Thursday, December 12, 2019

A day in the woods with Dad. (Story by my son, Timothy).

Stewardship non-profit restores Pacific Northwest public lands
By Timothy H. Cogley, Oct. 10, 2019

Forty cars filled the parking lot of the Jones Creek Trailhead. It was a radiant Sunday and seemed like half of Washougal had brought their ATV’s out to play. “It feels like Father’s Day,” Bill Cogley, my father, said of being together again in the Yacolt Burn State Forest. It was a regular visit for him but we weren’t there to play in the woods like everyone else.  My father was on a mission to “clean up the land” and I had to get to the bottom of what that was all about.

We stopped to talk to a family that was enjoying some target practice on a few nearby stumps.  The stumps had been eviscerated from dozens of other target shooters before them. My father’s approach is always the same: a smile, friendly wave, slight chuckle, sidearm holstered at the hip – to let them know he’s “a fellow target shooter.” But the sign on the truck and the fliers in his hand give everyone pause.

“Am I in trouble?” is a reasonable enough question to ask when approached by someone bearing fliers. They were “in trouble,” shooting at targets without a backstop is illegal. My father had just finished telling me how the stump had previously caught fire from target shooters firing too many bullets into it. Fortunately, another passing recreationist saw the smoke, reported it and authorities extinguished the flame. But my father believes that people won’t listen if you’re coming down on what they’re doing wrong.

He dismissed the man’s concern and got right to the point: he’s there to represent Trash No Land.  “We’re a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible target shooting and stewardship of the forest. That way we can keep sites like this open for public use,” he said. The marksman’s tune quickly progressed from defensiveness to relief then to interest and recognition of the problem. While the conversation may not be easy to have, the man’s transformation demonstrated the need for having it.

The flier only tells half of the story. It provides an overview of common rules and laws for shooting on State and National Forest lands, codes of conduct, plus tips for responsible shooting. While the focus of Trash No Land’s message to target shooters is centered on responsible conduct, for Cogley, the way to achieve that is by fostering respect for the environment and the public. To him, that means getting out and cleaning up.

Since incorporating in 2017, Trash No Land has cooperated with local government offices to organize seven-to-eight volunteer clean-up events per-year in forests across the Pacific Northwest. In 2018, Trash No Land’s efforts removed 17,000 lbs. of illegally dumped trash from public lands. They have even recently restored a trap range on Sauvie Island, 10 miles Northwest of Portland, and installed target lanes in the Tillamook State Forest. Trash No Land is restoring more than trap sites and target lanes with its efforts; it is restoring the sport shooters reputation in the recreation community.

It started for Cogley in 2012 when he took my brother, Ian, out to sight-in their rifles for their first hunt together. Cogley recalled being shocked by the amount of trash they found. He said, “it didn’t seem right to me,” and got to thinking that he should do something about it.

Cogley organized his first clean-up event through the Northwest Firearms web forum. He recruited the support of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, who provided equipment and insurance for the volunteers. They even counted their service hours toward free annual Discover Passes – Washington’s access permit for state parks and trailheads. Thirty-five members from the online community participated in that first event. Cogley said, “everyone had so much fun that they decided to do it again right away.”


My father and I witnessed different shooting behaviors on our tour of the Yacolt Burn, but most target shooters were following the rules. “That’s what I like to see,” my father said to a group with proper safety equipment, reusable targets and clearly marked firing positions.

One member of the group, who asked to remain anonymous, was frustrated by the amount of litter he had seen. He said, “people need to clean up after themselves.”

Many factors contribute to the accumulation of trash on public lands. Irresponsible recreationists certainly add to it, but illegal dumping is an all-too-common practice in most state forests.

When recreational sports shooters come along and target that trash is what Cogley said, “gives us a bad name.”

“We are getting numb to the amount of trash out there,” he said, meaning everywhere, including the city. “We’re so overwhelmed by it that it’s become commonplace and easy to ignore.”  Cogley thinks it symptomatic of a selfish attitude.  He encourages people to take each other and the environment into consideration.

The general consensus seems to be that the majority of recreationists follow the rules. Cogley said, “it’s just that the few who are destroying [the forest] are actually destroying it.”

Common Sense Rules

The next group we came upon caused us concern. His approach was more serious this time. “I don’t like coming down on anyone, but I have to say something,” he said to the man fully decked out in a tactical vest. Their targets were positioned at the crest of a hill without any sort of backstop: both illegal and dangerous. The man graciously heeded my father’s warning and appreciated the concern. He wore the logo of a security company on his vest.

That, according to my father, seems to be the problem. People are either unaware of the rules or simply disregarding them. This is why he decided to target recreational sports shooters as his audience, he said, “because they are the ones that can make a difference.”

Cogley wants to distribute the Trash No Land informational brochure Northwest wide to raise awareness for the law and, what he calls, “common-sense” rules. The organization, however, currently lacks the funding to produce them on a mass scale. Cogley also values interpersonal communications, a strong social media presence, quality video production and educational classes as key elements to his strategy for promoting stewardship.

Cleaning Up

While promoting responsible gunmanship is at the heart of Trash No Land’s mission, Cogley said, “the main thing we are is an environmental organization with a focus on recreational sport shooting.”

The organization has made its name for its monthly clean-up events, held from spring through fall. They are organized in partnership with government agencies that manage and protect the local forests. In the Yacolt Burn State Forest, Cogley has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Natural Resources.

Sharon Steriti, the recreation manager for the Pacific Cascade Region, called Cogley’s effort, “influential,” and said groups like Trash No Land, “are our eyes and ears out there.” She said that the quicker they have eyes on a problem, the quicker they can respond to it.

The volunteers also extend their efforts across Oregon State, including the Tillamook State Forest in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Deschutes National Forest with the U.S. Forest Service, at Mary’s Peak with the Benton County Sheriff’s Department, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service – Siuslaw National Forest, in Medford, Oregon with the Bureau of Land Management and also in Welches, Oregon also with the Bureau of Land Management.

Helping Cogley run the nonprofit are five board members. They currently have 98 volunteer members and have accumulated over 1000 likes on the Trash No Land Facebook account. Cogley has also rallied the support of such sponsors as Sportsman’s Warehouse, Sporting Systems, Leupold Optics, Hat Point Targets, Cabela’s Sporting Goods, Les Schwab Tire Center, and various local small businesses in towns that host the clean-ups.

The volunteers with Trash No Land remove, on average, more than 2,000 lbs. of trash per cleanup event; a figure Cogley got from Clackamas County Dump Stoppers, another sponsor who disposes of the trash collected.

Steriti said that levels of trash have decreased due to the work of groups like Trash No Land and others like Pistons Wild, an ATV group, and Leave No Trace. She also said the Department of Natural Resources holds their annual “Pick Up the Burn” event in April.


My father’s mission began with a desire to share a tradition with the next generation. That impetus continues to motivate the work he does. “I realize the value of the next generation having the same privilege to go shoot on public lands, if they so desire.” He fears a scenario in which irresponsibility and lack of sportsmanship leads to a loss of that privilege. “It’s the younger crowd that we have a harder time trying to reach,” he said.

Much like the initial discomfort many feel when approached about rules and laws surrounding gun ownership and use, Cogley recognizes how difficult of a conversation it is to have in today’s political climate. He admits that his message is received in a reserved way, “I think there is a general feeling that a lot of people do not want to publicly support an organization that has to do with firearms.” It is why he feels so strongly that his message of responsibility needs to be heard.

His efforts and those of the volunteers he organizes do not go unnoticed, however. Other recreational groups see them out cleaning up, he said, and that they get a lot of appreciation. “What we’re doing should result in a better experience for everyone who visits the forest,” he said.

As I reflected on the people we had met and behavior we had seen over the course of our tour of the Yacolt Burn State Forest, I struggled to conceptualize the magnitude of the problem as it pertains to nearly every forest the public has access to. His mission with Trash No Land is to tackle the problem at a cultural level by rebuilding the values that protect people, the environment, and the privilege to enjoy it may ultimately be the most direct way to address the problem: in person.

Still, he recognized that it is difficult to measure the impact. He said, “[that’s why] I like to go out every so often and see how things are out there.” Ever the optimist, my father was quick to beat away the specter of overwhelming odds. As we pulled back onto paved road, he said: “it actually wasn’t too bad out here today. People must be picking up after themselves more.”

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Unpacking Safety (in public land target shooting)

What does it mean to shoot safely on public lands?
Group Shooting
When referring to the term ‘Safety’, in target shooting, we tend to think only of safe gun handling.  While this is certainly our top priority, safety in target practice means more than just gun safety.  It is an all-inclusive package we must know and practice when recreating with firearms on public lands.

Inside the big box of safety are several packages we will unpack here.  These include;
  • Firearms Safety
  • Personal Safety
  • Public Safety
  • Fire Prevention Safety
  • Natural Resources Safety
Firearm Safety is an everyday awareness that is taught across all platforms of gun ownership.  It is common sense control of the firearm in a manner that helps prevent accidental discharge and unsafe use.  To a first-time gun owner, or those who may have little experience, handling a firearm can not only be awkward and intimidating, it can also be a big safety concern.  The potential for mishandling a firearm could cause an accidental discharge because of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the four basic firearms safety rules.  We’d best review these basic rules before moving on.
  • The gun is always loaded!  Act and treat every gun as if it were loaded.  You do not know for sure until you verify it for yourself.
  • Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy!  Requires constant awareness of where the barrel of your gun is pointed at all times.  Always keep it pointed in a safe direction.
  • Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire!  Develop a habit of being consciously aware of your safety switch and trigger finger position at all times.  Never switch the safety off or slip your finger into the trigger guard until you are ready to discharge a bullet. 
  • Know your target and what is beyond!  Look and think before you raise your gun… What and where is my target?  What is in front and behind my target?  Will the bullet be stopped when it goes through the target?  Is the backstop adequate to stop the bullet? 
Personal Safety is largely accomplished from the safe handling of a firearm, as mentioned in the four basic safety rules above.  In recreational shooting, additional considerations are needed.
  • Establish an obvious firing line!  The line of positions from which gunfire is directed at targets.  A firing line could consist of a simple fold out table where you plan to shoot from.  A bright colored rope or caution tape makes for a good firing line.  A large tarp can suffice while also catching the spent casings for easy clean up.  Orange or yellow caution cones can work as well.  Whatever you choose to mark your firing line, instruct everyone present to consider it as the point of no return.  No one is to step in front of that firing line when the range is hot.
  • Range Hot, Range Cold!  These are standard terms used to make everyone aware of the range condition at any time.  Range is Hot means active fire is happening now and no one is to enter the range.  Range is Cold means that everyone puts down their firearms and does not touch them.  As you proceed to walk into the range, you still need to check the firing line for any person handling a firearm.  There should be no reloading, cleaning, inspecting or showing-off of any firearm.  A gun does not fire by itself.  It only has the potential to fire when a person is handling it. 
  • Keep guns cased when transporting to and from the firing line!  With the firearm inside a case, it cannot go off accidentally.  There will be no accidental discharge if the gun is properly unloaded and kept in it’s case until reaching the firing line. 
  • Eyes and Ears!  Always protect your eyes and hearing with appropriate protection.  It's well worth the minor investment for ear plugs and safety glasses. 
  • Situational awareness is something we learn with repetitive practice!  Always be aware of your surroundings and what is happening around you.  Know where people are, what they are doing, what direction they are shooting and how they are handling their firearms.  Be aware of who is walking up behind you, notice how they are carrying their firearms and give them your attention, so you learn of their intentions.  Personal safety is all about being aware.
Public safety is the thought we give to being sure that no harm will come to anyone within 3 miles of the shooting range.  We all know how a bullet can travel 1 to 3 miles, depending on caliber, through the air and we must give thought to any potential of a round leaving the range.  It should never happen.
  • Use a high earthen berm backstop!  This is the first priority in finding a good/safe place to shoot.  A good earth backstop will stop a bullet if you shoot into it.  A tree (or stand of trees), stumps, downed logs or even small mounds of dirt (less than 6 feet tall), are not backstops and have multiple concerns in using those to try to stop a bullet.  Do not accept anything but an earth backstop at least 6 feet high or better.
  • Ricochet prevention!  Avoid rocks!  They often ricochet the bullet into the wild blue yonder and you have no control over where the round stops.  The potential for rock ricochet is greatest in a gravel pit, so, choose your backstop carefully.
  • Target placement!  The proper placement of a target is in front of the backstop.  Not on top or off to the side.  The bullet does not stop at the target, it goes through it and stops at what is behind it.  Be sure to place your targets in front of the backstop.
  • Trails, roadways, waterways and near campgrounds are off limits to target shooting!  Never do your shooting down the path of a trail or a road, even if there is a good backstop at the corner.  Never shoot into, over or along a body of water.  This includes streams, creeks, rivers and lakes.
  • Walk the line of fire!  Before any rounds are fired, walk the range and look for hazards and concerns.  You are looking for anything that might compromise public safety, fire safety and natural resource safety.  There should be no trails leading into or near the range, no stumps, debris or rocks behind your target placement and assure no trees or natural features will be affected.
Fire prevention safety is a concern in recreational shooting.  Several things can be done to help prevent fires while target shooting.
  • Carry fire prevention equipment!  A shovel and at least 1 gallon of water is the minimum gear you should take.  Better yet, 2 gallons of water and/or a 2 ½ pound fire extinguisher.  This prevention equipment is required gear when doing any kind of recreation on public lands during the fire season, however, we recommend taking it every time you go shooting.  Place your fire prevention gear at the firing line for immediate access if needed.
  • No shooting into trees, stumps or downed logs!  Fires can be started inside of trees, stumps or logs.  The inside may be deteriorated, dry and hot, just waiting for the spark of a bullet.  Considering that many rounds may already be lodged inside, one more round could spark an ember.  It can smolder within the wood and later ignite into flames long after you have left.
  • Choose a dirt backstop!  Avoid solid rock surfaces to lessen bullet ricochet and the spread of uncontrolled bullet fragmentation.  When steel and copper core bullets strike a hard surface, a tremendous amount of friction is generated.  Friction is heat. Super-heated fragments, very tiny in size, fly off in various directions.  They can land in dry tinder and smolder for quite some time.  Select non-flammable backstops.  Never use stumps, down logs, and trees as they are prime with dry tinder.
  • Target selection is important!  Steel can be just fine, if the other conditions are met (no dry tinder or weeds, using lead ammo instead of steel or copper core bullets and setting up steel targets over a soil or gravel shooting lane).  It is always best to have your steel angled to deflect a downward shrapnel path.  Many videos have been done that show the fragmented path of bullets striking steel targets.  Those that are angled downward, spread the fragments down into the dirt.
  • Tracer rounds and explosives are a no go on public lands!  It’s in the rules and the answer is no.  Even incendiary devices such as propane bottles and tanks.
Natural resource safety is a concern we should all be thinking of every time we go shooting.  Preserving what is natural is important to all of us and we should not be the cause of ruining even a small part of it.
  • No targets on trees, stumps or logs!  Again, we say this because it’s important.  Damage to natural things, living or not, is turning heads and fingers are pointed at target shooters.  We should not play any part of injuring or killing trees, brush or destroying materials or natural features in the forest.  Let nature be and run its own course, but don’t aid in the destruction of our natural resources. 
  • Sign Damage!  Signs in the forest may not be a natural feature, however, they are something everyone sees, and they serve a valuable purpose.  A huge waist of our taxpayer money is spent on replacing signs caused by vandalism.  The most common type of vandalism is bullet holes.  Bad reflection on gun owners!  Never... Never shoot signs in the woods.  It is ruining our reputation, destroying all that we work to improve and steals taxpayers’ dollars away from important projects and maintenance. 
  • Pride and respect for our public lands!  Leaving the land in its natural state, like you were never there, is showing your respect and stewardship.  Removal of spent casings, hulls, used targets, wood stands and trash is required in the rules.  Leaving it clean is something you will be proud of.
Choose your shooting place wisely and use all safety measures outlined above.  Share this information with friends and encourage safe shooting on public lands!  It’s how we save, improve and preserve recreational target shooting on public lands!

Thank you,

Bill Cogley
CEO/President Trash No Land

For more information about target shooting on pubic lands, visit our website at:
A list of public land shooting rules is on our website at: 
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