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If you want to help county officials decide whether to allow the use of rifles for deer hunting, then Tuesday night, Jan. 28, will be your chance.
The Caroline County Board of Supervisors will conduct a public hearing on Jan. 28 on whether to allow the use of rifles for deer hunting. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the Community Services Center auditorium along U.S. 301 south of Bowling Green. Most public hearings are at 7:30 p.m.
Over 70 counties in Virginia, including Henrico, Stafford and Spotsylvania, already allow deer hunting with rifles and Caroline County should do the same, said Garry Gray, a local hunter.
This will be the second public hearing in recent weeks on this issue. The previous meeting was on Dec. 14.
The county code currently allows the use of bows, muzzleloader rifles and shotguns for deer hunting, but not centerfire rifles, which are more accurate than other firearms.
“In Caroline, we have had six accidents involving hunting firearms in the past five years,” Gray said. Henrico, Stafford and Spotsylvania have had no hunting firearm accidents over the past five years, he noted.
The state government allows county governments to decide whether to allow rifles for deer hunting.
Gray is quick to point out that under the current code in Caroline, “rifle hunting is already permitted for everything but deer hunting” 10 months a year.
That includes the use of rifles for problem animals, such as beavers, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, groundhogs and raccoons. However, those animals cannot be shot with a rifle during deer hunting season “because a game warden would not be able to tell if you’re shooting problem animals or deer,” noted Gray, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). Bear hunting is allowed in Caroline, but only with a bow or a crossbow.
Deer hunting season is typically 60 days—from Nov. 16 to Jan. 4. “Why not allow the use of rifles for that other two months?” said Gray, a Caroline resident.
Caroline does allow a farmer to shoot deer that are damaging a crop. This can be done with a rifle and even in the summer when deer can’t be hunted. The stipulation, however, is that the dead deer has to be left in the crop field for vultures to eat.
Gray sees that as an unnecessary waste of meat that could be consumed by humans, he said. The use of rifles is a better way to manage an increasing deer population in Caroline, he noted. Hunters who hunt deer with rifles in other counties are able to kill deer from a greater distance, often well over 100 yards. However, the effective kill-range for a shotgun loaded with buck shot is usually 50 yards or less. Depending on the rifle and type of scope that is used, an ethical kill of a deer can be made 200 yards away.
He refers to an ethical deer kill as one that doesn’t involve pain and suffering, he said.
Gray has conducted ballistics demonstrations at a private shooting range in Caroline. During the demonstrations, Gray fires a .30-caliber rifle with a scope, a muzzleload with a single slug and a 12-gauge shotgun with buckshot. The target is a water-filled two-gallon jug with an orange round sticker the size of a 25-cent coin. With the proper education, training and practice, the user of the rifle can accurately hit a plastic jug 100 yards away—with the bullet missing the orange sticker by only a inch or so. The muzzleload can also hit the jug and get within a few inches of the orange sticker.
But the 15 pellets from the shotgun spread out four feet by the time they travel 50 yards and reach the target. Gray points out that only one of the 15 pellets would come close to reaching the heart of the deer. The next closest pellet to the heart misses the heart altogether. Other pellets would have hit the deer’s legs and rump. In this case, the deer might not die instantly. He recommends that hunters not attempt to use a shotgun to kill a deer that is more than 50 yards away.
Many hunters miss an opportunity to kill a deer in Caroline because they can’t use a rifle, he said.
While the muzzleloader rifle is the next best thing to a centerfire rifle, it’s only one tedious shot at a time. For each shot, the user has to reload gunpowder in the form of a small block of powder, load the bullet, and insert a detonator or firing cap that that sends a spark to the gunpowder to make the gun fire, and this allows for only one shot. In the event that the shot was not perfect, it could take over a minute to reload with the chance of losing a deer. That’s a modern muzzleload gun. Some muzzleload guns are somewhat similar to the muskets from the colonial days in which a ram rod was used to pack the powder.
Centerfire rifles can be reloaded in seconds and most can quickly fire several shots.
“The old tradition of hunting in Caroline started when there were small amounts of deer and it was difficult to find deer, and dogs were beneficial in helping to find the deer,” Gray said. “The deer are not as difficult to find because there are far more deer in Caroline now. In the past 40 years, the deer population has doubled in Caroline.
“My recommendation today is that people who are happy with the sport of deer hunting with dogs continue using shotguns,” Gray said. “But for people who want to go into quality deer management, my recommendation is that rifles would be the best tools for herd management. With rifle hunting, it’s quiet and you can sit and enjoy the wildlife.”
In Caroline County, hunting with dogs often involves hunters who stand along a public road with a loaded shotgun and wait for a pack of dogs to drive deer toward the hunters. It’s legal for them to stand beside the road and fire the shotgun, but they aren’t allowed to point the gun toward the public road or shoot across the road. This doesn’t bode well for public perception of hunting.
Some Virginia counties are looking at outlawing the use of dogs for deer hunting. The Accomack County Board of Supervisors conducted an Oct. 3, 2013 public hearing and asked the public: “Shall the Accomack County Board of Supervisors petition the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries to amend the Virginia Hunting Regulations to prohibit deer hunting with dogs in Accomack County?”
When it came up for a vote, Accomack supervisors voted 5 to 3 to reject the proposal, which had been brought to supervisors by a coalition of anti-hunters, aggrieved landowners, hunters opposing dog use and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In addition, the matter has come up in Sussex, Powhatan and several counties in Northern Virginia.
Most people who hunt deer with rifles do so without the use of dogs, said Gray, who strongly emphasized that he does not oppose deer hunting with dogs. Many rifle hunters will climb up into tree stands where a rifle barrel is pointed downward toward a deer. If the hunter misses the target, the bullet is more likely to go into the ground rather than travel for miles and miles.
Rifle hunting is done at a distance and with far more discretion. Without dogs scaring them, deer are calm and casual and can be observed at a great distance with binoculars so that the hunter can determine if the deer is part of the quality deer management program.
The average deer shot in Virginia is only 2.5 years old. A much better trophy would be a deer that is 4.5 years, Gray said. In many cases, deer hunters with dogs have to take whatever the dogs run out of the woods.
A mature buck that’s at least 4.5 years old looks different from a deer that’s 2 years younger, Gray said. A 2.5-year-old deer will have a more slender neck and a pointy nose. Antlers can be deceiving because some young deer have a genetic makeup that results in bigger-than-normal antlers.
“Personally, I would like every young hunter today to be able to shoot a trophy deer in his or her lifetime,” Gray said. “It’s trigger management. Wait for the right buck to come along. If you shoot the 2.5-year-old buck, you’ve taken away the opportunity to shoot a trophy buck 2 years later. But the mentality of the hunter is: If I don’t shoot it, somebody else will.”
Gray noted that an average acre of soybeans is worth $1,000, and a large herd of deer can destroy several acres of soybeans in one or two nights. The VDGIF will send a biologist out to a farm and determine if deer are overpopulated on a farm. If so, the game department will grant the farmer a permit to shoot the deer with a rifle and even a spotlight during the summer, which is when soybeans are grown. Gray said it bothers him that the dead animal cannot be used for meat for humans.
“If we had rifle hunting, you could do more effective herd management,” he said. “It’s more ethical to manage the deer population in the winter months than the summer.”
Farms near Fort A.P. Hill are especially prone to deer damage to crops, he noted. “A.P. Hill is an excellent breeding ground for deer. They reproduce at A.P. Hill and then go out to farms where they eat spring wheat, corn and soybeans.”
Gray noted that under no circumstances is he recommending the use of any firearm in or around a subdivision. “Safety is the No. 1 concern for everyone and I want to help educate hunters in Caroline so that we have no hunting accidents,” Gray said. “My push for rifle hunting is for the rural areas in Caroline, not towns or subdivisions.”
He recommends that you contact the VDGIF if you have deer problems in urban areas because there is an archery program for deer management in those areas.