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Rifle hunting now permitted from ground in Halifax County

Hunters in the county can now hunt from ground level with rifles larger than .22 caliber rimfire after the Halifax County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Monday night to amend an ordinance in an effort to manage the county’s coyote and deer populations.

After hearing from 17 county residents in person and one by letter, the board acted on recommendations from the Coyote Ad Hoc Committee changing a county ordinance to allow rifles to be discharged from the ground.

Of the 18 opinions voiced during the hearing, nine were in favor of allowing rifles to be fired from ground level, and nine were opposed.

The county code had prohibited discharge of rifles except from elevated tree stands.

The ordinance adopted Monday evening parallels state code as it relates to nuisance animals and will allow hunters to better manage the coyote and deer populations, according to a presentation by committee member Larry McPeters.

According to the 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 newly adopted ordinance, 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.

During a 25-minute PowerPoint presentation Monday night prior to the public hearing, McPeters said a 19 percent increase in the harvest of coyotes has been shown from 1993 when 1,200 were killed by hunters and 2008-09 when 25,000 were harvested.

He pointed to 13 separate local complaints of animals being killed by coyote including numerous reported chickens and ducks, one house dog, four goats, 26 calves, six cows and one cow and one bull being chewed up.

At the conclusion of his presentation, McPeters asked the county to remove restrictions on center-fired rifle use and to reinstate a modified bounty program that would require landowners, homeowners, trappers and hunters to become certified by training before collecting a bounty.

Individual bounties of $25 would be paid for coyotes killed in designated areas with the county paying $7.50, the Ward Burton Foundation paying $7.50, and the landowner paying $10 for each coyote killed in as designated area.

“We hope deer, turkey, raccoon and rabbit hunters will get in on this,” McPeters said.

Following his presentation, 17 speakers voiced their opinions, and portions of a letter from Del. James Edmunds was read supporting lifting the restriction to allow rifles to be fired from the ground.

Speaking in favor of allowing hunters to fire rifles from the ground were Myron Farris, Kathy English of Staunton River Hunt Club, Halifax County Farm Bureau President Scott Crowder, Aubrey Hudson, Hudson Reese, Falkland Farms owner Tom Rowland, Carl Smith of the Java Hunt Club, Billy Arrington and a letter of support from Del. Edmunds.

Opposing adoption of the new ordinance were speakers including Katherine Mitzler, Bernard Mitzler, Greg Wade, Bill Cole of Red Bank Hunt Club, Cheryl Watts, Gary Holmes of Southside Virginia Horse Council and Shangrila owner, Jim Blanks of Harmony’s Rocky Farm, Susan Newton and Marsha Barksdale.

 Barksdale told supervisors, “I don’t mind killing coyotes, but good Lord, use something else. When that bullet leaves the gun, you have lost control of that bullet.”

 Fariss, who spoke on behalf of disabled hunters, supported lifting the restrictions because disabled hunters are unable to climb into tree stands that in the past has eliminated their opportunities to hunt.

 Newton echoed Barksdale’s comments saying she has posted her land, but that hasn’t prevented hunters from shooting across and into her land. “If you can’t see what you’re shooting at, don’t pull the trigger,” she said.

 Blanks, speaking on behalf of equine groups, urged supervisors to consider other alternatives to lifting rifle restrictions.

 Crowder said allowing hunters to fire rifles from ground level would be “just another tool in the toolbox” to rid the county of coyotes.

 Holmes, representing Southside Virginia Horse Council, said he came to this area 10 years ago because the county did not permit high-powered rifle hunting, only shotguns.

“We’re talking about people’s lives, not about coyotes,” he said.

 Watts reminded supervisors it was only three years ago they saw fit to put the restriction on hunting with rifles only from elevated tree stands to protect the public.

 Hudson, a past president of Safe Hunters Association, said lifting the restrictions “is something that should have been done 50 years ago.”

 Cole, although a member of the Red Bank Hunt Club, said he and other club members are opposed to allowing hunting with rifles from the ground and suggested supervisors not to amend the ordinance.

 Wade agreed saying, “It’s not worth the chance of someone getting killed.”

• Reese, who himself was injured in a hunting accident, said hunters are in more danger from having to climb up 10 feet into an elevated tree stand than they are from getting struck by another hunter firing from ground level.

 Bernard Mitzler compared lifting the restrictions to “taking a kid off a tricycle and giving him a rocket motorcycle.” He asked who would be in charge of enforcing the rules associated with hunting with rifles from the ground.

 Rowland commented on the many comments he had listened to during the hearing. “You have a higher chance of being injured in a bowling accident than you do from a hunting accident,” he said.

 Katherine Mitzler pleaded with supervisors not to lift the restrictions after expressing her serious concerns.

 Smith reminded supervisors that hunters bring in “a lot of revenue for the county.”

 Arrington said hunters needed something with higher power than a shotgun to stalk coyotes from the ground.

 Del. James Edmunds, who earlier had opposed lifting the restrictions, told supervisors in a letter, “after having used rifles for the last couple of years, I now believe them to be safer than using shotguns, and I also believe that allowing them to be used from the ground will be no more dangerous than from an elevated stand.”

He concluded, “The statistics cited to you tonight speak for themselves, but the bottom line is you cannot legislate common sense.”

After listening to over an hour of public comments, ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis offered the motion to lift restrictions allowing rifles to be fired from the ground which received a second from ED-6 Supervisor Wayne Conner.

During a voice vote, each of the eight supervisors supported the motion.

Ward Burton attended Monday night’s meeting and told supervisors he had worked with specialists from the Virginia Trappers Association to develop a seven-hour training seminar for coyote trappers.

In other county business Monday night, supervisors took the following actions:

 Approved a conditional use permit application from Dennis K. Roller to locate an automotive repair shop adjacent to 8103 Mount Laurel Road on the west side, approximately one-tenth of a mile north of its intersection with Black Walnut Road (Route 600) after holding a public hearing in which Roller sought approval;

 Adopted a list of rural rustic project priorities in the event the Virginia Department of Transportation should receive state funding to cover any of the projects and set a public hearing for May 7 on the county’s Six-Year Plan;

• Were updated by County Administrator George Nester on a request by the USDA for an amended lease on the Farm Service Building;

The USDA currently pays the county $41,142 a year for the space and is asking for reduced square footage as well as for some upgrades for a 10-year lease. The proposal seeks an answer by April 18, but by consensus supervisors agreed to give Nester permission to give the USDA an answer by May 10 to allow time for the county to complete an estimate to prepare a lease proposal and calculate a fair rental rate.

 Approved a resolution authorizing an agreement for building code services between the county and the Town of South Boston;

The approval allows the town to work under the authority of the county building official to abate unsafe structures and buildings within the town limits.

 Approved a resolution adopting certain policies required to receive Community Development Block Grant funds for the South Boston Energy project;

 Set two public hearings for the supervisors’ May 7 meeting;

The first will be to discontinue Staunton Meadows’ agricultural forestal district (AFD) of over 400 acres, and the second hearing will be to allow Summerfield Realty Group, LLC to operate an adult and youth campground at the former Staunton Meadows Camp.

 Agreed to consider publishing in the newspaper a list of delinquent real estate taxes for the last two years at the urging of Treasurer Linda Foster;

 Heard citizen comments from Buster D’Amato and Mike Sexton;

D’Amato urged supervisors to work with the state on passing a law requiring vehicle owners to have proof of insurance in their vehicles at all times.

Sexton, recently retired as the county Industrial Development Authority executive director, told supervisors if they cut the school budget “you’re bleeding out the county,” and “if you cut education you’re cutting our own throats.”

He explained good jobs follow a skilled labor force.

At the conclusion of Monday night’s meeting, supervisors went into closed session, but when they emerged, they took no action.