Hunting hearing draws hundreds
BY Karen McConkey View stories by reporter
It was open season on people opposed to hunting deer with dogs in Lenoir County.
More than 350 hunters sporting blaze orange caps turned out for a public hearing in the Lenoir County Courthouse on Tuesday, outnumbering their foes by about 100-to-1. They implored county commissioners to leave the county's hunting laws alone.
"We've got enough laws on the books as it is," Sonny Wade said.
Gena Byrd and her husband, Virgil Byrd Jr., of Institute, have led the effort to get current hunting laws changed. The couple says hunters continually trespass on their land and put their home and lives at risk using high-powered weapons.
"This is how I dress every time I go outside into my yard," Gena Byrd said of her blaze orange hooded jacket. "My children dress like this when they go out to play."
She said her family has been plagued by hunters who can't control their dogs and violate the "no hunting" signs posted on the family's land.
"I've had a hunter come to my door and give me orange flags to put on my children's four-wheelers, telling me it's to make sure we take safety precautions," she said. "He's sitting right here today."
Commissioners said they would consider the issue carefully before making a decision. Chairman George Graham said he's been to only two other public hearings as large as Tuesday's in his 25 years as a commissioner. "One of them was about this same issue; the other was about school merger," Graham said.
The Byrds and other Institute families say dogs chase deer into fields and woods that border homes. Some hunters use high-powered rifles that can fire a round up to 2 miles. That kind of lethal power, Byrd said, is a threat to the safety of families and homeowners.
Others, like La Grange resident Pam Rouse, say they're not opposed to dog hunting, but it doesn't lessen the threat hunting poses to them and their families. "I am for responsible dog hunting," Rouse said. "But I am afraid to go in my own yard."
Lisa Carlyle hunted for the first time this year. "I really enjoy it," she said. Carlyle also believes landowners and homeowners are being irrational in wanting to ban hunting with dogs. "It's like any other sport, like golf," Carlyle said. "The ball doesn't always go where you want it to. Dogs and deer don't always go where you want them to. Dogs can't read signs. Deer can't read signs."
Dickie McCoy lives in Greene County, but owns land and hunts in Lenoir County. He and fellow hunters formed a new hunt club in Lenoir County last year. "We spent $30,000 to get this going," he said. McCoy cited the donations hunt clubs make to community projects each year, like the ball park in Moss Hill.
McCoy cautioned commissioners to consider every angle before changing a hunting law. "If you start with Institute, it will fall across the county like a domino," McCoy said.
Jones County resident Jeffrey Mitchell agreed. "I'm at this hearing today because the same thing that is happening here could happen where I live."
County Attorney Bob Griffin said to change a county law, commissioners first have to draft it, approve it, then submit it to local legislators to be introduced in the General Assembly.
Changing the law won't necessarily change the problem, many of the hunters agreed. "You can pass all the dog hunting laws you want to," Bernie Smith of Deep Run said, "but the ones who are going to break them are going to do just that - break 'em."
Karen McConkey can be reached at (25205277-3191, Ext. 232, email@example.com.
Current Lenoir County law prohibits
n Hunting with a firearm on or discharge a firearm on or across S.R. 1804 between U.S. 70 and N.C. 55.
n Releasing hunting dogs onto posted land without written consent of the owner
n Hunting on or from the right of way of a public road
Proposed changes would prohibit
n Hunting deer with dogs or allowing dogs to chase deer
n Allowing dogs to run on posted land without written, signed and dated permission from the landowner
n Hunting deer with a center-fire rifle or shotgun except from a deer stand elevated at least 8 feet above ground and not fixed on a motor vehicle
n Hunting while under the influence of impairing substances.