A missed volley

Our view: Proposed Howard County hunting rules are wide of the mark

January 07, 2009

In a recent two-week period, hunters in Howard County killed 820 deer, a number that might seem surprising for a suburban county. But deer thrive in the mixed woodland and meadows of Howard's semi-rural landscape, where they both charm and annoy their human neighbors.

Now, members of the Howard County Council are wrestling with the question of what, if anything, they should do to protect residents from potential deadly fire from hunters encouraged to help keep the deer population under control.

The window of a Clarksville day care center was shattered by a hunter's slug last month. Concerned about a potential tragedy, County Executive Ken Ulman has proposed legislation that would double to 300 yards the buffer zone between hunters and buildings, prohibit hunting on parcels of less than 10 acres and forbid the firing of guns in the direction of buildings within their maximum range.

But Mr. Ulman has gone too far. The proposed rules would be challenging to enforce, are disproportionate to the danger and ignore the existing safe hunting rules enforced by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. For these reasons, the County Council should substantially alter or reject them. Make no mistake, guns are dangerous and must be used carefully. But experts say the proposed new buffer zone would be no safer than the old one and shooting limits based on the type of weapon would be useless unless due care is exercised by the hunter, a requirement now in state hunting rules. DNR officials also note that only a handful of errant shooting incidents have been reported in Maryland in recent decades.

If the council still wants to provide extra protection in heavily populated suburban areas, it could pass legislation to forbid all hunting in the county's Metropolitan District, where hunting on tracts of less than 10 acres is already prohibited. That zone encompasses more than a third of the county, including Columbia, Ellicott City and much of the area east of Route 29. It could be expanded to include more developed areas in the western part of the county. Even isolated, residential areas could be defined and included on a district map that is given to all licensed hunters.

Whatever the council decides, the new rules won't take effect until next season. Deer hunting ends in a week and won't resume until September.

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