So far, nobody has been shot.
The U.S. Forest Service hopes to keep it that way.
This week, The Forest Service will close to target shooting the popular Railroad Buttes off-road riding area southeast of Rapid City, following increased reports of "near-miss" incidents when shooters fired in the direction of off-road riders.
Agency enforcement officials also are watching areas in the Black Hills National Forest, where the safety of off-road riders — motorized and otherwise — is being jeopardized by illegal shooting near trails.
"We just cited somebody last week for sitting at a trail head and shooting out of their vehicle," said Dave Slepnikoff of Rapid City, resource staff officer for the Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest. "It sure would be nice if people were more aware that we don't want them shooting in places like that."
That trail head is on Victoria Lake Road just west of Rapid City. It is one of the new trail heads developed as part of a travel management plan throughout the forest that has limited off-road riders to a system of established roads and trails.
More riders on the trails is a good thing and more target shooting nearby — sometimes in trail head and other areas where shooting is prohibited — don't go together, Slepnikoff said.
"We're having more problems with the conflicts between ATVs and shooting, particularly in that Victoria Lake area," he said.
Signs in the trail head at Victoria Lake aiming to increase that awareness have been shot up, Slepnikoff said.
Safety problems caused by the mix of off-road riders and target shooters have been building over the years at the Railroad Buttes area near Farmingdale about 25 miles southeast of Rapid City. The area is part of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, a sprawling patchwork of federal property that covers almost 600,000 acres from Wall to Edgemont.
The grasslands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service office out of Chadron, Neb., separate from the Black Hills National Forest. But the problems are much the same.
The long-time practice by firearms owners of using the Railroad Buttes area — with its undulating terrain and steep cut banks — for target practice comes in conflict with Forest Service plans to further develop the area for off-road riders.
And it's a conflict with increasingly dangerous implications, said Mike McNeill of Hot Springs, district ranger in the Hot Springs Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands.
"Because we're getting more use out here, we're getting more kind of near-miss reports from off-road riders," McNeill said Monday morning during a visit to Railroad Buttes. "We don't want to not take action and then have something bad happen out here."
The Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands, which has its headquarters in Chadron, Neb., oversees management of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. And forest & grasslands Supervisor Jane Darnell will sign a closure order on target shooting at Railroad Buttes, effective Friday. The closure will affect about 5,400 acres, including the 1,745 acres set for recreational upgrades for off-road users.
The improvements include a trail head, picnic tables and restroom and bring with them the need to more tightly restrict shooting and protect riders. McNeil said he has been at Railroad Buttes when there were 200 to 300 riders using the area, and shooters nearby.
Depending on which target area was in use, shooters could be firing in the direction of the riders with only a cut bank separating them, McNeill said.
"That's just not a safe situation," he said.
Rapid City target shooter Gary Sticka said he found himself in just such a situation once out at Railroad Buttes. He was firing at a target placed up against one of the dirt banks when he noticed riders in the distance, off beyond the bank.
"I'd been there for about half an hour, but when I seen them riding over that I said, 'That's it. I'm done,'" Sticka said.
That time, he moved to an area facing the other direction, which is where he was shooting Monday morning as he tried out a new .45-caliber handgun. Sticka said he supports the target-shooting ban at Railroad Buttes, especially since it will continue to allow target shooting on the grasslands outside of the 5,400-acre closure zone.
"I don't think anybody would argue with that, as long as there are options where we can shoot," he said. "We all want to be safe."
McNeill said there are similar cut banks for safe shooting on the grasslands not far from the closure area of Railroad Buttes.
"There are still plenty of areas and you don't have to go far to find them," he said.
Even though the closure becomes official Friday, McNeill said Forest Service law enforcement will be slow to issue tickets for those found shooting on the closure area after it takes effect — for a while.
"There's going to be a period of education," he said. "We hope we can get compliance in most cases that way, instead of going the ticket route."
The vast majority of the grasslands, like most of the Black Hills National Forest, are open to target shooting. There are some restrictions, however. They include "administrative" areas such as office complexes, as well as recreation areas.
In the Black Hills National Forest, it is also illegal to shoot:
(1) In or within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area.
(2) Across or on a national forest system road or a body of water adjacent thereto, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result in such discharge.
(3) Into or within any cave.
Target shooters are warned not to litter or vandalize Forest Service property, something that has been a problem at a popular shooting area along Beretta Road south of Rapid City.
That area doesn't have much conflict between off-road riders and target shooters, however, because riders concerned about their own safety tend to avoid the area.
"Bullets will kind of do that to people," Slepnikoff said.