Hunters filled a Howard County Council hearing room in Ellicott City last night, determined to oppose changes in local hunting laws that they consider too restrictive.
A bill by County Executive Ken Ulman, co-sponsored by four of the five County Council members, was prompted by an incident in December in which a deer hunter's shot shattered a Clarksville day care center's picture window 277 yards away.
No one was injured, and the hunter, Richard Vernon Hoenes Jr., 41, was beyond the 150-yard safety zone required by state law. But Ulman said he wanted stronger county hunting laws to prevent a recurrence.
Before testimony began, Councilman Greg Fox said that several provisions to which hunters objected would be changed by amendment.
"We have moved in more of a compromise direction," Fox said.
Ray Givens, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said, "I object to all of it. This is an isolated incident; to anybody's knowledge, it's never happened before. They're going to portray it as a safety bill, but it is an anti-hunting bill in disguise."
Wendy Donahoo, president of the Maryland Sportsmen Association, said in prepared testimony that she wants the 150-yard state safety zone continued.
Jennifer Grill, a wildlife spokesewoman for Animal Advocates, a private Howard County group that works to protect animals, supports the bill.
"This is not a hunting bill," she said. "This is a safety issue that affects all of Howard County. The 150-yard rule is antiquated," in a county where the population has doubled since it was written.
County prosecutors were expected to drop a charge of negligent hunting lodged against Hoenes by the state Department of Natural Resources. The trial had been scheduled for District Court today, said Senior Assistant State's Attorney Brendan J. Clary.
The county could not prove that Hoenes "willfully" shot out the window, as the law requires. Hoenes was also charged with failing to register his deer kill within 24 hours, and Clary said he has paid a $250 fine.
The Ulman administration bill calls for doubling to 300 yards the safety zone for discharging a firearm. If a hunter is in a tree stand at least 10 feet off the ground, however, the current 150-yard limit would prevail. The bill also would ban firing if any structure is within the weapon's maximum range, which hunters say can vary based on the ammunition or other factors.
The council is to vote on the bill Feb. 2.
Baltimore Sun reporter Candus Thomson contributed to this article.