Hunters upset Hunters Creek residents Shooting near homes said to happen often


Residents in the Hunters Creek community in Scaggsville say their neighborhood has been living up to its name -- and they're not happy about it.

Residents say hunters have been illegally firing rifles as they track wildlife across streams and thin brush in parkland called the Gorman Area -- sometimes onto their properties.

"It's not safe," said Robert Cohen of Hunters Creek. "It makes us afraid that people are back there just shooting indiscriminately. It's to the point you fear for your life if you're outside or in your home."

Though county police recorded only two hunting complaints near Hunters Creek last year -- of 175 such complaints in the county -- residents say that each week they hear shots fired near their homes and sometimes see hunters in action.

Some residents did not want to talk about the hunters because they say they fear for their safety.

The 6-year-old Hunters Creek community -- with homes ranging from $280,000 to more than $400,000 -- sits between two large wooded areas popular for hunting.

At its northern border is the Gorman Area. At the southern border is a 236-acre parcel owned by the Maryland-Virginia Milk Producers Co-op, near a home where hunters' bullets ripped through a bedroom wall in December 1994.

Sgt. Steve Keller, a county police spokesman, said hunting is illegal in county parks and on residential property unless hunters have written permission from owners. Complaints about hunters are not unusual in the county, where sportsmen still haunt once-rural areas known for hunting before development, Sergeant Keller said.

County park officials have posted signs banning hunting in some areas, such as the 300-acre Gorman Area, which is east of U.S. 29 in Scaggsville, north of Gorman Road and south of the Middle Patuxent River.

But Hunters Creek residents say the bans often are ignored because police don't patrol the area enough to thwart hunting violations.

"Hunters are still taking advantage around here," said Karina Zimmerman, president of the Hunters Creek Homeowners Association.

Just two weeks ago, Sue Potenzone said, she heard a shot outside her rear window in the 10300 block of Champion Way and saw a flock of birds flying away.

Illegal hunters were roaming the park wetlands behind the cul de sac, she said, even after park officials placed small stakes in the ground with notices that hunting is banned in the area.

"I'm furious," Mrs. Potenzone said. "To me, you can't have it. There are kids all around this neighborhood."

Her neighbor, Mr. Cohen, said gunfire jolted him from his sleep about 7:30 a.m. Nov. 30.

"I looked out the window," Mr. Cohen said. "It was two men in Army fatigues with high-powered rifles with scopes. The sound was so intense it was like they were shooting inside my living room."

He said he heard at least four shots 75 feet from his rear deck and bedroom window. He then saw deer run from brush into a residential area -- pursued by hunters.

Neighbor Ray Fox said he was in front of his home when he heard the same shots and saw deer running through his back yard. Minutes later, the hunters returned to their vehicle, parked in front of Mr. Cohen's home, and left.

As all this took place, Mr. Cohen said, he called 911 at least three times. Police arrived more than an hour later, he said.

One reason for the delay is that hunting has a lower priority than some other crimes, police said. When the officer arrived at Mr. Cohen's home, he had stopped two hunters in a Chevrolet truck at U.S. 29 and Gorman Road and given them a warning after they said they hadn't fired any shots.

"I go by the rules and regulations when I hunt," John Schwing, one of the two men issued a warning, said Monday.

The 24-year-old Columbian, a hunter for seven years, said Hunters Creek residents "think they own all the property back there, but they don't. It really ain't doing them no harm."

Hunters must have permits and must not shoot in the direction of homes or across roadways. Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000, police said.

Mr. Schwing said he wouldn't chase deer into residential areas because "they just circle back and go into the woods."

Police told the men not to return, but residents said such warnings are too light.

"It's a public safety issue," Mr. Cohen said. "It's not a rape, robbery or theft. If I said they were snipers, they probably would have come immediately."

Police said Mr. Cohen could file charges against the men for illegally hunting on his property, though Mr. Schwing said he didn't cross onto private property.

Mr. Cohen said he's considering that option: "I'd like to send a message we're not tolerating this stuff in our neighborhood."

The community has been dealing with the problem for years.

In December 1994, two bullets hit the home of William C. Vaughan, a retired Montgomery County firefighter. One lodged in an outside wall and the other pierced the home's vinyl siding and passed through an upstairs bedroom before hitting the wall -- three feet away from where Mr. Vaughan was sitting at his computer.

A neighbor told police of seeing three hunters in woods behind Mr. Vaughan's home. Mr. Vaughan also called 911, but it took about 30 minutes before an officer arrived, he said.

The hunters turned out to be employees of the milk co-op who had permission to hunt. They were not charged.

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