Isle of Wight tables rifle ordinance

Published 5:38 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Jan. 20 on whether to amend the county code to allow the hunting of deer and bear with rifles — but voted to take no action on the matter until February.

Several county residents had requested the change during the public comment period at board meetings last year.

According to County Attorney Bobby Jones, state law prohibits the use of a rifle of any caliber for the hunting of bear or deer in six localities, including Isle of Wight, unless those localities “opt in” by passing a local ordinance permitting it.

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The county’s current ordinance allows .44 caliber or larger muzzleloading rifles for the hunting of all game — including deer and bear — but mandates that the type of ammunition used contains at least 75 grains of black powder or Pyrodex. Violation is currently listed as a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

The proposed ordinance change would allow the use of .23 caliber or larger rifles for the hunting of deer and bear, and rescind the ammunition restrictions. Instead, it would state that hunters are required to follow all state laws and regulations — allowing the ordinance to stay current even if Virginia’s hunting rules change.

It would further allow rifles of .22 caliber or larger for the hunting of groundhogs, coyotes and all other game, bird and nuisance animals.

The hearing drew three speakers — one in support of the proposal and two who expressed reservations.

“What you’ve put forward is something we can support,” said Matt O’Brien of Zuni, who’d been one of the public comment speakers to bring the matter up last year.

His goal in pushing for the change, he said, is for the benefit of young hunters.

“Smaller caliber rifles … are designed for smaller-framed individuals,” O’Brien said.

That said, he expressed reservations about the draft ordinance’s requirement that hunters who use rifles be required to use an elevated stand 10 feet above the ground, and keep their weapons unloaded except when in the stand.

“Asking those young hunters to go up 10 feet, up in the air, or more, there is risk in that,” he said.

Robert Wilson of Carrsville, on the other hand, urged the board to keep the tree stand requirement.

“At least that way you cannot have a stray bullet go further than you could see, and potentially come into somebody’s house,” Wilson said.

Volpe Boykin, also of Carrsville, agreed, and even suggested increasing the height requirement to 15 feet, and consulting with Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources before making a final decision.

“As you well know our land is as flat as a pancake … these are single-shot, high-powered rifles where you can reach out and kill a deer at some pretty long ranges with a scope,” Boykin said.

Per state law, permanently disabled hunters would be exempt from the tree stand requirement.

District 4 supervisor William McCarty agreed with Boykin’s suggestion to consult with Wildlife Resources.

“Something this far reaching, I don’t want anyone to ever say that this board just did it on the quick,” McCarty said.

“Right now, if we had to vote on it, I would not vote in favor of changing what we have, but I’m open to compromise,” said District 2 supervisor Joel Acree.

That said, “I just have a hard time telling people what to do on their own land,” he added.

District 1 supervisor Don Rosie said he too would prefer a 15-foot height requirement for tree stands.

District 5 supervisor Dick Grice said he had “mixed feelings” on the proposed ordinance, but supported the tree stand requirement.

“Someone shooting from a non-elevated position, that’s now a flat trajectory,” Grice said.

“I’m not looking at this as a gun rights issue,” said District 3 supervisor and board chairman Rudolph Jefferson, who argued “a lot of trees” in the county had been cut down, driving deer “closer to the homes” of residents.

“So, where do we hunt? We hunt in the vicinity of these dwellings,” Jefferson said. “It increases the risk for my kid, or my grandkid … to maybe get hit by a bullet.”

But there are no restrictions on recreational firing of guns, including rifles, provided it’s done at least 1,000 feet outside of a residential subdivision, McCarty said and Jones confirmed.

Nor are there any current restrictions on hunting game other than deer and bear with rifles.

“It’s only the deer and bear that is the issue,” Jones said.

The text allowing .22 caliber rifles for other game just clarifies existing state and local laws, Jones explained.

County staff plan to consult with the Department of Wildlife Resources on the proposed ordinance prior to the board’s regular February meeting.

Editor’s note: A previously published version of this story incorrectly stated that the revised ordinance would permit hunting deer and bear with muzzleloading rifles. Muzzleloading rifles are already permitted. The changes pertain to other types of rifles, but would be made in Section 12-10, “Hunting with Muzzleloading Rifles,” in the county’s code.