Rifle regulations sought

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, August 20, 2009

Suffolk City Council will be considering an ordinance next month to regulate the discharge of rifles in the city, following a decision earlier this summer to allow the city to do so.

Rifles and hunting are regulated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Prior to this year, the use of rifles was prohibited in the western portion of the city, but allowed under certain circumstances in the eastern portion of the city.

The two halves are separated by the “Dismal Swamp line,” which starts at the intersection of Desert Road and the state line and goes northbound on Desert Road, through downtown and along Route 10 to the Isle of Wight County line.

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Hunting with rifles east of the swamp line is allowed during hunting season as long as the hunter is on a stand at least 15 feet above the ground. It is not, however, allowed anywhere in the city within 100 yards of any structure used as a residence, business or storage facility without the permission of the owner; within 100 yards of any public street, except at a permitted firing range; or in a densely populated area.

Early this year, Suffolk petitioned the game department to allow the city to make its own regulations regarding rifles. The department agreed, but did not take up the issue of the exception east of the swamp line.

The structure of the zones is counterintuitive, Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts acknowledged during a City Council meeting on Wednesday. The land west of the line contains the city’s most rural areas, while that east of the line and north of Portsmouth Boulevard hosts the city’s most booming growth in recent years, Councilman Rob Barclay IV noted.

“Is there any thought that the state would consent to an adjustment of that line?” Barclay asked Roberts during Wednesday’s council work session.

Roberts responded that the city could have more in-depth talks with the department on that issue next year, but he recommended the council enact an ordinance similar to last year’s before hunting season starts. A youth deer-hunting day is scheduled for Sept. 26, and hunting season starts soon after, so council should put new regulations in place before then, Roberts said.

Council agreed to consider a draft ordinance at a September meeting, and expressed its desire to create a more comprehensive regulation in the first half of next year. Councilman Charles Parr recommended the group seek the input of residents, farmers, hunt clubs and other interested people before creating the more comprehensive ordinance.