Hunters fire off variety of suggestions

Published 11:23 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Roughly 50 hunters and residents came to a public meeting Tuesday to talk with city officials about a proposed firearms ordinance.

Eight of those attending gave their opinions on aspects of a proposed ordinance during the meeting, with several more talking with city officials later.

“It’s a beginning,” said hunter Chester Harrell, who was at the meeting representing the Nansemond Hunt Club. “We’ve been needing this. The general public needs to express their opinion.”

Earlier this year, the city petitioned for and received permission to make its own laws regarding rifle hunting in the city. City Council, up against the start of hunting season, then enacted the same code the state previously had in force and expressed a desire to get public input on the code in the coming months.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first step in that direction. Much of the discussion centered on how far a hunter should be from a public roadway when shooting a weapon. Others pointed out certain areas of the city they feel are too developed for hunting, even though they don’t technically fit the definition of “densely populated” in the code.

Some who spoke during the hearing opposed the use of rifles in the city completely. Others spoke for less or more restriction on the distance a hunter must be from the road when shooting — some said 25 yards, as long as they shoot away from the road, others said 300 yards.

“I’d like to see both sides of Suffolk on the same page,” said D.E. Shaw, referring to the “Dismal Swamp line” that carves the city in half for rifle-hunting purposes. “I own property right on the line, and I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or the wrong thing.”

The Dismal Swamp line starts at the city’s border with North Carolina on Desert Road, and heads north up White Marsh Road, through downtown and up Route 10 to the border with Isle of Wight County. Hunting with a rifle of any caliber is allowed in the city only east of the line, and then only if conditions regarding distance from structures and property lines are met — effectively restricting rifle hunting to the Great Dismal Swamp.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts, who led the meeting, said the residents’ comments at the meeting would be compiled and taken into consideration by the City Council when deciding upon the final ordinance. He also said he would take comments by e-mail and telephone.