What really happened here?
We were hiking in the Stanislaus National Forest over the weekend, following a series of old logging and mining roads above the Stanislaus River. These roads get some traffic, both from street legal and OHVs, and we were a little disappointed at the amount of trash we saw in a few places. One particularly area was a clearing at the top of the ridge, where people had obviously not only used it for target practice many times (there were targets on the trees, and shell casings all over the ground) but also dumped a mattress and other trash. Pretty sad.
We continued on, leaving the clearing on our left, as the road dropped around to the right and then curved back to the left where it crossed over the ridge about a hundred yards past the clearing. At that point there was an open gate, and it was posted by the USFS with large signs indicating that the road was closed to traffic after December 15th.
Good, we thought. We’re about to experience a bit of peace and quiet.
As we passed through the open gate, we heard a vehicle. Yep—a large white pick-up was driving along behind us, headed towards the gate. When it got to the gate, I walked back up to the truck, expecting to have a conversation about the fact that the road was closed to just those kinds of vehicles.
Only then they opened the doors, and I saw the USFS insignias there.
So we had a very nice conversation about the roads and the area—and the two USFS employees explained that there were there to close the gate for the season. They had come out two weekends ago to do the same thing, but discovered that the back side of the gate had no reflective tape. They were concerned that someone might run into it at night from the back, and so they had returned with rolls of tape. (There are some operating mines in the area, so we assumed that the miners would have access to their claims, even during the closed season?)
At any rate, after wishing each other well, we left the rangers to their taping and locking of the gate, and we wandered along the road for another mile or so.
About when turned around, we heard some shots behind us, and we guessed that someone was now using the clearing to test their firearms, or make America free. Something like that.
So we cautiously approached that section of the road, although by now the firing had ceased. We found the gate closed and locked, but with only a few strips of tape on the back side. But on the ground were rolls of reflective tape, a pair of scissors, and strips of paper backing from that tape on the gate.
So we walked back up to the clearing, and found the USFS truck there, and another SUV. The rangers were talking to the people from the SUV, who were clearly the ones doing the shooting. As we arrived, I saw a citation clipboard in one of the ranger’s hands, and she was filling something out there. Meanwhile, as we arrived, one of the men from the SUV saw us, and turned to the ranger to ask if they could start shooting again.
She told him to wait for the Sheriff to arrive.
We said hello to the rangers, reminded them that their tape and trash were down by the gate (they were on top of that) and started walking back out to our cabin. About fifteen minutes later we met two Sheriff squad cards, two officers in each, passing us and heading out to meet with the USFS rangers.
So our thoughts:
The rangers were a hundred yards down-range from the shooters, and below the horizon. I can only imagine their reaction when the shooting started. I assume that they yelled (although we didn’t hear anything) and ran back up to the clearing in their truck.
Were the shooters cited? If so, what was the citation for? Unsafe operation of a firearm? If so, how does someone at that clearing avoid violating that law? They were on top of a ridge! Even if they had walked down-range and notified the USFS team, and then waited for them to leave---they still would have had us down-range a few minutes later.
(Don’t worry---if we had heard shots on the way back, we were prepared to yell our heads off.)
There was another clearing on this same ridge, a half-mile earlier, and it clearly get used the same way. So this isn’t just a single incident or place. That are these shooters thinking? It would seem to me that there would be justification for posting something about No Shooting in these areas, since they are, by definition, unsafe.
On the other hand, on the North side of the ridge is a very well defined cut in the hill, where the road makes a tight turn into the cut. The cut makes an ideal background for target practice, and that spot gets lots of use from firearm fans. The only way to approach it is from along the road, which is always behind the shooters, as the cut is into a very steep ridge that towers over the road. So it’s not as if the shooters don’t have another place to go.
What are your thoughts?