Hunting Hearing Set For April 15

Published 4:21 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BUCKINGHAM – Hitting the bull's eye for a revision to the county's rifle hunting ordinance has turned into a time-consuming and controversial task for the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors.

The current ordinance allows rifle hunting for deer and bear with .23 or larger caliber rifles from tree stands elevated ten feet above the ground. It also authorizes hunting game animals, rabbit, fox, squirrel, bobcat and raccoon with a .22 caliber rimfire or centerfire rifle.

Additionally, the current ordinance authorizes hunting furbearing animals; beaver, bobcat, fox, mink, muskrat, opossum, otter, raccoon, skunk, and weasel with a .22 caliber rimfire or centerfire rifle. It also authorizes hunting nuisance species of blackbirds, coyotes, crows, cowbirds, feral swine, grackles, English sparrows, and starlings with a .22 caliber rimfire or centerfire rifle.

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However, from what appears to have been an oversight, the current ordinance does not include a provision to hunt groundhogs with a rifle.

During its March 11 meeting, the board, with a three to four vote, shot down proposed changes to the Rifle Hunting Ordinance that would have allowed hunting deer, bear, and turkey from the ground with rifles .23 caliber and above.

Subsequently, after that proposed revision failed, supervisors scheduled a special meeting on Tuesday, March 26, to conduct a public hearing on another proposed revision to the ordinance made during that March 11 meeting.

Offered by Supervisor Cassandra Stish, the proposal called for authorizing deer, bear, and turkey hunting with a .23 caliber rifle or larger from a “fixed location” on the ground or from an elevated stand.

Additionally, Stish's proposal included hunting groundhog with a rifle and included adding a provision for the use of a side arm or handgun as per the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries regulations.

However, during the March 26 meeting, it didn't take three members of the board appointed Rifle Hunting Ordinance Committee or the audience long to target the “fixed location” requirement of Stish's proposal.

Subsequently, the board, aiming to have any revisions in place in time to meet the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries deadline for submitting changes for the upcoming hunting season, scheduled another public hearing to coincide with its April 15 meeting.

The hearing on the newest proposal will follow hearings on the FY14 budget proposal and tax rates, a special use permit request for the Buckingham Agricultural Resource Network, BARN, facility on Route 60, and a request by Bethlehem Baptist Church to abandon a portion of Winfrey-Inez Road, Route 699.

During the April 15 hearing on rifle hunting, the public will be able to address several issues beginning with whether the board should rescind the current rifle-hunting ordinance.

Secondly, the hearing offers the public the opportunity to comment on whether the board should adopt the following as an ordinance: “There are no county regulations on hunting game with firearms in Buckingham County, Virginia other than those set forth by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and any applicable federal laws.”

The hearing will also address whether the board should adopt the following as an ordinance relating to hunting with a firearm in Buckingham County: “It shall be unlawful to engage in hunting with a firearm between the ditches of any primary or secondary highway. Any person who violates the provision of this ordinance shall be guilt of a Class 3 misdemeanor.”

March 26 Hearing

Prior to public comments, County Administrator Rebecca Carter provided an overview of the proposed revision presented by Stish.

As she went through her presentation, Carter noted that there has been “a volume of controversy and concern” regarding rifle hunting while running hounds.

She stressed, “While it would be challenging for the hunter to legally meet the regulation of hunting in a fixed location with hounds or dogs, it is clear that Buckingham County cannot regulate dog or hound hunting.”

Carter explained, “Because Virginia is a Dillon Rule State. This means that counties can only adopt what the State of Virginia allows. It is noted that the state has not authorized counties to regulate hunting with hounds. That has been reserved exclusively to the State of Virginia.”

The county administrator shared that she believed it was Stish's intent to try to find a compromise for those that agree and disagree with rifle hunting from the ground.

Following Carter's presentation, County Attorney E. M. Wright, Jr. shared that he was asked to speak DGIF representatives regarding the language of the proposed ordinance.

Wright explained that he contacted Robert Ellis, Deputy Bureau Director for DGIF, who, in turn, requested he also talk with the local CPO, conservation police officer.

Offering that he spoke with the officer, Wright said the CPO expressed his willingness to work with the board. However, the attorney shared that the CPO indicated that the ordinance, as currently drafted, would be particularly difficult to enforce without modifications.

After Chairman Monroe Snoddy opened the hearing to public comments, Don Shumaker, David Martin, and Alan Cox, three members of the committee, went to the podium.

Shumaker shared that whether they spoke as members of the committee or as individuals, they “oppose the Stish Ordinance.”

He continued, “And we recommend that the board go with an ordinance that I found after talking a lot with the game department (DGIF), with Sergeant Slaughter and his superior. They want something simple and enforceable.”

Shumaker said that of the ones he presented to them, the one they favored and said would be the easiest to enforce and understand is a one-sentence one.

He read, “There are no special ordinances on hunting game with firearms in Buckingham County, Virginia, other than those set forth by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and any applicable federal laws.”

Shumaker followed, “What this does is it puts us in the same category with Fluvanna County, Prince Edward County, and a lot of other counties around us.” He continued, “It basically puts us under control of the State Code.”

Defending the trio's recommendation, Shumaker stated, “It makes it simple for them to enforce it. It makes it very simple for the sportsmen to know whether they are legal or not and that is very important for both sides of the equation.”

After presenting the recommendation, Shumaker asked that all those in the audience who were in favor of it to stand. Responding, the majority of those making up the large crowd that filled the auditorium stood and applauded.

On the heels of the visual demonstration of those favoring the one sentence approach, nine individuals went to the podium to either echo their support for the trio's recommendation, emphasize a specific section of the “Stish Ordinance” that they opposed, express their support for the initial proposal, which authorized hunting from the ground, or seek clarification on caliber size.

Following the public comment segment, Snoddy shared that he had received a “lot of phone calls” and 90 percent of them were in favor of hunting with rifles from the ground.

Supervisor Stish, noting that so many of the comments were directed to her personally, shared the spirit in which she made her proposal.

“I think the county administrator brought that out aptly,” said Stish. “It appeared to be a lot of tension in the county regarding this issue.”

She continued, “While there is a roomful of you here, there are a lot of people in their living rooms who are depending on me to consider their perspective.” She added, “And, I represent everybody.”

Stish stated, “I was hopeful that a middle-ground thing would provide some assurance to the landowners and provide more freedom to the rifle hunters. And, we could take some baby steps as a community to be able to ease into this thing. I think that everyone here, if you were telling the truth, could say that you guys recognize that sometimes there is some tension during hunting season between landowners and hunters.

“I was hopeful we could come up with something that might ease that tension and allow us to more peacefully exist while we were still expanding our Second Amendment rights and working together as a community.”

Supervisor Donnie Bryan shared that like Stish he received calls from people for and against it. “Our intent is to try to do what is best for county residents,” he stated.

Bryan offered that he also received a call from someone asking couldn't they do something about hunting from the road.

After some discussion about what action the board could take, Stish moved to adopt the changes in her proposal that adds groundhog to the species that may be hunted and authorizes the use of rifles .22 caliber rimfire and larger when hunting nuisance species as listed.

Noting the need to address the language in her proposal to make it more enforceable, Stish stated, “And we bring the rifle hunting from the ground back because we have to have another public hearing for that.”

Following a second from Bryan, discussion from the board prompted comments from several supervisors and members of the audience to “drop the whole thing” and “come up with something new.”

At that point, the chair called for the vote. However, the motion failed with Stish, Staton, and Bryan voting in its favor and Allen, Chambers, Snoddy, and Talbert opposing.

Subsequently, after clarification by the county administrator and county attorney on what action the board could take, Talbert moved and the board unanimously concurred to hold a public hearing in conjunction with the April 15 meeting to consider rescinding the present Rifle Hunting Ordinance and adopting an ordinance using the wording proposed by Shumaker, Cox, and Martin.

Supervisor Danny Allen, explaining that he had talked with the CPO about hunting from the road, followed with a motion proposing a county ordinance making it unlawful to hunt from ditch to ditch along secondary and primary roads.

After a second by Bryan, Supervisor John Staton noting that right-of-ways vary on different roads, stated, “I am opposed to it because you don't know what the right-of-way is on the roads you happen to be on.”

Allen's motion drew a six to one vote, with Staton opposing.