Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Duck Hunting in New Hampshire: The Killing Fields

On New Year's day, I took my dog for a walk in a lovely strip of woods hard by a body of water which extends out from Route 1 and runs perhaps 3/10 mile along Elwyn Road called "The Urban Forest." It's the Portsmouth,  New Hampshire version of New York City's Central Park, but only 1/100 as large; but it's a refuge from the roads and noise of the city, as the name implies.  
We were quickly greeted by gunshots coming from the direction of the water, and were met by streams of hikers, dog walkers, all streaming out of the woods, in a great, somewhat breathless hurry to get back to the parking lot and be gone. "Somebody's shooting," a woman told us. "I saw a man with a gun on the shore."

It turns out, it was two hunters, firing from the shore and from an island in the water,presumably at ducks, not school children or dogs. They were standing less than 100 yards from the busy traffic of Route 1, and as the crow flies, I imagine, less than mile from the North Church at Market Square, Portsmouth. It was a cold, quiet day and I can imagine their rifle fire may have been heard along Market Street.

The city is powerless to prevent the discharge of fire arms within its limits if such a law violates state law permitting it.  The court case most relevant, from June, 1960 is Fred v Jenkins, in which a law passed by the town of Durham, prohibiting hunting or the discharge of firearms within town limits unless the owner of land gave permission for such firing, was struck down.

New Hampshire state law says you can shoot your gun within 15 feet of a road, and within 300 feet of an occupied building, and you can walk on "improved land of another" without permission and discharged your firearm, unless the owner has posted no hunting signs. 

So, here we have an interesting resolution of the tension between what it means to own private property in New Hampshire, to wit, land, and the rights of hunters to roam freely and shoot things dead.  In New Hampshire, Mad Dog's back yard, which extends to one acre and is wild woodland, home to wild turkeys and who knows what else, can be used by anyone with a gun, as long as he is hunting.  Mad Dog's neighbor's children do not walk on his lawn without asking permission, but a hunter is protected by the state and allowed to trespass without permission, as long as he has a gun. As you can imagine, Mad Dog has made a quick trip to the hardware store and will nail signs on trees, "No Hunting."  

But if Mad Dog is tardy in doing this, a hunter can stand 100 yards from Mad Dog's house and shot at a turkey or duck or squirrel and put a bullet through the back window of Mad Dog's kitchen, or, for that matter, Mad Dog's head.

This is something only the state legislature can change. The towns are powerless. 

I wonder what the laws of other states are.

It is curious, however, how important protecting the rights of hunters is, as this is reflected in the laws of the state. 

In New Hampshire there are 9 roads specifically mentioned in New Hampshire law which are roads a hunter cannot shoot across: These include Rout 95, Route 93, Route 101, all of which are 6-8 lane highways with median strips and speed limits of 65 miles an hour. The legislature felt it had to tell hunters they could not shoot across these highways to hit a deer on the other side of the road, as special exceptions to the laws of the state, which, by implication, are fair game.  That is, you can be driving down Route 111 or Route 1  and a hunter can shoot from one side of the road, across the road at a deer on the other side of the road, perfectly legally.


You can hunt in the salt marshes, pictured above, in front of the Seabrook Nuclear Power plant, and on the Hampton side of the marshes are houses, right down to the boggy shoreline. You can shoot your rifle 100 yards from the people watching the Patriots game inside.


We are sending a new group of legislators to Concord this year.

Do you think they will be willing to face down the NRA and who knows what other groups in this state to make this state less of a free fire zone?


  1. Mad Dog,
    It's telling that the NH legislature had so little faith in the intelligence and common sense of it's hunters that it felt it necessary to spell out to them that shooting Bambi's Mom from across a major highway is a no go. Yet they then allow some of the same dimwits to wander hither and fro through the forest, fields and backyards of NH with loaded guns. Comforting thought. I doubt anything will be done presently to change this-no one, that I'm aware of, has been shot in their yard or on their couch(yet) and gun control changes appear to never be proactive only reactive. So, I guess for the time being Mad Dog better get those "No Hunting" signs up quick and perhaps consider donning a bullet proof vest before entering his backyard...(Better safe than sorry!)

  2. Ms. Maud,

    My grandmother, Bambi, told all her children what happened, and you may be interested to learn Great Grandmama was shot by a hunter who was perched in a tree with a road, an ice pond (on which human children were playing), and a moonshine still in the line of fire. If that bullet had been stopped by a human being, you know there would have been hell to pay, for at least twenty-five seconds, until the NRA stepped in to bring people to their senses. My cousin, who had a starring role in The Yearling, fared no better. C'est le guerre. As a member of the New Hampshire deer community, I can say we appreciate efforts to cull the herd, but really, shooting near roads and homes seems a bit bizarre, not to mention hazardous--When someone shoots at me, I make a mad dash and take the path of least resistance, which is usually the nearest paved surface.

    --Bambi III

  3. Why Mr. Bambi I was aware of your great grandmother's sacrifice but had no idea your cousin appeared as Flag in the movie version of a favorite book of mine-how impressive. Also impressive is your ability to keep an open mind about that whole culling the herd thing. Happy to see you're able to view it as us providing you a service rather than frequently a lame excuse to allow lugheads with guns to have some fun. Unfortunately your tendency to run onto paved surfaces remains a problem, so I was glad to learn you're now taking flying lessons in the hopes of one day replacing Rudolph, Donner or Blitzen. It's good to aim high, and I wouldn't worry about fitting in or your antlers not being the right size-I've heard they can do wonders these days with antler implants!
    Ms. Maud

  4. I came across this and had to comment. I am sure you wont allow this on the site but will mention anyway. Next time please check your facts before posting your silly ramblings. 1)15 ft from a road means just what it says. You can shoot 15 ft from a road with your back to the road. Not that you can stand 15 ft back and shoot across a road. 2)Hunters in the marsh near the power plant are hunting ducks with a shotgun and birdshot. Even with the wind at their back shooting a shotgun with birdshot directly at a house 300 feet away the shot would be very unlikely to carry that far. And if by some miracle a few pellets(the size of popcorn kernels) did actually make it there they would arrive with less power then a raindrop. Hunters are not even allowed to shoot at deer with a rifle in Southern NH or in the Seabrook salt marsh. 3)There are plenty of places to walk a dog or hike in the Portsmouth area where there would be no reason to hunt. Maybe you could look into that instead of trying to further restrict an activity that this country was founded on. Or just move back to MA where you belong.

    1. Anon,
      You are clearly a hunter and know the rules better than I. I was referring to the text of the law as it was sent to me by the mayor of Portsmouth, and my reading may have been inexpert. It does sound like a shotgun at 300 feet would be a safer option, but I saw nothing in the law to require a shotgun.
      As a faithful Granite Stater, I can also read the 2nd Amendment, and I read it the way every Supreme Court until the present one has read it--it allows for members of a well organized militia to possess guns, not private citizens who simply want to feel better about themselves by holding a weapon meant to lay down a field of fire in a firefight. New Hampshire is no longer a rural state, at least along the seacoast. You want to return to the days when you can shoot your gun and be reasonably sure you won't kill a dog or a person. That hasn't been true in the 21st century, not in Portsmouth or in Hampton.
      Mad Dog

  5. Hunting with shotguns began in the 17th century with the matchlock shotgun. Before that you had to trap or use a net. Saw a picture of you fishing in your blog, so maybe this will make sense to you. Nice big boat to catch Bluefin Tuna using a 8 lb bass fishing pole. Same as trying to shoot ducks with a rifle or a pistol. It will never fucking happen.