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?
Posted by the phantom speaks at 7:40 PM