Guns don’t destroy public lands, but reckless people with guns sure can.

No Shooting sign on Mt Lemmon/Ryn Gargulinski

We find evidence of this in parts of Ironwood National Monument, where target shooters have been turning the area’s natural beauty into a garbage dump, according to a news release from Friends of Ironwood Forest.

Located 25 miles northwest of Tucson, the park’s 129,000 acres contain several desert mountain ranges, the biggest collection of Ironwood trees in the Sonoran Desert – and enough debris to choke a google of goats.

“The shootists trample on and damage sensitive soils and vegetation,” the release notes. “They use the saguaro cacti and other species as backstops for their targets. And they leave behind ‘tons’ of shotgun shells and casings – along with the objects of their ‘plinking’ or bullet shots – TVs, computers, household appliances, water heaters, bowling pins, real estate and political signs, stuffed animals, kid’s toys, even a propane gas tank that apparently was shot at in hopes it would explode.”

On top of the mounting trash and debris,” the release adds, “the shooting has become a safety concern. While no one has been hurt, there have been some close calls.”

Any debris is fair game for some target shooters/Ryn Gargulinski

Reformed target shooter speaks out

One Tucson man, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, grew up in the wilds between Willcox and Douglas and admits he was as reckless with a gun as they come.

“We’d shoot up glass bottles, a couple of old, beat-up cars, paint cans filled with paint that would drip down like blood,” he said of his target shooting days. “It’s mostly stuff you find out there.”

While he never shot at a mighty saguaro, he did admit to shooting up barrel cactus. “You couldn’t even tell. I don’t know what it looks like now, but you couldn’t tell at the time.”

Now in his early 50s, our reformed target shooter easily offers several explanations why folks would leave a trail of shot-up debris.

“‘My one shattered bottle isn’t going to wreck the environment,’ is how you think when you’re younger,” he said. “When you’re in your teens or 20s you don’t care. You become more environmentally conscious as you get older.”

Having a galpal also helps, he noted. Once he got married, our shooter man switched from blasting away glass bottles to shooting cola cans he could collect and remove when the shooting fun was done. He said they even had a can crusher in their backyard and would turn in the cans for recycling.

“Women have a big input into this,” he said of becoming environmentally aware. “‘You’re not going to leave that mess,’ they tell you.”

The two have since divorced for reasons beyond tin cans.

One more factor leading to widespread target shooter destruction is perhaps the scariest.

“Some folks with guns just don’t give a damn,” he says.

“The people who shoot up the ‘No Shooting’ signs, leave beer cans everywhere – that’s generally a statement on their entire being, not just their shooting.”

In responsible hands, guns are useful for protection, essential for some hunting. In reckless hands, they can destroy people, lives – and public lands.

Volunteer Cleanup at Ironwood National Monument on National Public Lands Day

Who: Friends of Ironwood Forest, Tucson Audubon Society, the Town of Marana, and the Bureau of Land Management
What: Clean up target shooting site and remove buffelgrass at Ironwood Forest National Monument as part of National Public Lands Day
When: 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Sept. 25
Where: Ironwood Forest National Monument – El Cerrito Represso
Register online, get driving directions at or call Friends of Ironwood at 628-2092


What do you think?

Have you seen evidence of reckless target shooting?

Have you been the cause of reckless target shooting?

Have you ever been the target of reckless target shooting?

What’s the worst destruction you’ve seen on public lands?