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Jan 11, 2013 9:37 AM by Samantha Ptashkin

Forest officials, bicyclists, fired up about Catalina Hwy target shooting

TUCSON- The drive up Mt. Lemmon is 26 miles of scenic views and serenity.

But 4.4 miles up, the sound of gun shots often catches Catalina Highway users off guard. "The first time I ever heard the bullets I stopped up at the ranger station at mile five because I thought there was a shootout or something," says Bicyclist Melinda Correll.

It's not quite a shootout. "It's not like someone is up there with a machine gun firing continuously," says Bicyclist Blue Catling.

But there are plenty of shooters, like 24-Year-Old Joshua Powell, who owns a handgun, shotgun and rifle.

About twice a month he and his buddies target practice at a pull-off just past mile four. It's about 40 yards off the highway. "What's nice about here is it's kind of more secluded and we're not disturbing anybody," Powell says. "Plus there is a lot more room."

The area is well-known within Tucson's gun community. "People are coming out here to target practice to be more accurate, to be safer around their firearms and to teach other people about gun safety," Powell says.

While it is legal to target shoot in the Coronado National Forest, forest officials say this particular pull-out is not the place to do it. "On a curvy, windy, mountain road you need to be driving steadily and folks that aren't used to gunfire may become startled when they hear it," says Forest Official Heidi Schewel.

"It makes me nervous because if you look at the shooting site, it's right near the road," Correll says.

Besides safety, Schewel is concerned about the trash left behind. The pull-off is spotted with shell cases and empty beer cans.

Powell and his buddies say they take care of their trash. "We make an effort every time we come out to pick up what we shoot and what other people shoot, so this can be a place where we can come for years to come," Powell says.

But Schewel says the shooters who don't clean up could face up to a $5,000 fine and jail time.

And then there is that noise. "It startled me once or twice, but it has never bothered me," Catling says.

But whether drivers and bicyclists like it or not, the sound of gunfire is sticking around, at least for now.

Schewel says she doesn't mind people shooting on forest land, she just wishes they would pick a different spot.

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