Neighbors fear for their safety as hunters take aim next door

“It was 9:30, and I was planting and all of a sudden, stuff started falling around me,” said Gates, recalling the September Saturday.
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 5:46 PM EDT
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BOLIVIA, N.C. (WECT) - As dove season ends, hunters can still take aim at several other birds for the time being, though neighbors in one development say they’re worried the sport is threatening their safety.

“The interest of these hunters who are being totally reckless and careless are being protected,” said Laura Gates, who lives in the newly developed Eagle Creek community. “As a single woman, I’m not being protected, so now it’s kind of become a joke with these guys.”

Gates closed on her home in April and moved in the following month. She thought it was a dream come true — the perfect place to spend her time elbow-deep in her garden. However, once hunting season started, she says her backyard has felt like a warzone.

“It was 9:30, and I was planting and all of a sudden, stuff started falling around me,” said Gates, recalling the September Saturday. “It was pellets, falling down from the hunters, so I freaked out.”

In the last five weeks, she’s called 911 six times. Deputies responded each time and told her the same thing.

“There’s nothing they can do, that I have to produce evidence, you know?,” said Gates. “I don’t know what that looks like. I feel like that’s their responsibility.”

She’s not the only neighbor complaining, either. Next door, Dino Comer says he regularly hears debris from hunters hitting his home.

“I’m relaxing in my living room and I’m hearing something hitting the back of my house,” said Comer. “I come outside and see the sheriff’s department outside and see that Laura, she brought it to attention that this has been going on. So I said to myself, ‘that is what’s been hitting my house.’”

Other neighbors describe similar experiences, from pellets hitting their fences to hearing something whiz past their heads. The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office says each time they’ve responded, deputies haven’t found evidence of property damage. Even if the damage was present, it would be a civil case, not criminal.

Comer says it’s not the property he’s worried about. Though he’s been told pellets are usually harmless, he worries about worst-case scenarios.

“Ninety-nine percent [of the time, it] ain’t going to do nothing but, you know, nobody thinks about that one percent,” said Comer. “My eye’s out now, my dog got shot, my little baby. That’s the one percent.”

NC Wildlife confirmed there have been several complaints from neighbors, but they found no evidence of a law being broken. North Carolina doesn’t have a law against shooting within a certain distance of a dwelling.

“Brunswick County does not have any type of local writs where you have to be a certain distance from a residence or anything like that to discharge a firearm,” explained Sgt. Matt Criscoe. “It’s up to the county commissioners if they want to implement some type of distance rule or regulation for the county.”

Gates asked commissioners for help at their meeting last week, but it didn’t get her very far.

“They said there’s nothing they can do because the North Carolina General Assembly doesn’t allow them to regulate hunting at the county level,” said Gates.

Dove hunting season may be over, but without change, Gates is still concerned. She hasn’t gardened as much as she would like and now avoids her backyard at times to feel safe inside.

“It’s scary,” said Gates. “Every night I lay in my bed, wondering if someone’s going to jump over the berm, break into my home and kill me. It’s an extreme reaction but it’s my new norm.”