Is Shooting At Trees Safe?


shooting at trees safety

There is nothing better than going out into the wilderness, relaxing, and target shooting with your friends and family. While it is nice to be out in nature shooting your guns, there are many dangers in doing so if you do not take the proper precautions. When you are at a standard range, they take make rules and enforce specific precautions for you to follow. The biggest benefit in utilizing a range is that you have targets that you can hang up in a safe area, you can bring the target to you without having to put yourself down range, and there are walls in between you and the people next to you shooting, which helps ensure a controlled environment. 

Unfortunately, the outdoors and shooting with a group of people in an open environment is not necessarily the most controlled and safe environment to do so. One potentially hazardous scenario when shooting outdoors is ricochet bullets. In this post we look at whether choosing to hang a target on a tree is a good idea.

So, Is Shooting a Tree Safe to Do?

In general, shooting at trees is not a safe practice. Not to mention, this practice may harm or destroy trees in doing so. Damaging natural resources, especially on public lands, is often illegal in the United States. Shooting into trees can cause a ricochet to occur, which can cause your bullet to come back and hit you, someone you are shooting with, or valuable personal property. 

Will the Bullet Ricochet Off of the Tree?

Shooting at a tree can cause the bullet to ricochet off and change direction. While trees are softer than rocks and metal, they still can cause your bullet to bounce and sometimes come back at you. It is impossible to project the trajectory of the bullet if a ricochet does occur. This is extremely important to keep in mind because when you shoot it may not just be yourself who is in the line of fire.

Factors Impacting Whether the Bullet will Ricochet

Depending on how close you are to the tree, and what type of gun you are shooting, there is a risk of your bullet changing direction to come back at you which could cause you, or your friends and family to be shot by the stray bullet causing injury or worse. If you are extremely close, you could run the risk of also having the tree splinter off in your direction causing some nasty cuts and splinters. While numerous factors will impact bullet ricochet, two of the most impactful factors is the type of tree being shot and what caliber of gun is being used.

Does the Type Of Tree Matter?

There are a ton of different types of trees in our national forests. Cedar, pine, oak, redwood, and many other types of trees that can be found in a forest. It typically will not matter what type of tree you shoot into, but there are some types of trees that have a “harder” wood core than others, so your chances of ricochet might go up depending on what you shoot at. Oak trees tend to be much more hardwood than a cedar tree.

Pine on the other hand is a softer wood. Keep in mind that the softer the tree is, the more likely the tree will be damaged by you deciding to shoot it. Even if you have shot at a “softer” tree in the past without issue, it does not guarantee your safety in the future. Something as simple as a knot in the tree can send your bullet flying right back towards you or a loved one.

shooting on public land

Does The Caliber of the Gun Matter?

When thinking about tree damage and ricochet, the higher the velocity of the bullet, the more chance you have for it to bounce or ricochet. Shotguns utilizing bird shot at a distance will probably have the lowest ricochet potential because they are a scattergun, and the lead pellets are normally pretty soft. The problem with shotguns is that they can do a lot more damage to the tree. The typical bullets you will want to use extreme caution with are going to be 9mm, 45, 22, and larger caliber guns. High powered rifles might actually go completely through the tree causing it to hit something else.

Below is a video of a bullet ricochet that occurred after shooting a brick at 10 yards.

How Does Shooting a Tree with a Gun Hurt It?

Trees are living things, so just like if you shot a real person, shooting at a tree can injure it. It may not kill the tree after one, two, or even thirty shots, it is certainly not great for it. While you might not think this is a big deal, there are US laws that prevents you from harming trees and foliage, which could land you a hefty fine, and possible jail time.

While trees cannot instantly react to harm being done to them, over time they can stop producing fruit, seeds, and even oxygen, which is an integral part of the ecosystem. There could also be wildlife living in the tree, and if you shoot it and it dies, the wildlife might have to move, especially if the tree dies and falls over.

While we do not want to tell you what to do, at least think of what you might be doing when you shoot at a tree. It is difficult to measure the outcomes of these types of decisions over time.

If you love the outdoors, it is your responsibility to protect the resources that you value. The number of active hunters and people who fish are continually decreasing and being a good steward of the activities we love is becoming more and more important.

Safer Target Options than Shooting at a Tree

Mentioned above, going to a quality indoor shooting range can be a safer choice than going outside and slapping a target onto a tree. Shooting outdoors is also a safe option if the proper precautions are followed. Risk cannot fully be eliminated during an activity such as shooting, but the risks can be reduced. Three other safer outdoor shooting options include:

  • Shooting a free standing target in front with a hill as a backstop. 
  • Shooting at a soft object, such as a box, with a target on it with a hill as a back stop.
  • Shooting a target in a large open field with a slight up-trending grade behind it.

All of the above options helps to ensure that the bullets shot will end up striking the ground after passing through the target. This provides peace of mind that the bullet will not continue on and strike someone a distance away from where you are. Ricochets could still technically happen, it reduces the risk of it occurring. 

In Summary

There are tons of options for target shooting in the woods other than hanging targets up on a tree. Always be aware of your surroundings and find a safe spot for you and your friends to shoot without causing any damage to the forest or each other. Find a nice place with a good backstop so that it will stop your bullets and not have any issues of ricochet. Always clean up your mess, never leave any targets or used bullet casings in your spot when you leave, and above all else, enjoy yourself!

Terry Minton

I am the owner of Fast Cast Rods. I live in the mountains of Northern California where I love to be outdoors hunting, fishing, camping and hiking with my wife and three awesome kids.

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