Hunting-zone review likely

The Baltimore Sun

Two state officials said yesterday that they will press for a review of the state law setting a buffer zone between hunters and occupied buildings after a stray slug from a deer hunter's shotgun shattered the front window of a Howard County day care center.

The hunters were at a farm about 300 yards - nearly twice the required distance - behind Kids Time Out in Clarksville on Wednesday afternoon when they fired at least three times, police said.

"That was just too close," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat and member of the House Environmental Matters Committee, which proposes laws for the Department of Natural Resources. "Hunting, when it's done properly, I think it's great. But I think we have to look at this. ... I imagine this will come before the committee."

Joseph Lamp, a member of the governor's Wildlife Advisory Commission, said a 150-yard buffer made sense when counties were more rural.

"Certainly in areas where the population has grown, it makes sense to modify the safety distances," said Lamp, a professor at Anne Arundel Community College. "We already divide the state for the purposes of setting deer hunting regulations, and I don't think that it would be difficult to do the same where safety is concerned."

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he will file legislation to set a county buffer zone that would increase the distance "from 150 yards to a much safer distance," but he did not indicate what that would be.

"I realize no one was injured in this incident, but that's because luck was on our side - this time," Ulman said in a written statement. "It is clear to me that if these bullets can travel far more than 150 yards, then we must change the County Code to establish a safety zone which would exceed that distance."

"This was a hyper-rare situation in Maryland history," said Paul Peditto, acting assistant director of the Department of Natural Resources. "I'm aware of just three incidents in the last two decades."

Natural Resources police are conducting a separate investigation with an eye toward ensuring all hunting regulations were followed.

As development swallows up wide swaths of woods and fields, more and more states have had to grapple with keeping hunters a safe distance from homes and businesses. More powerful firearms have only exacerbated the problem.

The issue took the national stage 20 years ago last month, when a Maine hunter killed a mother of two as she hung laundry out to dry. A grand jury initially refused to indict the hunter, who was later charged with but acquitted of manslaughter.

His supporters blamed the victim for being outside during hunting season and for wearing white mittens, which looked like deer tails. The backlash led to more stringent regulations in Maine and prompted other states to review safety zones.

But even that hasn't been enough. Last month, a hunter in upstate New York was charged with manslaughter after a high-powered bullet meant for a deer ripped through a trailer and killed a toddler.

Lamp said the Howard incident could be the catalyst for change here.

"Every time something like this happens, my phone rings off the hook with people demanding action," said Lamp. "I think we need to revisit the 150-yard zone."

Howard County police said they are investigating the shooting at Kids Time Out, which is in back of a strip mall and surrounded by thick woods.

The hunters were on the ground and not in a tree stand when they killed the deer.

"We have not determined that charges will be filed at this point," said Pfc. Jennifer Reidy, a department spokeswoman.

No one was injured in the shooting, which police have labeled accidental.

Felicia Minnix, the center director, was on the phone with a parent about 1:30 p.m. when she heard the shots.

"It was terrifying," said Minnix, 32, who was taking a "mental day" at her Reisterstown home yesterday. "I was thinking 'Oh, my God, is this it? Is this how I am going to go?' It gave me a little more comfort knowing that this was a hunter and that this was not something random."

Employees roused six napping children and shepherded them into a bathroom.

The day care center reopened yesterday, the shattered window replaced with plywood, another window adorned with construction-paper Christmas stockings.

Neither hunter - one from Ellicott City and the other from Lutherville - had contacted the center to apologize, which angered parents, Minnix said.

"Something needs to be done to get them [hunters] away from the homes and the area," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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