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
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 homes.
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 said.
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