KENNEWICK — Almost any nice day will find several people with guns blasting away at cast-off debris along Owens Road south of Kennewick.
The shooters' alley is littered with thousands of shotgun shell casings, and an uncountable number of brass bullet casings. Bullet-riddled targets on a recent day included a washer and dryer, a couch, computer monitors and bottles.
Carcasses of a horse and bull elk lay nearby in late February, the cause of their demise unknown but the bodies shot multiple times.
The scene offended Ron Davidson of Kennewick, a gun collector and recreational shooter.
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"This is horrible," Davidson said after touring the site, most of which is owned by the Kennewick Public Hospital District.
Davidson knows the area well from years ago, when he used to bring his children there for some target practice. But not anymore.
What used to be a safe place for plinking has become a risky area because of reckless shooters.
Seventeen miles to the west, where McBee Grade Road ascends Kiona Ridge to an area popular with hikers and runners, Jane Fox and her friends with the Inter-Mountain Alpine Club had a close encounter of the wrong kind with gunfire March 5.
"We heard sounds like hammering, or someone building a house," Fox said.
They had come off the ridge and were following a dirt road when the sounds started resembling firecrackers, and one of the group commented that something had whizzed by his head.
Taking refuge in a gully, the hikers tried to get the attention of the shooters, whose ear protection prevented them from hearing the hikers' screams and blowing whistles, Fox said.
The hikers advanced cautiously and made themselves visible, only to see the shooters' assault-type guns aimed at targets placed in front of a curve in the road where the hikers had intended to top the hill.
Shooters and hikers were equally surprised.
"If they hadn't seen us, we could have been shot," Fox said. "I've hiked there three times and always heard shots, but I'll never hike that area again."
Fox said her experience there should be reason enough for the Bureau of Land Management to not allow shooting on property that's open for hiking, riding horses or bicycling.
"The land should be designated for target practice or for other activities but not for both. It is only a matter of time before someone is shot up there," she said.
But Scott Pavey, a BLM spokesman in Spokane, said there are few places on BLM-managed land that have shooting restrictions. More often than not, hikers, bicyclists, equestrians and shooters share the same recreational rights to the lands.
But there are BLM regulations for shooting on public land:
* Shooters must provide their own targets and remove any debris when leaving.
* It is illegal to shoot at trees, signs, outbuildings or other objects on federal lands that are for the public's enjoyment, such as improved camping and picnicking areas.
* No shooting is allowed in and around parking areas or across roads.
* Only legal ammunition and firearms are allowed.
"You can't regulate stupid," said Steve Smith, another BLM spokesman.
Smith said the Kiona Ridge area has been posted to keep four-wheel-drive vehicles out of sensitive areas, but the signs rarely survive two weeks before being shot to bits.
Davidson, who is vice president of the Tri-Cities Shooting Association, which manages the Rattlesnake Mountain Shooting Facility near Benton City, appreciates the situation Fox described.
Be it on privately owned land along Owens Road or BLM property on Kiona Ridge, Davidson said, there always is the risk of accidents if shooters don't take extra care to be safe.
That means keeping an appropriate distance from roads; shooting at appropriate targets, which would not include sofas, appliances, bottles or cans, among other things; and always having a sufficient embankment as a backstop for the bullets.
Alan Grieb of Kennewick said he has seen many examples of irresponsible shooting in the Owens Road area.
Grieb said he has been there to see signs shot up, targets set at less than 50 feet off the road, even targets set on top of a hill with no backstop of any kind.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Grieb, a serious target shooter who enjoys the science of shooting.
What particularly bothered Grieb was when he saw shooters standing side-by-side, firing into an embankment. They were so close to each other that shells ejecting from one shooter's automatic firearm were a distraction to the other shooter.
Grieb estimated there were more than 20 people shooting within sight of each other, some using high-powered rifles.
"They have no business shooting rifles in that area where there isn't adequate range. There's lack of discipline and respect, and people are shooting within 50 feet of the road," he said.
The Kennewick Public Hospital District allows shooting on its Owens Road property and has no plans at this time to post it otherwise, said Chuck Barnes, executive director for support services for KGH.
The hospital district did post no trespassing signs on its property near Hover Park a year ago, following complaints about reckless shooting and an incident in which a boy was wounded by a stray bullet.
But even that posting was reluctantly done, Barnes said.
"We just haven't had any complaints about the property," Barnes said.
Benton County sheriff's Capt. Clay Vannoy said it isn't against the law for someone to shoot on private property in unincorporated areas of the county if the property owner allows it.
"Basically, everyone has their own responsibility to know your target, know your backstop and don't shoot in close proximity to other people and roadways," he said.
"Most people who shoot recreationally are good people and pretty conscientious. But it would be nice if we had a range at this end of the county," Vannoy said.
Davidson said there is an alternative for people who want to shoot for fun or target practice in a safe setting. It's the Rattlesnake Shooting Facility on the Horn Rapids highway between Benton City and West Richland.
About 1,100 acres are available at the facility, with specific areas set up for different kinds of shooting. The range is open to the public for $5 a day for unlimited use, or an annual membership.
In addition to various venues for handguns, cowboy-type shooting and blackpowder firearms, the range also has areas set aside for shotguns and for long-range shooting.
The facility is being expanded and upgraded with training facilities for new shooters and more amenities, including indoor bathrooms. More information is available online at www.tcsa.info.