Discharging firearms on federal lands can be legal or illegal depending on the jurisdiction. If you’re looking for a place for RV boondocking where you can freely shoot your guns, be aware of what federal administrative authority governs the land you’re on…
Can I Shoot My Gun on Public Lands?
Generally speaking, you can shoot your gun on public lands on BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands. Other federal land management agencies have more strict rules, though there are exceptions.
Bureau of Land Management
Open Public Lands
The BLM has no rules against shooting guns on open public lands where dispersed camping is allowed. The BLM, however, does have rules against creating a nuisance or hazard…
(a) No person shall cause a public disturbance or create a risk to other persons on public lands by engaging in activities which include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) Making unreasonable noise; (2) Creating a hazard or nuisance;Section 8365.1-4. Public health, safety and comfort.
“Creating a hazard” could arguably be include shooting guns. With that being said, check the area in which you’re shooting at to make sure you’re not putting anyone at risk, and get enough distance from other campers.
The BLM does not allow shooting guns on developed campgrounds and recreation areas…
On developed recreation sites and areas, unless otherwise authorized, no person shall: (a) Discharge or use firearms, other weapons, or fireworks;Section 8365.2-5. Public health, safety and comfort.
U.S. Forest Service
Shooting a gun in a national forest or national grassland is permitted as long as you’re at least 150 yards from any other building, campsite, or recreation area. Moreover, shooting guns are only allowed on open areas of a national forest or grassland. Shooting is not permitted in specialized areas (wildlife preserves, archaeological sites, et al).
The following are prohibited: (d) Discharging a firearm or any other implement capable of taking human life, causing injury, or damaging property as follows: (1) In or within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area, or (2) Across or on a National Forest System road or a body of water adjacent thereto, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result in such discharge. (3) Into or within any cave.Section 261.10. Occupancy and use.
Note that some national forests have their own shooting ranges. In these cases, target shooting is limited to these ranges only.
Bureau of Reclamation
The Bureau of Reclamation permits you to fire your weapons only for hunting and fishing, and only on lands and waterbodies. They do not allow you to carry weapons on a Reclamation facility (dams, buildings, et al)…
(a) You may possess firearms, ammunition, bows and arrows, crossbows, or other projectile firing devices on Reclamation lands and waterbodies, provided the firearm, ammunition, or other projectile firing device is stowed, transported, and/or carried in compliance with applicable Federal, State, and local law, with the following exceptions: (1) You must not have a weapon in your possession when at or in a Reclamation facility. (2) You must comply with any prohibitions or regulations applicable to weapons in a special use area established by an authorized official under subpart E of this part 423. (b) You must not discharge or shoot a weapon unless you are: (1) Using a firearm or other projectile firing device lawfully for hunting or fishing as allowed under § 423.32, or at an authorized shooting or archery range; and (2) In compliance with applicable Federal, State, and local law.Section 423.30. Weapons, firearms, explosives, and fireworks.
National Park Service
The National Park Service (NPS) allows you to open-carry guns throughout national parks and monuments as long as it out on open lands. You’re not allowed to carry weapons into park facilities, buildings, parking lots, or other structures. However, you’re not allowed to discharge those guns, including target practice or hunting (unless by special permit).
(a) None of the provisions in this section or any regulation in this chapter may be enforced to prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm, including an assembled or functional firearm, in any National Park System unit if: (1) The individual is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing the firearm; and (2) The possession of the firearm is in compliance with the law of the State in which the National Park System unit is located.Section 2.4. Weapons, traps and nets.
Download the special brochure about firearms published by the National Park Service…
Army Corps of Engineers
Use of firearms and other weapons is only permitted for hunting and fishing, or at authorized shooting ranges…
(a) The possession of loaded firearms, ammunition, loaded projectile firing devices, bows and arrows, crossbows, or other weapons is prohibited unless: (1) In the possession of a Federal, state or local law enforcement officer; (2) Being used for hunting or fishing as permitted under § 327.8, with devices being unloaded when transported to, from or between hunting and fishing sites; (3) Being used at authorized shooting ranges; or (4) Written permission has been received from the District Commander.Section 327.13. Explosives, firearms, other weapons and fireworks.
The U.S. Constitution generally exempts federal agencies from state and local laws. Read more about this at, “Do State and Local Laws Apply to Federally Managed Lands“. However, each agency is still free cooperate with state and local agencies if it chooses to do so. An agency may even adopt regulations that require visitors to comply with state and local laws.
This is true with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Only the National Park Service has chosen to keep itself exempt from state and local laws.
However, the National Park Service made an exception with guns (as noted above). Park visitors are still required to comply with state laws when bringing guns into its properties.
Great article! Thank you for sharing this information. I can now practice shooting without worrying.June 23, 2022 at 8:39 am