City seeks to enact its own rifle laws

Published 8:11 am Friday, February 20, 2009

SUFFOLK—Although the city of Suffolk is looking to be removed from a short list of localities where hunting bears and deer with a rifle is outlawed, the move is designed to put more restrictions in place, not to open the city up to rifle hunting.

Debbie George, a spokesman for the city, said Suffolk was “making a request to make its own regulations (on rifle hunting), and to allow us to put more restrictions in place.”

A state hunting regulation — Chapter 270, Section 20 of the Virginia Administrative Code as it pertains to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries — prohibits the use of a rifle of any caliber to hunt bear and deer in Southampton, Isle of Wight, Sussex, Chesterfield and New Kent counties, and also in the cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake.

An exception to Section 20 permits using muzzle-loading weapons to hunt deer during a late special muzzle-loading deer season in Chesapeake.

An additional regulation, Section 30 of the same chapter, allows the use of rifles to hunt and kill big game “in that part of (the) Dismal Swamp in the cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk, located as much as 100 yards from any railroad or public highway, when the rifle is used on a stand elevated not less than 15 feet above the ground.”

Capt. Michael Minarik, the law enforcement manager for the department’s Tidewater region, said the regulation should not imply that rifle hunting is permitted everywhere else in Virginia.

“That is not the case,” Minarik said. “The fact of the matter is there are many cities and counties that restrict or disallow the use of rifles for various types of hunting. Those various counties use the Code of Virginia to enact local ordinances so that they may control or dictate the types of rifles that can be used in their areas.”

Glen Askins, the department’s wildlife biologist manager for the Tidewater region, said the regulation was recodified from previous state law and took effect in its current form on October 1, 1987.

Both Minarik and Askins declined to speculate as to why the regulation was enacted, or the reasoning behind singling out the five counties and two cities. Both men said they were not aware of any other localities petitioning to be removed from the list.

Askins said Suffolk would need to have a written request submitted to the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries before March 1, if the city hopes to be removed from the list in time for this year’s hunting season. Department staff would need to recommend approval of the move, and there would also need to be a public hearing.

“We look for old regulations (to eliminate),” Askins said. “This may be something that we want to look at some time in the future, but I just cannot say what the pleasure is of our board.”

Although Southampton and Isle of Wight counties are affected by the ban on hunting bear and deer with a rifle, neither locality seems to be following Suffolk’s lead in being removed from the Section 20 list.

“It’s not an issue here,” said Don Robertson, spokesman for Isle of Wight County. “Nobody’s come to the Board of Supervisors, at least not to the board meetings, and raised that issue. And none of our board members have had any conversations with us about being contacted about that. From my perspective, it hasn’t been a problem or an issue that’s been raised in Isle of Wight.”

Michael Johnson, the administrator for Southampton County, could not be reached for comment.