber guns. High powered rifles might actually go completely through the tree causing it to hit something else.

What About Hunting In Trees?

You might be wondering about hunting game in trees like squirrels and birds. This is typically a lot safer because you are not shooting directly at the tree itself, but rather something sitting on a smaller branch. While you might miss and hit a branch, this will have a lot less impact on the overall health of a tree. Hunting animals in trees should be fine as long as you do not shoot at the tree on purpose, but you still need to be very careful about what might be behind what you are shooting. bullets can travel a very long way, so watch where you aim.

What About Bushes And Plants?

While you might not think it’s a big deal hanging a target up, on a tree, you can still injure the wildlife around you, which is technically against the law. The chance of ricochet will go down, but the health of the forest will also go down as well. It is never a good idea to prop or hang a target up near or around living vegetation in the forest.

Can I Shoot From A Tree?

Shooting from a tree is actually very safe, and is very popular when hunting. You will find that there is a lot of tree blinds for both deer and turkey. This gives the hunter a great advantage and a better view point for him to hit their game. Shooting from a tree should have very little ricochet unless you are shooting at a tree that is very close to you. Please be aware that you still need to watch out for your surroundings so that the bullet does not endanger another human.

Final Thoughts

There are tons of options for target shooting in your national forest other than hanging targets up, on a tree. Always be aware of your surroundings and find a safe spot for you and your friends to shoot without causing any damage to the forest or them. Find a nice place with a good backstop so that it will stop your bullets and not have any issues of ricochet. Always clean up your mess, and never leave any targets or used bullet casings in your spot when you leave, and above all else, go out and enjoy yourself!

Terry Minton

I am the owner of Fast Cast Rods. I live in the mountains of Northern California where I love to be outdoors hunting, fishing, camping and hiking with my wife and three awesome kids.

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