IW tables rifle ordinance – again

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors again delayed taking action at its Feb. 17 meeting regarding whether to amend the county’s code to allow the hunting of deer and bear with rifles.

The supervisors had previously tabled the matter in January after holding a public hearing on the issue. According to County Attorney Bobby Jones, state law prohibits the use of a rifle of any caliber for the hunting of deer or bear in six localities, including Isle of Wight, unless those localities “opt in” by passing a local ordinance permitting it.

Several hunters made requests for such an ordinance change during the public comment period at board meetings last year.

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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 contain 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 hunting deer and bear, and would rescind the ammunition restriction in favor of a provision requiring hunters to follow all state laws and regulations.

At the board’s January meeting, the supervisors asked that a representative from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources speak to them on the safety considerations that had come up during last month’s public hearing.

According to Peter Acker, a DWR spokesman, the state is “neutral on rifles versus shotguns.”

Shotguns, he explained, fire a bullet at a velocity of roughly 2,000 feet per second and have an effective range of around 150 yards. Muzzleloaders are “a small step up” and can fire a bullet 2,000 to 2,800 feet per second over an effective range of 250 yards. Rifles are a step beyond that, and can fire a bullet 2,500 to 3,000 feet per second over an effective range of 300 yards.

While rifles are generally easier to use for newer, less experienced hunters, the main safety concern, given their range, is stray projectiles. That said, there have only been three hunting accidents in Isle of Wight County over the past 20 years, all of which involved shotguns, not rifles, Acker said. Only one of those incidents resulted in a fatality.

“My concern is that you’re telling a landowner who may want to hunt with a rifle that he can’t do it, so you’re taking away a choice,” said Supervisor Dick Grice.

Board Chairman Rudolph Jefferson, however, said he was still concerned about the safety aspect.

Supervisor William McCarty then asked if it would be possible to leave the hunting of deer and bear with rifles illegal in the county’s development service districts.

Isle of Wight has three development service districts, which serve as geographic areas where the county hopes to attract developers with available or planned water and sewer infrastructure and road improvements. McCarty represents a large portion of the county’s Newport Development Service District, where he said residents have complained to him about bullets from hunters striking their homes.

“I’ve not had anyone ask me to vote in favor of this change,” McCarty said.