This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Target shooting is supposed to be challenging, but the whole endeavor has become more complicated by a prolonged drought that can make shooting unsafe.
But, instead of rejecting or ignoring calls to take more precautions, responsible shooters should embrace new guidelines and stop using the most dangerous types of ammunition.
The Bureau of Land Management has banned the use of steel bullets for target shooting on public lands, state lands and private land in unincorporated areas.
That's the right thing to do, considering the results of a scientific experiment that show those bullets ignite dry vegetation much more readily than many people believed. They can start fires more easily than other types of ammunition.
Mark Finney, a member of the U.S. Forest Service's Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, and his research team demonstrated that copper and steel ammunition reliably ignites the type of tinder-dry fuels such as grasses that now cover most of Utah public lands.
Finney's team, shooting at targets, recorded impacts that sent fragments as hot as 1,500 degrees into dry fuels that consistently ignited.
Lead-core bullets caused ignition, but not nearly as often as bullets with steel cores or jackets. Copper bullets are primarily used for hunting, not target shooting.
Enforcement of the ban on steel ammunition will be difficult. But the findings and the BLM action should help convince target shooters to change the way they practice the sport, for the sake of public safety if not to avoid a citation and fine. State and federal fire safety officials are also advising shooters to use soft targets, aim away from dry vegetation and have water, a fire extinguisher and shovel handy.
The Utah BLM order also bans exploding targets and tracer rounds, and prohibits shooting in several areas, including the North Oquirrhs, Fivemile Pass and Utah Lake's west shore. The incendiary devices are also banned on all national forests, as well as on Utah's state and private land in unincorporated areas.
Target shooting started at least 18 wildfires in Utah last year and burned nearly 11,000 acres. Most of those fires were in Utah and Tooele counties and included the 5,507-acre Dump Fire, which threatened homes in Saratoga Springs.
This year several big wildfires are said to be human-caused and are still under investigation.
Utah and the West will continue to fight more and bigger wildfires as temperatures rise and snowpack decreases with climate change, bringing drier conditions. Utahns have to adapt to the new reality or more people will suffer.