As you may already know, California is wildfire-prone, burning over 1.3 million acres in 2021. Many of these acres are national forests, including the Dixie fire, which scorched 963,309 acres. The reason California has such devastating fires is largely due to severe drought, mismanaged forests, and human factors, such as PG&E or irresponsible recreation.
Unfortunately, along with millions of acres of destroyed animal habitat on both public and private hunting lands, the freedoms that we once enjoyed are burned with it. Each summer, the U.S Forest Service limits or closes more and more tails. Sierra Pacific Industries, the state’s largest private land owner, has closed its land to recreation to prevent fires. This severely limits the areas open to hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking.
Although outdoors men and women may be the ones losing freedoms, we are rarely the cause of major wildfires in CA. Many fires are started by Pacific Gas and Electrics faulty equipment, natural occurrences such as lightning, and power equipment such as lawnmowers. Every once in a while, however, fires are started by everyday people like you or I, simply target practicing or hunting.
Be honest with yourself, do you think about starting a fire every time you pull the trigger?
Deer hunting season in California starts with bow season in August, turning rifle season in September. This happens to be right in the middle of prime fire season. While starting fires with a bow is rare, it’s inherently more common with firearms. Here at Hunting California, were not telling anyone how to conduct themselves, but naturally, as hunting enthusiasts, we want to do our part to prevent any disaster that can cause harm to our already fragile hunting seasons.
To that end, we have composed hunting and shooting safety checklist to help educate people and prevent wildfires. After all, we’re all in this together, and one less spark could mean one less wildfire.
5 Shooting Safety Tips to Prevent Wildfires
Preventing fires is the best way to combat them. The following are helpful tips to reduce or eliminate the potential of sparks or embers starting wildfires. At the least, keep these target shooting safety tips in mind on your next trip to the forest or hunting trip.
1. Target Location Should Be Dirt
Selecting the right location for your target is key. Targets should be set in the dirt, with dirt backstops. Simply setting your targets on rocks or dry vegetation is not a good idea. Califonia has experienced severe drought over the last decade, and fuel moisture is dangerously low. The probability of ignition increases even further when dealing with winds and high temps.
While hunting, do your best to take your shot a the right moment. Shooting game with rocks directly behind them should be discouraged. If possible, wait for your game to walk into a safe shooting window. If anything, this adds to the endless pursuit of practicing responsible hunting.
2. Target Type and Style
The type of target, or the target’s materials, has a large impact on whether it will create sparks or now. Steel targets have the potential to create sparks. Using paper or rubber targets will drastically decrease spark potential. Clay pigeons are another great option for targets. You don’t always have to shoot them out of the air. Simply setting them in front of dirt backstops makes a fantastic target. You can find very affordable fire-safe targets that will eliminate the threat of spark and ricochet.
Non-Steel targets will be lighter than steel as well. This makes hiking or packing targets more user friendly. You can use all the same ammunition on rubber While this may be useful when target shooting while hunting in California, lead-free ammunition must be used. As responsible hunters, this adds complexity to taking the perfect shot. As stated earlier, if possible, wait to take a safer shot when an animal is not standing in front of rocks or outcroppings.
3. Fire Safe…er Ammunition
Along with the incendiary target safety mentioned above, tracer rounds or exploding ammunition are extremely dangerous. Using these rounds will produce higher fire danger than traditional ammunition. Again, I feel like this should be self explanatory.
Utilizing lead-core ammunition is ideal when practicing shooting safety in reards to wildfire. Steel and copper are most likey to produce sparks when hitting rocks or steel targets.
4. Consider Weather when target shooting
A lesser known concern when thinking about shooting safety, but still extremely important, is the weather. Heat, wind, and fuel type all contribute to a spark’s ignition and ultimately the spread of a wildfire. Dry, hot summer days when temperatures reach the high 90s or 100 degrees or more outside fuels dry out faster. This creates a more receptive fuel bed to a spark.
Wind acts as an accelerant to fire, feeding it oxygen. The faster the wind blows, the more oxygen is fed into a wildfire. The direction of the wind matters as well. At times in California, North winds come off the high desert pushing downhill, creating pressure, which creates faster, dryer, and hotter wind. In southern California, the Santa Anna winds are usually a dominant contributor to large-scale fires.
Consider these factors when deciding to go shooting or target practice. Can you wait one more day for the weather to change?
5. Be Prepared for Fire Suppression
So you decide to go out and practice with a few of your favorite firearms. You take all the precautions in the world, and yet, you spark a small fire in the vegetation.
What do you do if you start a wildfire when shooting?
- Quickly use water or a shovel to attempt a fast extinguishment.
- Call 911 immediately. Have a second person call 911 while you attempt to extinguish the small fire.
- If the fire grows too fast to extinguish, stay on the phone with the 911 dispatcher and leave the area.
- Make sure firefighters have clear directions to the fire. Use flagging as another means of marking.
- Do NOT hide, run away, or falsify what happened. Accidents happen, do the right thing and standby to decide the location for the proper authorities to come and speak with you. Cooperation will surely go a long way.
Additionally, there are a few tools that may aid in a quick extinguishment of a wildfire. They don’t take a lot of room and could mean all the difference in the world.
- Shovel or Pulaski – Shovels can be used to fling dirt onto the flames. A fire Pulaski has both a cutting and scraping edge to remove surface fuels.
- 5 Gallons of water – A bucket is better than nothing, but an Indian bag with a pump is ideal. It straps to your bag and has a wand that you can utilize to squirt the edges of a fire. This is exactly what firefighters use when a fire hose is not available.
- Phone or Radio – Having a phone or another means of notifying emergency responders is a good idea anytime you are in the woods. Cell phone, sat phone, ham radio, or a GPS with emergency responder notification are all great ideas.
Shooting Safety & Preventing Wildfires
While shooting firearms recreationally or hunting can be enjoyable, it is important to remember that there is always the potential for danger. In order to minimize the risk of starting a wildfire, it is crucial to follow some basic safety guidelines stated above. utilizing these five simple precautions and shooting safety tips, we can prevent fires that ruin lives, destroy habitat, and limit the available public hunting areas that we, as outdoor enthusiasts, are determined to protect not only for the next hunting season but for generations to follow in our footsteps.