In open season, suburbanites 'look like a deer'


November 28, 1990|By ROGER SIMON

Someday Marvin Tenberg may be able to go outside his home without worrying about being shot. But not today.

Wait. Don't worry. This is not another sob story about the perils of life in Baltimore City.

This is a sob story about the perils of life in Baltimore County.

Tenberg lives near Padonia and Falls roads in Cockeysville. Ten years ago this was a rural area. Now, you could call it suburban. There are houses and neighborhoods and lots of people.

And, at this time of year, there are also deer hunters.

"When the hunting season starts," Tenberg said, "Baltimore County neighborhoods are transformed into shooting galleries. And nobody feels safe."

Tenberg knows the stories, both local and national. He knows the stories about people being shot by hunters because they looked like a deer.

The real trouble is that nearly everything seems to look like a deer to a deer hunter. In a case that has received national publicity, a woman in Maine, the mother of two, was shot and killed by a deer hunter in her own back yard because she "looked like a deer."

The hunter had a telescopic scope on his rifle and was only about 60 yards from her when he killed her, yet he told a jury he was sure he had a deer in his sights when he fired. The jury found him not guilty.

Hunting accidents happen every year. Hunters shoot innocent bystanders. Hunters shoot other hunters. Hunters shoot themselves. At the beginning of this year's turkey hunting season in Pennsylvania, for instance, three hunters were mistaken for turkeys and shot by three other hunters. Two of the hunters who did the shooting had telescopic scopes on their rifles. But they were sure that the people they shot were birds.

Everyone is sorry when these things happen. But they happen. Marvin Tenberg doesn't see, however, why it has to happen in his back yard.

"Our essentially residential neighborhood comes under attack by totally irresponsible and insensitive hunters who have only one objective -- to kill," he said.

That is why hunters are in the woods. Let us put aside for the moment the ethics of hunting. Let's pretend it is a decent, upstanding, amusing thing to do.

Even hunters admit they are supposed to kill animals and not people. So is it fair to the innocent dwellers of residential neighborhoods to have their lives placed in peril every year?

The state of Maryland says yes. Under current law it is possible for hunters to walk up to your property line and begin blasting away. Hunters are not supposed to shoot at you or your house or your kids, but, well, a lot of things happen in the great outdoors. And a lot of things "look like a deer" when the shooting starts.

There is little you can do about it. Except stay indoors. And hope a bullet doesn't come through your windows or your walls.

"I find hunters lurking behind trees with guns ready for a kill just on the other side of my property line," Tenberg said. And he produced a letter from a young man, Jim Mascari, who wrote his state senator and said:

"You can hear gun shots at four in the morning. I can't go sledding in my woods. I can't do anything in the woods. I'm really mad at them."

Tenberg has rallied support in the Boxer Hill, Happy Hollow, Hickory Meadows and Applecroft neighborhoods. He says the Falls Road Community Association has been helpful in trying to make the neighborhood safer. And he has pleaded with government officials for a change in the law.

"We aren't asking for a ban on hunting in Baltimore County," he said. "We simply want to stop hunting in our residential areas where it is no longer safe to hunt."

Tenberg has had little luck so far. State officials tell him they have to protect the rights of the hunters who are hunting legally.

Part of the problem, however, is the definition of legal hunting.

Let's say you own a lot and you don't want hunting on it. That's fine. Hunters are not supposed to hunt on private property without written permission.

But under the law, hunters can hunt on adjacent land as long as they are 150 yards away from your house. Not 150 yards away from your property line. But 150 yards away from your house.

So if you dare to go out into your back yard during hunting season, or your kids would like to go sledding in their own back yard or even just walk around, you all had better be mighty careful.

"Kids playing on their own property but away from their house could be at point-blank range of the hunters," Tenberg said. "The dangers of this kind of activity are obvious in our residential areas. And that is just the danger from legal hunters. The illegal hunter goes a step further and fails to observe the property lines."

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