Concern growing over night hunting

  • Nov. 25, 2010 10:00 a.m.

by Heather Ramsay-When a gunshot rang out in the night just outside Jason Shafto’s Tlell home, he knew it was someone shooting a deer. “I’m a hunter. As soon as I heard it I knew that was a rifle and someone was shooting a deer,” he said. First one shot and then another cracked in the darkness, less than 100 metres from the trailer where he and his partner Christine had been safely tucked in their bed. “To shoot right in front of someone’s house like that, it’s pretty brazen,” said Mr. Shafto. He said people seem to accept things more here, but if someone fired a high-powered rifle in the dark in front of a house in Surrey? “There’d be a shitstorm,” he said. Mr. Shafto’s experience took place last spring, but according to Conservation Officer James Hilgemann, night hunting along Highway 16 is ongoing. For the record, says Mr. Hilgemann, it is an offence for everyone, both native and non-native, to discharge a firearm off Highway 16 or to discharge a firearm within 100 metres of a residence, to hunt on cultivated or private property without the consent or permission of the owner, to hunt with the aid of an illuminating device and to hunt during prohibited hours (one hour before sunset on any day until one hour after sunrise of the day following). Mr. Hilgemann said these rules were created primarily for public safety. “The handling of firearms is inherently dangerous and even more so in the dark,” he said. Especially since many night hunting incidents occur when offenders are impaired by alcohol or drug use. “This is a recipe for disaster and poses a very high and unacceptable risk to the public, the enforcement agencies that respond to call outs and also to the violators themselves,” he said. Mr. Shafto agrees. Although he hoped to sneak out and get a license plate number from the vehicle, he was in no way intending to confront the perpetrator. But in the end, he turned on a light and the vehicle sped away. He did find a blood spot on the road, confirming his assessment that they were deer hunting. He’s angry that those who are out night hunting (also known as pit-lamping) are putting the RCMP and conservation officers in the dangerous position of possibly trying to catch someone who could be half-snapped and carrying a firearm. But Mr. Shafto is also incensed that pit-lampers are not practicing sportsmanlike hunting. “Pit-lamping is not deer hunting,” he said. He said night hunters have an advantage when they blind an animal with light and shoot it at its most vulnerable. Mr. Hilgemann said hunting animals at night is not giving fair chase. Deer, especially bucks, are nocturnal and come out at night when darkness can act as a cover, he explained. The “larger trophy deer” are rutting in November and illuminating them causes them, or any other deer, to freeze in their tracks. As well, animals can easily be hit with a non-fatal shot at night and they then run into the darkness to die an agonizing death. “The illegal hunter seldom if ever takes the time to track an injured animal,” he said. Mr. Hilgemann said those who choose to hunt at night are depriving legitimate daytime hunters of opportunities to harvest deer. “The deer that don’t get killed at night are often very weary during the daytime because they have been shot at, and the animals go in to hiding, minimizing the success rate of legitimate hunters during daylight hours,” he said. He has been working in partnership with the Ministry of Forests compliance and enforcement officers to canvass residents along the Highway 16 corridor from Tlell to Port Clements. He hopes that raising awareness of the issue will generate more timely reports so that he has a better chance of responding and apprehending violators. He’s asking people to report lights panning on their property, shots fired at night, vehicles driving slowly along a property line, vehicles parked along fencelines and dead deer found in fields. Mr. Hilgemann is not asking anyone to make contact with possible suspects, but would like a people to make a confidential phone call. Please call 1-877-952-RAPP to report any suspicious night hunting activities. He said calls to this number help the Conservation Officer Service keep track of the information better than if people called him at home. The call centre will notify him of the complaints 24/7, he says. The RCMP are also aware of the issue and are also working to ensure public safety.