Last Wednesday I drove up to one of the double top secret turkey spots in Berrien County, Michigan. Upon arrival, I parked behind some shrubs so I wouldn’t spook birds, then scanned the valley with my binoculars. To my amazement, I could see an individual walking in circles right where the birds typically hang out.
Except for a towel loosely wrapped around his waist, he appeared to be completely naked. When I drove down the lane, clearly it startled him. The two of us then had a what can only be described as an extremely awkward conversation. Suffice it to say I did not hunt there that day.
While this story is extremely bizarre and oddly humorous, it’s where I was going to hunt that is remarkable. The valley where those turkeys live is maybe 25 acres and surrounded by homes. It’s also very narrow and there are several homes well within 1,000 feet of where I hunt with the landowner’s blessing. Incidentally, the best spot to set up is only about 100 yards from their front porch.
Michigan has a law to address this situation:
No person may hunt with a firearm within 450 feet of an occupied building, dwelling, house, residence or cabin, or any barn or other building used in connection with a farm operation, without obtaining the written permission of the owner, renter or occupant of the property. The safety zone applies to hunting only. It does not apply to indoor or outdoor shooting ranges, target shooting, law enforcement activities or the discharge of firearms for any non-hunting purpose.
This rule is well-written and I’ve dealt with it many times while hunting in Michigan. To the contrary, Indiana to my knowledge, does not have any such rule on the books. Case in point: duck hunters often set-up right outside my mother’s bedroom window on a large lake in Northern Indiana. We’re talking less than 50 feet away, hunters are blazing into ducks flying between houses a half-hour before sunrise. It makes the windows vibrate when they shoot — that’s how close it is.
When my parents have politely asked hunters to hold off and hunt later in the morning, they get the middle finger. When errant bird shot hits their home (as did many neighbors including some that had actual holes in their siding), law-enforcement chastised them all for complaining and explained that the hunters were perfectly legal. This is a problem.
My father made the case that we are a hunting family and we don’t even hunt there because frankly, it’s ridiculous. Some of the gestures and profanity directed towards my folks was so out of bounds that honestly, I’m glad I wasn’t there because I’d have definitely ended up in jail and likely would have had to pay for the surgery when the obnoxious hunter needed to have the gun removed from his behind.
I’ve heard countless similar stories for homeowners around Indiana lakes. In Michigan, conflict between the non-hunting public and hunters is largely mitigated by state law. Unfortunately, all too often the same cannot be said in Indiana. I place the blame squarely on us for forcing our loud and frankly, occasionally gory pastime on these bystanders.
But I also blame the state for allowing this to happen in the first place. Generations of Hoosiers enjoying the heritage and tradition of hunting, have learned the sport while hunting around homes and people. News flash, it ain’t like that everywhere else boys.
Making matters worse, many hunters have a flippant attitude regarding this circumstance. They boast that it is within their “rights” to hunt wherever they please. I find this to be an interesting dichotomy: On one hand, as a very experienced hunter and guide, I wish the best for other hunters in terms of access and success, while on the other hand, I totally understand why the homeowners are upset.
Hunting is not a right, it’s a privilege. Owning a gun is a right, while shooting it anywhere you damn well please is not. Why am I bringing this up? Well, if you didn’t know, an interesting situation developed earlier this week in La Porte as the Board of Commissioners released their agenda for the Wednesday meeting. Under the “New Business” heading was a real bombshell of an ordinance to be considered: Prohibit the Discharge of a Firearm within 1,000 feet of a Residential Dwelling within the Unincorporated Areas of La Porte Co.
Word of this subversive effort traveled like wildfire. My phone practically melted from the volume of text messages and my Facebook news feed was filled with enraged gun owners, hunters and plain old red-blooded Americans. It was fairly obvious this was an attempt to take away our ability to target shoot or hunt with firearms just everywhere in La Porte County. A thousand feet a long way — more than three football fields in length, to put it in perspective.
To be honest, I wasn’t terribly upset because I was confident this fledgling ordinance was going to die a spectacular fall out of the nest and get run over by the lawnmower death. I’m not mentioning any names but the fact that it was even considered to be considered proves that some folks are a bit more out of touch than others. With all due respect to our elected officials and their council, did ya’ll really think something this restrictive would fly with us? Or, the Supreme Court for that matter.
With a raging firestorm at their feet and fuming La Porte County residents banging on the door to the castle, the commissioners wisely backed off ... for now anyway.
Here’s the thing, I get it. I understand why some people don’t want other people shooting right outside their bedroom windows. All you had to do was ask and I would have been glad to offer my broad range of experience and opinion. It should count as should that of countless other U.S. Constitution-loving La Porte County residents.
In the meantime, I ask that my fellow hunters and shooting enthusiasts to remember that we are under the microscope like no other time in history. While you may think what you are doing is all hunky dory, others may not. Obviously, we all have to coexist and our fellow citizens deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Keeping it classy will go a long way when dealing with things such as ordinance 2017-B.