Phoenix District staff blaze a trail in recreational shooting site management

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In October 2022, the Bureau of Land Management Phoenix District opened the first bureau-managed recreational shooting sites on public lands around the Phoenix metro area.

The sites have been popular with the visiting public, with more than 71,000 estimated visits at the four sites in fiscal year 2023. Constructing the sites involved cleaning up trash, building berms, fences, and facilities, and developing targets. Since recreational shooting sites are a new type of facility for the BLM, district staff and volunteers have used innovation to develop these popular new sites in the Phoenix District.

Church Camp Road sign
Church Camp Road Recreational Shooting Site is the most visited recreational shooting site in the Phoenix District Office. Photo: Chris Wonderly, BLM

Because the sites are operated as self-service shooting facilities, they need special management to ensure public and staff safety. Each of the sites has steel targets installed to prevent visitors from going downrange to place their own targets. 

BLM Phoenix District staff as well as volunteer Mason Perry have spent the last year experimenting with various prototypes for the steel targets installed at the sites. It was up to staff and volunteers to determine which targets would be able to withstand a variety of firearms and ammunition types. Some produce a large amount of heat and kinetic energy, which can damage the steel targets. The targets also needed to endure use by the tens of thousands of visitors.  

The target development team even contacted other public and private shooting ranges in their search for sustainable target designs, but it was hard to find targets that could handle the high use the Phoenix District sites experience. 

“Getting into the recreational shooting site management realm, it was complicated because we had to create a target that would last as long as possible,” said Maintenance Worker Alexander Whiteman. An early target design involved steel plates hanging from a section of fire hose. But that design didn’t last long. “We’d come out the next day, and all the targets are down,” Whiteman said. 

Later versions used cold rolled steel arms, which lengthened their lifespan, but they still didn’t last as long as desired. Current versions use both plates and arms made from AR500 steel, which is more resilient.  

a person welds a cross-shaped steel target.
Phoenix District volunteer Mason Perry welds structural braces on the back of the target. Photo: Alexander Whiteman, BLM

The latest iteration uses a swinging target, attached by a chain and clevis fastener. The arm and target are all made of a heavier grade steel. The plate is ¾ inch thick, with ½-inch bracing welded on the back. The clevis attachment allows the target arm to swing freely, which helps disperse the kinetic energy from high-energy firearms.  

a cross-shaped steel structure with welds connecting the cross structure to a flat, square steel target.
The latest version of the targets uses three-quarter inch thick steel plates welded with bracing on the back. Photo: Alexander Whiteman, BLM

The team has also started rotating weakened targets to longer distance ranges to extend their lifespan. “At the 100-yard (range), it gets the most use,” Whiteman said. “When we swap out the targets, we’ll move them instead of taking them down and wasting the steel. When they start to crack, we’ll swap them over to the 200-yard, because the 200-yard tends to get a little bit less use.” But because the 200-yard range is longer, the impact energy is less. “So, we’ll swap targets from the 100 to the 200 to get the target to last that much longer,” Whiteman said. Then they move targets from the 200-yard range to the 50-yard range until they need to be decommissioned. 

The BLM has seen success with the improved materials and rotating targets. “Now that we’ve gotten to the point where they’re being hung by AR 500 arms, with chain and clevis, and giving the target the opportunity to do what it needs to do to absorb the round, we’re getting them to last four to five months,” Whiteman said. He anticipates that target longevity will continue to improve. “It’s only going to get better and stronger from here.”  

a steel arm hangs from a steel frame by a chain link and horseshoe-shaped clevis attachment
Hanging target using a chain and clevis attachment. Photo: Chris Wonderly, BLM

“These targets are provided by the BLM for the public,” Whiteman said. “We hope that the people shooting these targets understand what goes into making these targets and how we can get these targets to last as long as possible for recreational use.” The goal is to provide a high quality, but cost efficient, recreational experience. 

This project builds upon years of BLM Arizona’s efforts with partners, such as Arizona Game and Fish Department, and shooting sports groups to educate the public on safe and responsible recreational target shooting on public lands. 


Chris Wonderly, public affairs specialist

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