June 24, 2005

Field Report From Left Hand Canyon

Left Hand Canyon is still open for target shooting. (For the background on this look here.)

That's the entrance to the shooting area at Left Hand Canyon just outside of Boulder, Colorado. Here's a close up of the sign:

If you can't read it then your eyes are perfectly normal. All I had with me was a very cheap low quality camera. The signs more or less say that shooting within 150 yards of a road is prohibited, as well as shooting a live tree, or shooting within 150 yards of a campsite or occupied area.

So the range at Left Hand Canyon is still open. There's a place just before the range where shooting is prohibited & it wouldn't be too difficult to think that that was the place someone thought was the range in Left Hand Canyon. Here's a pic of the sign there:

I stopped by the Boulder Rifle Club & talked to a few folks on the 200 yard range (one of which I had seen shoot a Garand in High Power matches & the one he had today was stocked in a nice nutmeg laminate) & they said that a place called Slaughterhouse Gulch just outside of Bailey, Colorado had been closed to shooting recently. I was planning on going up there tomorrow but it looks like I don't have to. (Note: the date on that is December 10th, 2004)

That's Pike National Forest though & the ones I'm trying to check up on are mainly in Boulder County, which would be the Arapahoe National Forest. Still, closing down a shooting range under those circumstances is not a good thing. First of all the reasons, if true are a horrible reflection on gun owners in that area. But since I never believed in judging an entire group by the actions of a few I can't say closing the range down was justified. Regardless of my take on things most people see group punishment as acceptable. Most will see this as an understandable closure.

However I found something interesting that gives a little more detail. This is a .pdf of The Flume - The Park County Republican & Fairplay Flume to be exact - from October 29th, 2004. (The Flume's site can be found here.) The first article is called "Residents: sitting ducks?" (no bias there) & tells about residents being discontent with recreational shooting in Slaughterhouse Gulch. It was written by Lora Abcarian who also has an editorial that starts on page 16 urging the Forest Service to close the area to shooting.

The article alleges numerous people have complained about "...bullets coming at people and their homes... the smell of burned gunpowder at homes near the recreational shooting area has been detected causing homeowners to become alarmed...some recent incidents have resulted in near misses. Proximity of target shooting to residential homes and ricocheting of bullets in a downhill direction have the residents feeling like moving targets..."

More from the article:

"Resident John Van Doren said he no longer feels safe riding his horse in the national forest. 'We ride along and then here comes Piccollo Pete,' he said about stray gunfire. Jaimi Gray says she no longer jogs in the area and is fearful for her safety as well as that of her canine companions.' It’s only a matter of time before someone is injured,' stated Nancy Aiden. 'Not only do the shooters have privileges over everyone else with regard to use of the forest, they also have privilege over mine and my neighbors’ enjoyment of their own yards and feeling of safety within our homes.' Debbie Baum now wears blaze orange when she goes for a walk."

Not exactly a pro-gun crowd, but they have a few legitimate complaints, namely being projectiles hitting their homes. Oh wait - they never claimed their home shad been hit, just that bullets had been coming at them. Actually there could be cause for concern if what one resident claims is true:

"Van Doren said... target shooters are setting up random ranges with no backstops or adequate field of vision."

Now I'll be the first to admit I wouldn't mind living next to a shooting range & also the first to admit that I wouldn't want to live next to a shooting range if my house was the secondary, let alone primary backstop. But this could be addressed quite simply through two actions: the first being to post signs detailing the directions it's safe to shoot in & the other being enforcement of those rules. Closing down the range is not called for under theses circumstances; enforcing the rules of using the national Forest is.

But something else interesting turns up in the same article:

"Van Doren said access to a shooting area with a safe backstop along Forest Road 101 was closed by USFS."

So there was a range with a safe backstop but it was closed (I assume around 1999 from the tone of other comments of Van Doren but possibly later than that) so shooters gravitated towards the area in question. No explanation of the previous closure is given but it'd be interesting to find out why that one was closed & why it hasn't been re-opened.

Shooters have a lot of opposition when it comes to using the National Forest Residents don't like it for numerous reasons (the noise, the real or imagined fear of being hit by stray gunfire & apparently the smell of gunpowder), other forest users (such as horse riders, mountain bikers & ATV'ers) feel (again real or imagined) unsafe using certain areas (plus certain of those user groups have wanted shooting areas opened up for their use, necessitating closing it to shooting) & some law enforcement (including certain rangers) would rather people didn't shoot in the forest.

& let's face it: shooters don't enough to help our image. Left Hand Canyon is trashed. Shotgun shells line the valley with paper targets, computers metal & plastic downrange. when I was up there today it looked cleaner than it had, namely due to the efforts of a group of people, a few of whom don't even use Left Hand Canyon to shoot in!

When I was there today I talked with a few people who were there shooting (as a group). As they were ready to leave I asked if they needed any help with their trash. they said they had grabbed all of their own so I started picking up some ammo boxes which upon closer inspection weren't theirs (different cartridges than the firearms they had). One of the helped me grab a few boxes. Before when I was up there I've seen people pick up after themselves on their own; pick up after themselves after I explained why they should, & one group of guys promising they'd come back in a minute to pick up their boxes (an hour later I hauled their boxes out).

My point is that while closing the ranges is wrong we're giving the Rangers the excuse they need. We need to be better about teaching other shooters the how's & why's of shooting safely, responsibly & cleaning up after their damn selves. Now ore than ever we need places where people can learn to shoot & anything we can do to help that we should attempt. i don't know how many Colorado readers visit here but I'll try to post dates for various range clean ups as I become aware of them. I'd encourage those out of the area or out of state to try to spend a few hours a year cleaning up a public range on public land. Even if you don't use it there are those among us who for whatever reason don't belong to a range & public land is the only viable option for them to practice their marksmanship. If we want to build a Nation of Riflemen I'm afraid that means picking up a little trash & teaching others to do so as well.

So far the range in Nederland is the only one that anyone can verify is closed. I honestly don't know how many ranges there are on National Forest land in Boulder County or where to find any but two of them (& I'm iffy on exactly where the one in Nederland is). I'll try to hit some local message boards & see what I can find out (which I should have done earlier in the week but I wasn't thinking) but if any of you knows anything about any public ranges in Arapahoe National Forest please let me know.

Also there's a public meeting on June 30th at 5:00pm at the Boulder Ranger
District Office (2140 Yarmouth Ave, Boulder, 303-541-2500)
. It's just outside of Boulder past the Boulder Rifle Club (which can't be seen from Highway 36 unfortunately as it's a nice range). I'll try to be there if I'm able or have someone there for me to let us know what's going on.

Posted by Publicola at June 24, 2005 05:32 AM

Almost 50 years ago we used to take our children day-camping along Left Hand Canyon north of Boulder where we lived at the time. We now live in Washington DC, but plan a trip back to Boulder to see what it's like now. I don't remember how to get to Left Hand Canyon and wonder if someone can give me directions so that we can visit that formerly favorite spot.
Thanks. Al Branigan

Posted by: Al Branigan at August 15, 2005 10:44 AM

How long has the shooting range in Lefthand Canyon existed?

Posted by: Gary at August 25, 2005 05:37 PM

It was there in 1991 and by the looks of the piles of shot-up car parts it had been there a while.

Posted by: ROB at November 7, 2005 08:55 AM
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