Driving to your hunting or fishing destination, especially when you are on side roads or dirt roads, how often do you see roadside signs that have been turned into shooting targets? Too often!

Unless you were there when the shooting took place, it’s hard to say just why someone decided to pulverize a sign with a gun. Regardless, there are three good reasons why it shouldn’t be done.

Safety

A steel sign may stop a pellet from a pellet gun. Shotgun pellets will be stopped, but otherwise the bullet continues far after going through the sign, and the sign will influence its trajectory. The following statistics on the maximum range of ammunition provided by the California Rifle and Pistol Association gives some perspective.

Zone of Danger for Common Firearms

Rifles

  • .22 LR: 4,870 feet
  • .30-.30 Winchester: 11,600 feet
  • .30-06: 17,000 feet

Pistols

  • .38 Special: 5,000 feet
  • 9mm Luger: 5,700 feet
  • .357 Magnum: 7,100 feet

Common shotguns, 12 gauge

  • No. 8 shot: 720 feet
  • No. 4 shot: 910 feet
  • 00 buck: 1,830 feet
  • Slug: 2,450 feet

Anyone who has a hunting license should know about the zone of danger from his or her firearms. Even with the best instruction, when someone says that a gun can travel such and such a distance, it’s not easy to judge just how far that may be. The best way that I know how to comprehend what the maximum zone of danger of a gun is to get in your car, mark the place and the odometer reading, and start driving. When you’ve traveled as far as the bullets from your gun can carry, stop and look back. Fix that distance in your mind and carry it around as a reminder whenever you consider firing your gun.

The cost of replacing a single sign can run anywhere from $100 to $500.
The cost of replacing a single sign can run anywhere from $100 to $500.

It’s costly

On the Internet I could not find a cumulative statistic for monetary damage due to sign shooting for the United States, but the estimated cost to replace each street sign is between $100 and $500. Next time you want to complain about services not provided by government or outdoor recreation agencies, starting counting the number of times you drive past a shot-up sign.

Sign shooting occurs all across the nation, and North America is not unique to sign shootings. It’s a costly problem in Great Britain, and even the San Juan Islands.

And street signs are not the only targets that sign shooters blast at. Not long ago I went on a ride-along with California Fish and Game Warden Bob Orange in Plumas County.

“You can hunt on the left side of this road, but the right side is the boundary of a state game refuge,” Lt. Bob Orange said as we bounced along in his patrol rig on a dirt road out of Taylorsville. “People come up here to hunt which is okay on the right side. If I catch them on the wrong side of the road, they will say they never saw a sign. So in the first half mile, I’ve put up 45 ‘State Game Refuge’ signs,” he stated, nodding toward a large yellow sign on a tree. Fifty yards down the road, there was another sign, but this one had been blasted with buckshot. Two more had been stripped from the trees.

“Some people figure if they tear down the signs, then they can get away with poaching on the refuge. I like to catch the guys who do this. I can add in vandalism to any fish and game violations.”

Bob’s explanation for why the refuge signs are shot and torn down makes sense. It also describes the motivational profile of some might call a “slob hunter.”

Later on in our ride we came to a dam on the North Fork of the Feather River that flows out of Lake Almanor. We had to walk about a quarter mile through snow to get in to the dam, where there is a fish ladder. Even though there was two feet of snow on the ground, birds were singing and green buds were popping out on some trees.

“In the next couple weeks there will be swarms of big spawning trout schooling below this dam,” Warden Zeke Awbrey said, as we walked down the embankment. “It’s illegal to fish within 250 feet of this place but if you come in here, especially at night, sometimes there will be a dozen or more guys here trying to snag the spawners.”

As with the refuge, the signs on the fencing around the fish ladder were shot up with shotgun blasts and rifle holes even though the signs clearly said that gunfire was illegal within 500 feet of the dam and fish ladder. Smaller signs on the trees posted 10 feet up the trunk were also shot up. The metal door on the shed that holds the valves that regulate the water flow through the fish ladder was also perforated by gunfire from close range.

The next time you complain about resources for conserving wildlife growing short, start counting shot up signs that are trying to help people be safe and regulate wildlife responsibly.

Author’s note: You can watch the documentary that first put California game wardens in the spotlight and helped inspire the Wild Justice TV series on CarbonTV.

Shot-up signs, particularly those around common outdoor recreation areas, can be significantly damaging to the image of outdoorsmen and women.
Shot-up signs, particularly those around common outdoor recreation areas, can be significantly damaging to the image of outdoorsmen and women.

Sign shooting damages the image of hunters and shooters

Statistically, shooting sports are the safest of all popular recreational events, but thanks to the media, they are also the easiest to demonize and that affects everyone who owns a firearm. When was the last time you saw a major media story, in print or on TV, that was positive about guns and gun owners?

A common anti-gun theme is to ban all firearms. Step back for a moment and reflect on the fact that man is by nature a tool-making animal, and weapons are a universal tool. Just about every culture on earth has their own weapons used for self-defense, maintaining law and order, military purposes, and procuring food. Sure, there are knives, bows, and sticks, but firearms are one of the most common of all weapons.

Despite the fact that violent crime in urban areas has declined approximately 40 percent in the last 25 years, guns and their owners continually become targets whenever a shooting does take place. Shot-up signs are a glaring example of a kind of reckless and illegal shooting. Every shot-up sign is a potential motive for someone to call for a ban on guns and to stigmatize gun owners as reckless bad guys.

Accepting the place of weapons in society, the smartest thing to do is to promote sport shooting like the Swiss do. The Swiss have more shooting ranges than golf courses and shooting is the national sport.

If you own a gun and haven’t shot it, go to a range and get some instruction from a qualified teacher. Make the gun your friend. The National Rifle Association has an extensive network of trained instructors who can teach skills, reducing fears of that gun. This will make you a more responsible gun owner, and you will feel stronger yourself by having become competent with handling a potentially deadly weapon.

If you don’t know where to go, the National Shooting Sports Foundation has a handy site called “Where to Shoot.”

Always be sure of what lies beyond your target, and don’t ever shoot up into the air, even in celebrations of July Fourth or New Year’s Eve. And if you see someone shooting a sign, get the license plate number and call them in to your state tip hotline. You may get a reward if the tip leads to an arrest.

First image by Andrew Swan, second and third by James Swan

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  • Mosh

    Pointless article I think. What are they trying to say? People like to shoot signs, but they shouldn’t. That’s all.

    • Terry

      No he is saying it makes gun owners look bad and also wastes tax dollars that would go towards other productive things.

  • justsayin’

    It says to me that some people should not put their nasty little finger on a trigger. I have been shooting for over 50 years and know plenty of others who shoot. It makes me cringe when I see anything shot outside of a shooting range. And then some ranges I have been to have signs that have been shot. I am concerned about some of the statistics used to prove distance of bullet travel after going through a sign. When I was a kid, we didn’t have shooting ranges. But we did target shoot at old dumps or such places. At 25 paces, a .22 caliber rifle bullet could not punch a hole through both sides of a trash can, but a .38 special could, only to go into the ground a couple inches. Yes. I agree they travel too far past a sign to be safe. Any distance beyond line of sight is too far. But it takes away from the point of proof, to add things to a story that are incorrect. In this tory, it is able to make the point without certain statistics. Just my opinion. All in all, it is very eye opening.