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To combat coyote problems, county may change rifle rules

Halifax County supervisors want to know how the public feels about changing an existing ordinance to permit hunting from ground level with rifles larger than .22 caliber rimfire in an effort to manage the county’s coyote and deer populations.

A public hearing has been set for Monday, April 2, at 6:30 p.m. in the public meeting room of the Mary Bethune Office Complex in Halifax.

Based on recommendations from the Coyote Ad Hoc Committee, supervisors are considering amending a county ordinance to allow rifles to be discharged from the ground.

At present the county code prohibits discharge of rifles except from elevated tree stands.

However, a public hearing is required before the ordinance can be adopted.

At the January board meeting, supervisors instructed the county attorney to draft an ordinance for review and consideration by the board.

At Monday night’s board of supervisors’ meeting, supervisors briefly discussed the proposed ordinance before voting to hold a public hearing to receive citizen comment.

According to County Administrator George Nester, the proposed ordinance parallels state code as it relates to nuisance animals.

Supervisors said they have found the coyote and deer populations are expanding and in need of improved management.

According to the draft ordinance, the expanding coyote population is not properly managed in agricultural or residential areas posing a risk of damage to livestock, pets, persons, property, crops and plants.

Supervisors said the county’s prior efforts to control deer and coyote through such programs as the coyote bounty program and permitting hunting from elevated stands has not sufficiently addressed the expanding coyote and deer populations in the county.

According to the proposed ordinance, the board finds permitting hunting from ground level with rifles larger than .22 caliber rimfire will enhance hunting opportunities and in effect help better manage the coyote and deer population.

However, supervisors pointed out the ordinance regulates hunting from ground level within 100 yards of property lines and residences to protect the public.

In addition, in an effort to streamline hunting rules in the county, the ordinance also permits killing groundhogs, tagged a nuisance animal, as allowed by law.

As part of the ordinance, the board also is considering eliminating the mandatory and limited nature of its current coyote bounty program with plans to establish a more flexible program to address the problems created by the expanding coyote population.

According to ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis, Jason Fisher of the Virginia Extension Service is working with Animal Control Office Chief Warden Todd Moser to coordinate a public informational meeting to share some of the information it has gained on managing coyote predation.

No date has been set for that meeting, supervisors said Monday night.

Ward Burton’s Wildlife Foundation also is working to bring specialists to the county to conduct a seminar on trapping coyotes, Davis added.

Supervisors encourage citizens to attend the public hearing next month to voice their opinions on whether hunting with rifles should be permitted from ground level.

Citizens Cheryl Watts and Bernard Mitzler did not wait until next month’s public hearing to tell supervisors how they feel about the proposal to allow hunting with rifles from the ground.

Watts reminded supervisors it was three years ago this month that board members enacted the restriction that hunting rifles could only be fired from elevated stands.

“That was after much citizen input. It hardly seems just that this issue is being revisited since you deemed that the citizen input was great enough the first go around to provide an increased field of safety and enjoyment for landowners and their guests for hunting or any other purposes,” she told supervisors.

She anticipated at the April public hearing the meeting room will be packed with “300 hunters here. People haven’t been here to express any interest at all in the coyote problem, but they just want that restriction lifted for their hunting enjoyment, and I’m a little bit disappointed this is moving forward,” she said.

Mitzler pointed out “complete different caliber of guns” are used to hunt coyotes than deer.

“Any one of them will kill you at over 100 yards. No ifs, ands or buts. The small calibers we’ve got, we can take your eyeball out,” he told supervisors.

Speaking of deer rifles, he said bullets would fire for up to a half-mile or three-quarters of a mile and “take you out.”

“Some of them will launch 17 miles, so keep that in mind when you give everybody a high-powered rifle, the rights to use them when they’re used to shotguns that drop in a hundred or 200 yards. Look around the county and see how far you can see when you drive around the county….just keep that in mind,” Mitzler said.