A question that often comes up throughout the year, but especially in the summer months, is what are the laws for safe target practice. Likewise, a common call for service, especially in the summer months, is in relation to folks shooting and or noise complaints regarding target practice.
The most often asked question is, "Is it legal for me to target practice with a firearm on my own land?" In most cases, the answer is, "Yes, it is legal but with a variety of considerations." You must consider the backstop of where you are shooting into. Your backstop needs to be able to safely stop the caliber of bullet that you are shooting and be in a safe direction from structures, utilities and other potential dangers. You should also consider ricochet and other dangers, including knowing what is beyond your target and the distance and velocity that your caliber could travel. Most sport shooters are aware of these considerations and do take proper precautions to safely target practice on private lands. In these instances, you can enjoy a few rounds of target practice without having to go to a formal gun range.
Another consideration is knowing and understanding local ordinances. Cass County does not have an ordinance pertaining to target practice; however, certain municipalities or townships could have specific ordinances that need to be followed. Often, the time of day to legally target practice is specified "during daylight hours only" and ensuring that the target practice is being done in a safe manner with several safety precautions outlined.
If our office gets called to a report of target practicing or shooting complaint, we will do a variety of things. We will check to ensure that your backstop and direction of shooting is being done in a safe manner. We will advise you of the complaint and may ask that you stop for the day depending on the time of day and a variety of factors. If you are following laws and completing the practice in a safe manner, your practice is legal. We would ask that you take neighbors that could be affected into consideration and limit your practice during daylight hours only.
If you plan to target practice on public lands, you need to research to be sure it is legal and not within a game refuge or prohibited area etc. A good information resource is MN Statute 97B, Subd. 7.
While target practicing or hunting, we would like to remind you about the 10 Commandants, as outlined by the MN DNR Safety Training Course:
• Watch that muzzle! Keep it pointed in a safe direction at all times.
• Treat every firearm with the respect due a loaded gun. It might be loaded, even if you think it isn't.
• Be sure of the target and what is in front of it and beyond it. Know the identifying features of the game you hunt. Make sure you have an adequate backstop-don't shoot at a flat, hard surface or water.
• Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. This is the best way to prevent an accidental discharge.
• Check your barrel and ammunition. Make sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions and carry only the proper ammunition for your firearm.
• Unload firearms when not in use. Leave actions open and carry firearms in cases and unloaded to and from the shooting area.
• Point a firearm only at something you intend to shoot. Avoid all horseplay with a gun.
• Don't run, jump or climb with a loaded firearm. Unload a firearm before you climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch. Pull a firearm toward you by the butt, not the muzzle.
• Store firearms and ammunition separately and safely. Store each in secured locations beyond the reach of children and careless adults.
• Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during shooting. Also avoid mind and/or behavior-altering medicines or drugs.
If you are not able to legally or safely target practice on your property, there are a variety of shooting ranges located throughout Minnesota. Individual ranges provide many opportunities for a shooter, based on a number of variables. These variables include:
• Size of range: how much land is under the control of the range operator?
• Types of shooting venues offered?
• Is it an indoor or outdoor range?
• Open to the public or a private use-only range?
• Archery or firearms?
• If an outdoor firearms range, is it for rifle/pistol or the various shotgun sports?
• If an archery range, does it have a walking course or is it a target line range?
• If it's a game preserve, does it also have a shooting range?
• Proximity to human population and/or extensive residential development?
We strongly encourage you to research legal and safe target practice and hunting regulations provided by the MN DNR at www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/tips/enforcement.html.
If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.