Is it time to ban rifles in Orange County?
December 06, 2004
By Chris McKenna
Greenville – Frieda Dykstra was standing in her kitchen when she heard
"I thought that the furnace exploded," she said.
"I thought Frieda had dropped the dishes," said her husband,
Richard, who was downstairs when he heard the sound.
What had happened was that a rifle bullet, coming from the direction
of the fields next to the Dykstra house in rural Greenville, had shattered
a door window and ricocheted off a wooden panel in the kitchen, about
5 feet off the ground – and just across the room from Frieda.
Frieda glanced up and saw deer scampering away in the fields.
The close call at dusk last Tuesday was uncomfortably similar to what
happened next door during deer-hunting season one year earlier, when
a stray bullet passed six inches over their son-in-law's head and thudded
into his garage.
The two scares have the 75-year-old couple asking a question that
keeps coming up as Orange County's population steadily climbs – whether
it's safe to let hunters continue firing rifles in a county where more
and more woods and fields have homes on the other side.
Rockland, Dutchess and Putnam counties restrict hunting with firearms
to shotguns and muzzleloaders, which don't shoot as far. Westchester
doesn't allow any guns – bows-and-arrows only.
But there has been no move to follow suit in Orange, even as it has
become the state's fastest-growing county – only worried calls to the
police during deer season and occasional reports of stray bullets hitting
One day before the incident at the Dykstra home, a bullet crashed
through a picture window on Hulse Avenue in the Town of Wallkill. The
three-week rifle-hunting season had begun a week earlier, on Nov. 22,
although police were unable to confirm if the bullet had come from
a hunter's rifle.
Banning or restricting rifle hunting in the county would take an act
of the state Legislature. And that would likely happen only if town
or county officials demanded such rules.
But so far, most officials aren't demanding.
The last time the subject of rifle hunting worked its way into public
debate was four years ago, when three county legislators broached the
idea of banning rifles in Orange's more densely populated towns.
The proposal was dead on arrival. Hunters packed the legislative chambers
and watched as lawmakers from both parties swiftly quashed the idea.
That leaves New Windsor Supervisor George Meyers as the lone voice
in the wilderness. He has clamored for years to ban rifle hunting countywide.
"Why we have rifle hunting in Orange County is beyond me," Meyers
said with dismay. "These guys come up here from the city and they
see a patch of woods and they think they're in the jungle."
Meyers said other politicians have avoided the issue because "nobody
wants to take on the hunting clubs."
"Some kid getting killed – that's what it's going to take," he
Sportsmen counter that Orange County still has enough open space to
hunt with rifles and that restricting the sport to shotguns wouldn't
solve the true problem – the carelessness of a few.
"To me, the real root of the problem is somebody wasn't paying
attention when they fired a shot," said Carmen Heitczman, president
of the Orange County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.
"If this was negligence," he asked, referring to the shot
that pierced the Dykstra home, "should we ban hunting because
he was negligent?"
The answer, he said, is to punish hunters who disregard the cardinal
rule of hunting – to know your target and know what's behind your target.
The Dykstras, who moved to Greenville from New Jersey in 1996, say
they don't oppose hunting. But they worry about the safety of residents
in areas like theirs, where homes are cropping up near woods and farms
that may long have been favored hunting grounds.
About 10 homes have been built on their country road since they built
"I personally feel it should be relegated to shotguns and bows
and arrows – but not high-powered rifles," Frieda said.
Her husband was more circumspect.
"There has to be a discussion and some rules have to be made," he
said, suggesting that the hunters themselves might be the best ones
to strike some balance between public safety and hunting rights.
"Let them design something that will protect their own interests," he