ELIZABETHTOWN — The Bladen County Superior Courtroom was awash in orange Monday night, as about 100 hunters from throughout the region attended the Board of Commissioners meeting. The reason was a public hearing regarding a proposed law that would change how hunters are allowed to operate along a public roadway.
That proposed law states it would be illegal to hunt or discharge a firearm on, from or across a state-maintained right-of-way or to retrieve dogs from a public road while in possession of a loaded firearm.
About 30 speakers were signed up to give their opinions to the county commissioners, but before that procession started, County Chairman Ray Britt told the crowd each speaker would be given one or two minutes and that there would be no action taken that night on the issue.
“I’d also ask that everyone be civil and respectful with each other,” he added.
The first speaker was Joe Britt, who originally brought the request for a new law to the county in December.
“This isn’t about dog hunting or gun control,” Britt said. “It’s about safety, safety, safety. Please don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Doug Smith of Garland agreed.
“It feels like hunting season is open again,” he told commissioners. “We’ve being intimidated by a sea of orange hats who want to clog our roads waiting for a deer to jump out. We’re just asking that you make us as safe as Robeson and Cumberland counties.”
From the hunters perspective, however, it was emphasized there have been no instances of anyone being shot by hunters along the roadways. Some even said the request is because of a few disgruntled landowners — as well as the fact hat hunting with dogs from the road has been acceptable for decades.
“The law should be left the way it is,” said Doug Bordeaux of Elizabethtown. “The problem is that there isn’t enough enforcement or enough wildlife officers to oversee things.”
“I’ve hunted with dogs all my life, and I’ve never known anyone to be shot by someone along the road,” said Dale Hall of Elizabethtown. “If you force hunters to load and reload twice, it’s a greater safety factor — that’s when accidents can happen.”
“There are already laws on the books to take care of this,” said Eddie Knight of Tar Heel. “This kind of hunting has been around since long before cars came along.”
James Wright of Elizabethtown told the board that hunters with dogs focus even more on overall safety because “they have a lot of money invested in their dogs.”
Things swung back the other way for the next few speakers.
“I’ve lived here 57 years, and I think the safety of passersby is being ignored,” said Kay Martin of White Lake. “We often have to dodge dogs while seeing even the littlest hunter standing along the road with a loaded gun.”
“It’s different today — it’s high-powered guns, it’s hunting clubs and people coming from other areas,” said Dale Smith of Garland. “I quit hunting because some of these people don’t respect property.”
The comments quickly shifted again.
“The key words (in the proposed law) are ‘to hunt,’ which pertains to anything associated with hunting,” said Will Cain of Elizabethtown. “That includes handling and catching dogs. There’s never been an accident hunting from the roadways.”
“There have been a lot more dogs run over than people hurt (during hunting season),” said Mike Jackson of Bladenboro. “And the state dog is what? A bloodhound … bred to hunt.”
“It’s being said this (proposed new law) doesn’t have anything to do with dog hunters or Second Amendment right,” said John Clark of White Lake. “But it’s aimed right at dog hunters and our Second Amendment rights. It’s a slippery slope you’d be taking on.”
At least a couple of speakers stated that a large majority of hunters are respectful and do things right. But some — especially toward the end of the deer season — become “renegades from who knows where who are desperate to get a deer.”
When all of the speakers had finished, Britt closed the public hearing and told the crowd again there would be no action taken.
“This is a very serious issue and we will take into consideration everything we’ve heard here tonight,” he said. “We appreciate you coming out and sharing your thoughts.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.