A close call: target shooters putting others in danger

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Time was--and not too long ago--a dirt road leading into the hills, even near town, seemed an open invitation to recreational shooters.

"It was way back in the day," says Sheriff Darin Balaam remembering growing up in the area, "but now as our area continues to grow, it's much more feasible and safer to go to the Washoe County (shooting) range."

But traditions die hard and the rural roads on the edge of town offer convenience if not safety and so they remain a popular alternative.

It's a growing problem and it's putting the land itself and some of us in jeopardy.

Every year target shooters set off wildfires which burn hundreds, even thousands of acres. Most of these incidents are accidents, but not all. For some it presents an opportunity for some real mean-minded vandalism.

The wreck of an SUV sits along a road leading up Peavine Mountain. It was parked here in February by two men who used a snowmobile to get them to the top of the mountain to work on an electronics site. Victims of a fatal accident, they didn't return.

The family couldn't retrieve the car as the keys were left up on the mountain in heavy snow. It didn't take long for thoughtless vandals armed with shotguns and, apparently, an assault rifle, to reduce what had been a daily driver to a shot-up hulk.

Today it's been stripped and turned on its side. An untimely insult to a grieving family.

But target shooting in congested areas can have even more serious consequences. Sunday afternoon a woman was sitting in
her home in a neighborhood on the east side of Hidden Valley. A bullet came crashing through her window, narrowly missing her head.

It was just one of the incidents involving target shooters this past weekend. Other complaints came in from Spanish Springs and Golden Eagle Park. Balaam says good weather apparently brought out the shooters.

"When the weather starts getting good, they start hitting the mountains and we start seeing an uptick in congested area shooting."

It was--the sheriff said--a timely reminder of the hazards of target shooting close to occupied structures.

He advises using the county range on Pyramid Highway, or if you must use the great outdoors, "Know where that round may travel. If you're shooting into a mountain fine, but if you're shooting into a berm, know what's on the other side of that berm."