Shooters up in arms over gate, restrictions

Leslie Silverman

A debate between user groups has prompted the ire of some Keystone residents and Black Hills gun enthusiasts.

A gate was recently installed by the Black Hills National Forest (BHNF) rangers on Forest Road FSR 353.2C.

According to officials from the BHNF the gate was installed in the anticipation of closing the road for the month of June. The gate is an attempt to “prevent people from going down the road” and to “dissuade people from shooting” for a 30 day period, according to Jim Gubbels from the Mystic Ranger District.

“This is not a designated shooting area,” Gubbels said. “The official use of that piece of land is a grazing allotment.”

The forest service is not changing the “condition of the forest” by putting the gate up, but it is protecting the safety of the rancher and his cows who have paid the forest service for a June grazing permit on this parcel.

“For the safety of the ranchers and the cattle we finally decided we need to do something,” Gubbels said. “We hope that for 30 days the public can support this. I am sure they don’t want there to be an accident.”

As to why a road closure has never been done before, the area, like most in the BHNF, has become “more popular” recently. The forest service is “generally concerned for close calls,” according to Gubbels, and: “people can still shoot in the forest and the area is not closed to shooting,” but the temporary closure would protect interests of ranchers who also use the BHNF in a way that is distinctly different from gun owners who have long been shooting at this site.

“This is not a designated shooting area,” Gubbels said. The official use of that piece of land is a grazing allotment. We are not taking anyone’s rights away. But the person who pays the government for the right to graze must also be considered.”

Limiting vehicular traffic to the parcel will increase the grazing conditions for the cows.

The BHNF benefits from these types of permits because the cows “reduce fire hazards” in their grazing activity.

The rates for grazing permits are set by Congress. There are over 30 permits in the Mystic Ranger District.

However, local residents are not convinced as to why BHNF officials chose to close the range this year.

“I do realize they graze animals out there. Just by walking around you can tell there are cows piles everywhere,” said shooter Jon Veltman, who shoots there about once a week. “Cattle have been grazing on that land for many years but it's never been a problem. Personally, I’ve used the range for seven or eight years. If I have family in town we all go out and enjoy it, too. To my knowledge it has never been closed for this reason and there’s never been a gate. We all know not to be out there shooting when there’s cattle.” Veltman sees the unofficial range as a “great benefit to living in this area. Many people use it but don’t abuse it.”

After passing through the newly installed gate, several new “no motorized vehicles” signs dot the landscape.

“It is a matter of resource protection,” said BHNF Public Affairs Officer Scott Jacobson “There are several user created two track roads created by shooters and others driving motorized vehicles off the main road. There is trash in areas where targets are placed from shooting, and that too is a problem. The signs were recently installed where people are driving off the main road, to prevent creation of new roads.”

The area has seen an uptick in usage by many anecdotal accounts.

“This place was packed before COVID,” said a 30-year-old shooter who declined to give his name. “That was before the ammo crisis.”

The man still shoots on the “range” about once a week.

“People are pretty watchful,” he said as a mountain biker approached off in the distance. “People know better than to shoot cattle or people.”

He enjoys this area because it’s free, but adds: “there are other spots where there aren’t cows. I’m not a fan of 60,000 cows stomping around the Hills.”

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