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Can You Shoot A Gun in the woods or other secluded locations?

Where Can You Legally Shoot Firearms?

The relative dearth of other humans may lead a person to wonder "can I shoot a gun in the woods"? The same question, of course, applies in other locations that are sparsely populated, such as in the backyard in rural areas and so on.

The answer is: maybe.

This is not intended to be legal advice (and should not be taken as such) but rather as a discussion of a general principle regarding the legal discharge of firearms based on publicly available information. Laws can and do vary by location, so make sure you review the applicable statutes for your state, county and city closely to determine what the law is for you.

We'll go over the information you need to look for, and a few other fun questions about where you can shoot.

That said…

Can I Shoot A Gun In The Woods?

Can you shoot a gun in the woods? Maybe. Define "the woods."

Thing about whether you can fire a gun in "the woods" is that it depends on just who controls said parcel of forest and where it's located.

As a general rule, gunfire within city limits is prohibited unless at an actual gun range (indoor vs. outdoor, it doesn't matter) or in legal defense of yourself and/or others.

Shooting in the woods

Once you're outside city limits...that's where it starts to get a little tricky.

If you're on a piece of wooded property that's otherwise legal to shoot on that you own, rent or otherwise have permission to shoot on, then you're in the clear.

What about state lands, Bureau of Land Management lands, national forests, national parks, state forests and the like? That's a whole other ballgame.

going shooting in national parks

National parks generally prohibit the discharge of firearms. Though it's legal to carry, shooting is prohibited unless in self-defense or engaged in a lawful hunting activity where applicable. (Some national parks have culls of certain wildlife as well.) Whether you can shoot on BLM land depends on the patch of BLM land you're on. Some are zoned for shooting (usually those BLM parcels zoned for hunting) and others are not; it depends on the parcel.

State lands and state parks likewise depend on whether the state land or state park is statutorily or administratively designated as somewhere you can shoot. It might be, it might not.

National forests likewise have varying policies. Often enough, shooting will be allowed in designated areas such as a certain minimum distance away from campsites; the US Forest Service mandates "at least 150 yards from a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation area or occupied area." Shooting across roads or bodies of water are strictly prohibited, and there may restrictions on the type of target.

Going shooting in a national forest
Don't use tannerite in forests

And in case you're wondering, the use of Tannerite is often verboten in wilderness areas. We cannot stress enough how much you need to not use it there. Yes, we know, it's fun and we've shot some ourselves here at Alien Gear in a controlled environment. You hear about all those wildfires engulfing the western states this year? At least one - the 46,000+ acre Sawmill fire near Tuscon, Ariz. - was reportedly linked to recreational use of Tannerite.

The cost of fighting that fire? About $5 million, according to the Arizona Daily Star, and that's far from the only one. If you can find a good rock pit and so on, okay, but please keep it out of the woods.

Tannerite Explosive
shooting targets in a national forest

If you're looking for a woodsy place to send a few rounds downrange, BLM lands and national forests are the best bet when it comes to federal lands. While not all areas are necessarily open to shooting, there are likely parts within parcels of BLM or national forest territory that are.

Make sure you find out BEFORE setting off for some target practice if the nearby national forest or BLM parcel is indeed zoned for shooting, and also where it's legal to do so while there.

Also, don't be that guy. Pick up your brass and pack out any other trash. (We might also mention NO TANNERITE, unless it's in a controlled, responsible manner in a controlled environment.) Public lands belong to all of us, so treat them as such.

Can I Shoot In My Backyard?

Whether you can shoot in your backyard comes down to your local ordinances, so know them by heart before opening up on your favorite target, paper or otherwise.

Though if you need a paper target, you can download and print as many Alien Gear 8" x 11.5" printable targets as you want.

Home-made backyard shooting range

That said, there are a few things to look for in local ordinances.

First, it depends on what type of area you reside in. Depending on the state, the law may differ in how it applies to what type of incorporated community you reside in, such as a city, town or township, village, hamlet and so on. The law may also differ for unincorporated communities as well.

However, a common general rule in your state regs that dictate where recreational shooting can take place. One of the most common is that of a minimum distance. In other words, you must be X feet from any buildings of any sort to target shoot. In, for instance, Massachusetts and Washington state, any target shooting must be done 500 feet from any buildings or otherwise outside of city limits.

That said, some statutes may apply only to hunting - such as Michigan's ordinance mandating any hunting be done at least 150 yards from any structure - and others may apply to recreational shooting as well.

Some states leave it entirely to municipalities, so be sure to check your local laws.

So, can you shoot in your backyard? Depends on where your backyard is. Live in the country with lots of land, a good backstop and the neighbors are a mile away? You might be good. In the suburbs? That's a pretty resounding "no."

Check your local, county and state regulations, and double-check with local law enforcement.

A private backyard range

They'll be able to give you a better idea.

Could I Shoot A Gun Near Or In Water?

Shooting a gun IN water is definitely possible! It's been done a lot. In fact, check out this formerly viral video from YouTube:

However, can you shoot on or near a body of water? Generally, no. Virtually every state in the union forbids discharge of firearms over a body of water due to the danger of ricochet as bullets will skip over the surface.

The only exception is if one is engaged in a lawful hunting activity, so waterfowlers are an exception. However, most states also mandate the use of non-toxic shot for duck or goose hunting (meaning bismuth or steel pellets) so leave the lead at home.

On the ocean, the maritime law of the nation whose waters you inhabit govern, so look those up. That said, once you're 200 nautical miles from shore, those are international waters and no laws apply...in a sense.

Shooting clay targets off of a cruise ship

Could A Gun Fire In Space?

Firing a gun in space

Could a gun fire in the vacuum of space?! Do we dare disturb the universe, constantly risking absurdity with where we shoot guns?

As a matter of law, space itself is treated as international waters, or at least international territory. (You've seen "The Martian," right?) Any vessel traveling in international waters technically has to act in accordance with the laws of the nation the vessel is flagged for (i.e. an American ship must abide by American maritime law whilst in international waters) but it's essentially a legal "no man's land," unless a vessel engages in criminal acts. At that point, any vessel that can do something about it can do so, regardless of where the offending vessel is flagged.

Since no nation's laws apply, you can...legally.

What about physically? Will a gun work in the vacuum of space?

Actually...yes. Thing about modern ammunition is that modern smokeless powders actually have their own oxidizer, so the primer will ignite the powder and the gun WILL fire in a vacuum. That's why guns work underwater as well.

Smokeless ammunition

The force of the gunshot will also work on you. Presuming you hold a pistol whilst wearing a spacesuit in orbit around the Earth, the bullet will leave the barrel at...whatever the velocity of the round is; say 830 feet per second if firing standard 230-grain ball in .45 caliber...and that force will push you in the opposite direction, as per Newton's Third Law.

Granted, it won't be with much force. A tiny projectile with very little mass will go that fast; a person, plus suit, will only be propelled at a rate of centimeters per second.

Can I Shoot A Gun In My House?

Can you shoot a gun in your house? Most likely not, unless you live way out in the middle of nowhere. Even then, the rule of minimum distance would likely apply, so if your state or county of residence regulates a minimum shooting distance that's a no-go.

But really, shooting indoors is just a bad idea. Dry fire practice, okay, but otherwise it should never be done as doing so is definitely not in accordance with proper gun safety.

And there's never a good excuse for not being safe with firearms.

However, if shooting in self-defense, the mere act of shooting would be justified by grounds of necessity in that instance.

shooting a gun in your house
Sam Hoober
 

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.