Gun Culture

"Drone shooting event" in Deer Trail: Phil Steel plans to have a blast

The citizens of Deer Trail have yet to vote on a proposed ordinance to allow the hunting of drones within the town limits. The date of the vote has been postponed until December 10 because of legal challenges to the petitions and may be postponed again. But that hasn't stopped the man who crafted the ordinance, Phil Steel, from moving ahead with critical training of potential drone hunters. In a shameless effort to rally enthusiasts for his cause, Steel has organized a "drone shooting event" on private land just outside of town for Saturday, November 30.

Participants won't actually be shooting at actual drones; there are, it seems, a paucity of reports concerning unmanned aerial surveillance hardware buzzing the skies of Deer Trail. Instead, Steel plans to launch up to fifty Estes rockets and let his hunters blast away.

"There are no prizes to be won," Steel explains. "This is basically just fun. The idea is to develop a whole new shooting sport. It's strategically placed ten days before the vote because I want to influence the vote as much as possible."

The plan to issue official licenses to hunt drones drew international media attention to this modest burg -- and more than a little embarrassment among locals who view the effort as an inane joke at their expense. But Steel has his own reasons for pushing his campaign against drones and other government intrusions; as we first reported back in September, Steel's home was raided by Arapahoe County SWAT officers in 2010 as part of an investigation into a bizarre workplace poisoning incident that never resulted in any charges. " I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an element of payback in this," Steel told me. Not content to wait for the stamp of official approval, Steel has been selling hundreds of his own drone-hunting licenses, "printed on fine vellum" and suitable for framing, through his website. The licenses are chiefly novelty items and not recognized by any public authority, but you'll need one to get into the shooting event on Saturday -- and possibly a ten-dollar admission fee, as well as additional fees for targets and ammo. Only shotguns (twelve-gauge and smaller) and birdshot are allowed; for the complete rules and directions to the event, consult Steel's Droneshooters merchandising emporium.

Can savvy skeet shooters hit an Estes rocket at some point in its brief trajectory? Steel thinks so. "I know people in Deer Trail that can nonchalantly point their shotgun and hit one clay pigeon after another," Steel says.

He plans to use rockets equipped with streamers, not parachutes, to make the event a bit more challenging. "You hit them as they're either going up or coming down -- probably coming down," he says.

The shootin' starts at 10 a.m. And oh yes, drone-hunter T-shirts are on sale, 25 percent off, between now and Christmas.

More from our Gun Culture archive: "Gun control report: 15 percent of mass shootings happened in 'gun-free' zones."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast