Shooters take aim at biodegradable clay targets

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Locked gates on U.S. Forest Service or private timber roads sometimes become gathering spots for activities often associated with litter.

Some spots seem especially popular with people shouldering shotguns attempting to blast clay targets into smithereens. The litter that results includes spent shotgun shells, target shards and whole targets that were missed by the shooter but not retrieved from the landscape.

Many clay targets feature a fluorescent orange coloring to make them easier to see for shooters. And this bright color increases the potential for eyesore clutter at these informal shooting spots.

Modern clay targets aren’t clay. Most include ingredients, including a petroleum-based binder, that are not environmentally friendly.

But at least two companies that sell clay targets are marketing, along with more traditional offerings, a product they describe as biodegradable.

For example, White Flyer now sells the White Flyer Bio. The company said “it took over 15 years to develop a biodegradable target that would meet the needs of the 21st century.”

Bill Daniels, western regional sales manager for White Flyer, said the biodegradable targets contain sulfur and limestone “and a binder similar to tree sap.”

He said the White Flyer Bio target will break down completely over time, a process that could take up to two years or so, depending on weather conditions and more. He said the targets feature water-based paint that washes off.

Daniels said the target shares flight and breakability characteristics of other White Flyer products.

Champion introduced last year its BioBird Clay Targets, which the company says are made of “naturally occurring forestry products and limestone.”

Jake Edson, a spokesman for Champion, said the BioBird reflects increasing consumer demand for products with less environmental impact.

“They’re selling well enough that [Champion] is happy they introduced the product,” Edson said.

Some shooting sports clubs and shotgun enthusiasts are embracing the targets said to be biodegradable. And they’re also trying to police themselves so that they don’t lose access to public lands because of litter.

One tip for people shooting shotguns is to spread a large tarp that helps collect ejected shells.

In late April, a group of volunteers gathered at a site on the Flathead National Forest that has evolved to be a shooting range. The volunteers hauled away bags and bags of trash.

Josh Clark helped organize the cleanup.

“I guess you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem,” he said then. “We’re going to be part of the solution today.”

Meanwhile, Janette Turk, a spokeswoman for the Flathead National Forest, noted it is not illegal to shoot clay targets on public lands.

Turk said the primary concern is that related activities are safely performed.

“Secondly, we do have expectations of the shooting party; they will pick up the litter that occurs while shooting clay targets,” she said. “That goes for all activities on public lands; pack it in, pack it out, please.”

That doesn’t always happen, Turk said.

“Recently, our helitack crew picked up two full garbage bags of target residue and empty shell cases at a site they needed to perform air operations safely — to safely land and take off with rotors turning,” she said.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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