Hunting Accident File > Harassment: > 2004

Harassment by Hunters Documented:
Emotional Stress, Physical Injury, and Property Damage Inflicted Upon Innocent People by Those Who Hunt, Fish, and Trap

Hunters' stray bullets
bringing call for action

Is it time to ban rifles in Orange County?

December 06, 2004

By Chris McKenna
Times Herald-Record
[email protected]  

Greenville – Frieda Dykstra was standing in her kitchen when she heard the crash.

"I thought that the furnace exploded," she said.

"I thought Frieda had dropped the dishes," said her husband, Richard, who was downstairs when he heard the sound.

What had happened was that a rifle bullet, coming from the direction of the fields next to the Dykstra house in rural Greenville, had shattered a door window and ricocheted off a wooden panel in the kitchen, about 5 feet off the ground – and just across the room from Frieda.

Frieda glanced up and saw deer scampering away in the fields.

The close call at dusk last Tuesday was uncomfortably similar to what happened next door during deer-hunting season one year earlier, when a stray bullet passed six inches over their son-in-law's head and thudded into his garage.

The two scares have the 75-year-old couple asking a question that keeps coming up as Orange County's population steadily climbs – whether it's safe to let hunters continue firing rifles in a county where more and more woods and fields have homes on the other side.

Rockland, Dutchess and Putnam counties restrict hunting with firearms to shotguns and muzzleloaders, which don't shoot as far. Westchester doesn't allow any guns – bows-and-arrows only.

But there has been no move to follow suit in Orange, even as it has become the state's fastest-growing county – only worried calls to the police during deer season and occasional reports of stray bullets hitting homes.

One day before the incident at the Dykstra home, a bullet crashed through a picture window on Hulse Avenue in the Town of Wallkill. The three-week rifle-hunting season had begun a week earlier, on Nov. 22, although police were unable to confirm if the bullet had come from a hunter's rifle.

Banning or restricting rifle hunting in the county would take an act of the state Legislature. And that would likely happen only if town or county officials demanded such rules.

But so far, most officials aren't demanding.

The last time the subject of rifle hunting worked its way into public debate was four years ago, when three county legislators broached the idea of banning rifles in Orange's more densely populated towns.

The proposal was dead on arrival. Hunters packed the legislative chambers and watched as lawmakers from both parties swiftly quashed the idea.

That leaves New Windsor Supervisor George Meyers as the lone voice in the wilderness. He has clamored for years to ban rifle hunting countywide.

"Why we have rifle hunting in Orange County is beyond me," Meyers said with dismay. "These guys come up here from the city and they see a patch of woods and they think they're in the jungle."

Meyers said other politicians have avoided the issue because "nobody wants to take on the hunting clubs."

"Some kid getting killed – that's what it's going to take," he said.

Sportsmen counter that Orange County still has enough open space to hunt with rifles and that restricting the sport to shotguns wouldn't solve the true problem – the carelessness of a few.

"To me, the real root of the problem is somebody wasn't paying attention when they fired a shot," said Carmen Heitczman, president of the Orange County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.

"If this was negligence," he asked, referring to the shot that pierced the Dykstra home, "should we ban hunting because he was negligent?"

The answer, he said, is to punish hunters who disregard the cardinal rule of hunting – to know your target and know what's behind your target.

The Dykstras, who moved to Greenville from New Jersey in 1996, say they don't oppose hunting. But they worry about the safety of residents in areas like theirs, where homes are cropping up near woods and farms that may long have been favored hunting grounds.

About 10 homes have been built on their country road since they built their home.

"I personally feel it should be relegated to shotguns and bows and arrows – but not high-powered rifles," Frieda said.

Her husband was more circumspect.

"There has to be a discussion and some rules have to be made," he said, suggesting that the hunters themselves might be the best ones to strike some balance between public safety and hunting rights.

"Let them design something that will protect their own interests," he said.

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