Yorkville: Despite concerns, hunters are keeping proper distance from homes
By Steve Lord firstname.lastname@example.org October 31, 2013 4:58PM
The clump of trees at right is owned by a landowner who hunts on his property. At left is the beginning of the nearby subdivision. | Photos by Steve Lord~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2013 12:45PM
YORKVILLE — A woman here recently said she and her family woke up to a sound they didn’t expect to hear in a quiet, Yorkville subdivision — gunfire.
But in recent weeks, the woman and her children, ages 2 years and 6 months, not only heard gunfire while at home, they heard it while they walked on the sidewalks and in the parks nearby.
They were hearing an annual rite of late fall in this area: the opening of goose hunting season. What concerns the woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, is that some of the hunting is taking place in fields that she believes are too close to parks and her subdivision in general.
“There are at least three different areas near our subdivision where I walk with my kids and dogs, and we encounter hunters,” she said. “I would like to help get a new law in place to help protect my family.”
Yorkville city and police officials have fielded similar complaints throughout the past several years in areas where subdivisions sprouted up next to farm fields that for years had been more isolated.
The woman lives in Kylan’s Subdivision on the city’s northwest side, behind the Kendall Crossing shopping center. There also have been complaints in Autumn Creek on the northeast side, where there is a pond and private farmland near Autumn Creek Elementary School.
In all cases, Police Chief Richard Hart said he or his officers have checked out the areas, and that they are within the safety guidelines mentioned in state law for goose hunting. The law says no one can hunt birds within 100 yards of a building — that would include a residence or a school — or hunt deer within 300 yards.
The guidelines are different, Hart said, because bird hunters use bird shot, which is light and travels a significantly shorter distance than the ammunition used to hunt deer.
In the cases Hart said he has checked, the hunting is taking place a safe distance from anyone.
“There really is no danger to the public,” the chief said.
The woman in Kylan’s Subdivision is not convinced.
She said she and her children have encountered hunters when they walk around a small pond and field next to Cannonball Trail that is a part of the subdivision, at the end of Edward Lane, which has a duck blind and hunters often hiding in it, and near Bristol Station Park, where hunters are often in the cornfield next door.
Bristol Station Park not only has several playgrounds and a picnic area, it has a baseball field used by Yorkville youth leagues.
“This park is secluded, and hearing gunshots doesn’t make a mother feel safe,” the woman said. “You just don’t know who is in possession of a gun and why they are shooting it. On one occasion, at least one other mother and I left abruptly because we felt unsafe.”
The woman also pointed out a property along Cannonball Trail — probably once the only property on that side of the road along there — that now cozies up to the subdivision.
“Neighborhood kids play ball in (a field there) and sled down a small hill within feet of his property,” she said. “I don’t think the homeowner has a clue that anyone is even there because of the small hill and tree line.”
While police have checked out the areas, just as they did near Autumn Creek School when there were complaints there last year, they and city officials are unsure what they would do if there were a problem.
Yorkville has a law forbidding discharging a firearm within the city limits, with very few exceptions.
But according to state law, only one agency regulates hunting, and that is the Department of Natural Resources. Last year, an attorney with the state DNR called Yorkville, surprising everyone including the local DNR office, by saying if the city could enforce its ordinance within city limits on hunters if it wanted to.
But Hart said the DNR made a point to call this past summer and say “what their attorney had said last year was incorrect.”
Hart said Yorkville City Attorney Kathy Orr is checking with the state on just what might be enforceable or not. In the meantime, the city does not want to take measures it might have to defend in court.
“If someone challenges the law, then we have to defend it, and it costs the city money to test the law,” Hart said.
The chief said he understands that people who are unfamiliar with firearms or hunting have trouble understanding the situation. But he said not only are the hunters at a safe distance, they are actually doing the city a favor by thinning the area geese.
Geese are a problem because there are so many ponds in the area. Indeed, the path to Bristol Station Park, the very park the woman is worried about, is a “minefield” of goose droppings, he said.
Hart himself is a hunter, and a firearms expert who is trained to teach firearm safety.
Last year, members of the city’s Public Safety Committee considered lobbying area legislators to change state law allowing municipalities to enforce their own ordinances on hunting, within city limits.
Hart said if the council were to do something this year, “I would think it would in that vein.”
The woman said she might talk to the council about doing that.
“They develop these farming communities now,” she said. “They are becoming heavily populated, and you have kids running around.”