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Some newcomers to rural Georgia surprised by hunting, gunshot noise

POSTED: September 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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It can be a little disconcerting for someone who comes from a big city, where firing a gun is against the law. But in rural Georgia, it’s legal for your neighbor to go hunting on his property.

At this time of the year, law enforcement officers often get calls from people who feel frightened or annoyed by gunfire nearby.

"We do respond to a number of calls about gunshots, especially as hunting season approaches," said Col. Jeff Strickland, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

While municipal ordinances prohibit discharging firearms in cities, unincorporated areas of most Georgia counties have no restrictions on guns beyond what’s specified in the state law. Even heavily populated Gwinnett County has no gun ordinance outside of its incorporated cities.

"The official code of Georgia says it’s unlawful to discharge a firearm when you’re on another person’s property, unless you have (written) permission," Strickland said. "And you can’t shoot across a public road or within 50 yards of a road."

That being said, Strickland urges people to use common sense.

"If you’re in a subdivision in close proximity to houses, or if you’re firing in an unsafe manner, that can be considered reckless conduct."

Strickland said if people want to practice shooting targets on their property, they should have an earthen berm behind the targets to catch flying bullets.

"We try to discourage people from shooting in neighborhoods," he said. "The (Georgia Department of Natural Resources) has a firing range at Wilson Shoals Wildlife Management Area in Habersham County. And there’s an indoor shooting range in Oakwood."

But if you’re shooting at wildlife, you have to aim in the direction of wherever the animal is moving. And that’s what sometimes creates conflicts between property owners.

When dove hunting season started in early September, the White County Sheriff’s Office responded to several complaints about shooting. One woman on County Line Road, near the Hall line, said nearby dove hunters were keeping her awake and she wanted them to be cited for disturbing the peace.

Officers told her the hunters were in compliance with state law, and there was nothing they could do.

That same weekend, a man on Joe Turner Road complained about bird shot raining down on his property from a dove hunt that was occurring on his neighbor’s land. He said shotgun pellets struck several outbuildings near his home.

Officers told the hunters to aim their weapons away from neighboring property.

"With dove shooting, people forget that what goes up, must come down," said White County Chief Deputy John O’Brien. "Whatever pellets don’t hit the bird are going to go somewhere."

However, O’Brien said, such incidents are "a rarity." And birdshot isn’t fired with enough velocity to cause much injury or damage.

The type of weapon needed to kill a deer, on the other hand, has greater potential to cause harm. Several years ago, there was an incident in White County in which a man shot a deer on private property adjacent to a residential area.

The DNR said the man was doing nothing wrong, because he had permission from the landowner to hunt on the property. But some residents complained, saying they were concerned about the safety of their children.

Capt. Rick Godfrey, head of law enforcement for the DNR regional office in Gainesville, said despite following all the hunting regulations, a person still can face civil penalties if they cause damage or injury.

"Even if there’s not a specific law to cover it, you are responsible and can be held liable for what you do," he said.

But the possibility of a shooting accident is remote, Godfrey said.

"Hunters are very responsible people. They’re not going to shoot at houses or anything like that," he said.

However, when an area is densely populated, it’s difficult to shoot in any direction without hitting something. That’s why shooting a gun is generally prohibited within city limits.

Godfrey said several metro Atlanta counties, including Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb, allow hunting by archery only because discharging a firearm would be too dangerous. "There are no large tracts of land where you could safely fire a high-powered rifle," he said.

Godfrey said when some people move from Atlanta to their dream home "out in the country," they find it hard to accept that firearms are part of the culture.

"Rural Georgia has a hunting tradition," he said. "We also have a (target) shooting tradition."

Though it is illegal to shoot within 50 yards of a public road, there is no such buffer between adjacent, privately owned properties. In an unincorporated area, your neighbor can stand just outside the boundaries of your yard and shoot a gun, as long as he’s not aiming directly at wildlife on your property.

"Sad to say, there’s a lot of people who do hunt property lines," Godfrey said.

And just as people in the city have to put up with blaring stereos, those in the country may have to live with the sound of gunfire.

"Most of the complaints we get during the hunting season are about (noise from) gunshots," said O’Brien. "But there’s nothing in the law that prohibits it."



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