It might be legal for hunters to fire guns within 500 feet of a house but if you ask Alan Sorrentino, that’s too close for comfort.
Mr. Sorrentino moved to Barrington from Pawtucket about two years ago. The Knapton Road resident previously spent decades living in Providence and came to Barrington in search of a quieter, more suburban environment.
The following winter, however, Mr. Sorrentino heard a disturbing sound — the loud crack of hunters’ guns firing away at waterfowl in Hundred Acre Cove.
“They sound awfully loud in the morning,” Mr. Sorrentino said. “They’re all around us.”
Mr. Sorrentino said he assumed there must have been a shooting range somewhere nearby and the water allowed the sound to carry. He became concerned this winter, when he realized the hunters were using the cove — the same body of water abutting the end of his road.
He decided to look into the matter, and e-mailed local and state officials, but wasn’t happy with what he learned: the hunting is legal.
Hunting is allowed on Hundred Acre Cove and in a limited spot on the Barrington River between Puritan Drive and Seabrook Park. He also spotted a strip of land with what appear to be blinds along Wampanoag Trail, not far from the Osamequin Bird Sanctuary.
“We have more gunshots here than we did in Providence,” he said.
Mr. Sorrentino said he does not know much about firearms ballistics but he’s heard the shots and feels that 500 feet — the distance required by state law between a hunter and any residential areas — is a dangerously close allowance especially in an area like Knapton Street which is not far from Hampden Meadows School.
Mr. Sorrrentino added that while hunters are required to shoot seaward, Hundred Acre Cove is enclosed by land.
“Guns don’t kill people, people do and someday somebody’s going to kill somebody out here with a gun,” Mr. Sorrentino said.
Mr. Sorrentino criticized state, local and commercial websites for listing Barrington’s waterways as a place for recreation (such as boat launch listings) without mentioning the possibility of hunting in the area.
Mr. Sorrentino said his concern isn’t about gun control, it’s about whether or not the regulations are appropriate. He also has an ethical stance against bird hunting.
That stance does not sit well with Charlie Brown. The longtime Barrington resident is a hunter who uses Hundred Acre Cove. He’s also a biologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Mr. Brown said he believes 500 feet is a safe distance, and that Hundred Acre Cove is a popular spot given the type of birds in the area and its accessibility.
Mr. Brown said the report of a gunshot can vary greatly depending on the weather and wind direction.
“I know from being on both sides of it. I live in Barrington, I’m not on the water but I can hear shots from my house. You get a nice, calm morning, you can hear it from a mile away,” Mr. Brown said.
“It may seem like they’re right on top of you and though it’s a perfectly safe distance, the sound might make you think otherwise.”
Bird hunters shooting anywhere in Rhode Island, Mr. Brown said, are subject to numerous licensing regulations. There is a firearms hunting license and both state and federal duck stamps.
Barrington Police Chief John LaCross said residents in the New Meadow Road area can regularly hear shots from Nockum Hill, which is about a half mile away.
Chief LaCross said the majority of gunshot complaints come from new residents, and that dispatchers try to explain the regulations surrounding waterfowl hunting. He said that once the situation is explained, few residents call back again.
Chief LaCross also said he has never received any gunshot complaints from anyone at Hampden Meadows School.
Chief LaCross said any problems local police have with hunters tend to focus on those firing after hours, or more than a half hour after sunset. The chief said anyone concerned with the matter should contact police who can check on hunters to ensure they have all their proper licenses and, if necessary, contact environmental police to see ensure hunters are abiding by the 500-foot regulation.
Want to challenge the law?
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman Gail Mastrati said the agency re-visits its hunting regulations every year. That process includes an annual public hearing where anyone can come forward and express concerns or suggestions.
The 500 foot limit — enacted in 1981 — is spelled out in state law. It would take legislation to change it, she said.
Ms. Mastrati said a public workshop on next year’s draft regulations for the 2013-14 season will be held in the spring, with a public hearing in the summer. Both will be posted on the agency’s website and a press release will be posted once dates are finalized.
Ms. Mastrati said the DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement received 85 calls statewide last year on a multitude of issues concerning perceived or actual hunting violations. The violations, Ms. Mastrati said, were primarily administrative such as an unsigned duck stamp or unregistered boat.
Any calls of hunting within 500 feet of a dwelling, Ms. Mastrati said, did not result in violations.
Of the 85 statewide calls last year, 13 were in the Barrington, Bristol, Warren, Providence and East Providence areas.