The deer was a lactating doe, which means it had fawns. It had been shot in the hindquarters and had bled to death near a home in the Sugarloaf area, in the foothills west of Boulder.
Incidents like this one in 2009 have kept residents like one couple in the area, Anita Moss and Bob Westby, agitated about hunters in the area over the past decade.
A hunter killed a bear using a muzzle-loading rifle in 2008. A resident’s dog was shot with a gun a few years earlier. One neighbor reported in 2010 that a large buck, poorly shot with an arrow, showed an extensive blood trail but could not be found.
And it’s almost open season again. Bow-hunting will again be allowed in parts of Sugarloaf from Aug. 30 to Sept. 29.
It used to be worse, the couple says. Until their efforts a few years ago, and those of their attorney, Susan Morath, hunters were allowed to use rifles and other firearms to hunt in the area.
But about a decade ago, as documented in an Aug. 19, 2004, Boulder Weekly story, residents began working on ways to end hunting there. The couple and their attorney discovered that the county had actually passed a resolution in 1980, titled 80-52, that prohibited the use of firearms in the four-and-a-half-square-mile area, which is a mish-mash of private property and Forest Service land.
But it was unclear at the time whether the county had the authority to enact such a ban on federal lands. After much wrangling, Moss and Westby say, they convinced the county in 2011 that, indeed, there was a state statute giving the county the right to enact the 30-year-old ban in areas like Sugarloaf where there are at least 100 residents per square mile. So the county finally began enforcing the prohibition against firearms.
At least partially, according to the couple.
Moss, Westby and others still noticed hunting activity in the area, especially by bow-hunters. They and Morath did their research and found that the very statute that gave the county the right to enforce the ban defined firearms as “any pistol, revolver, rifle or other weapon of any description from which any shot, projectile or bullet may be discharged.” But they say they have been unsuccessful in convincing county authorities that the ban should include short-range weapons like muzzle-loaders and bows.
Moss and Westby tell BW that they are worried about public safety, considering the population density in the area, not to mention the school buses, hikers and bike riders. They have gone out of their way to document hunting activity during bow-season, driving around, filming hunters, writing down their license plates. They have compiled annual reports cataloguing their findings. Once, they say, a hunter blocked their only path out, on a dirt road, and made threatening comments to them.
The couple says they have continually asked county officials to at least grant them a hearing and make a decision on whether bow-hunting and muzzle-loaders are allowed in the area. But they say they have hit nothing but roadblocks and run-arounds.
Moss describes it as “stalling, stonewalling, dodging.”
“It’s been frustrating,” Westby adds. “We’re having trouble getting access to our public officials.”
And they complain that the commissioners seem to have deferred to the sheriff on how to define “firearms,” despite the fact that the statute authorizing the 30-year-old ban clearly includes bows and muzzle-loaders in the types of weapons that are disallowed.
“Since when does the sheriff ’s office get to make policy?” Moss asks. “They sold us out in 2011 and thought we’d be satisfied with half a statute.”
Moss and Westby assert that, as in the case of the commissioners’ recent extension of the moratorium on oil/gas permits, the board has a duty to protect public health and safety, in this case against errant shots.
They also point out that hunting, and the discharge of any firearms, including projectiles like arrows, is prohibited on county open space land. The Betasso Preserve and Benjamin open space areas are near the properties in question, on the east and northeast sides.
Adding fuel to the fire is the effort by the couple and other residents to expand the area covered by Resolution 80-52, a move that they say would make it easier for the sheriff ’s office to police the perimeter because it would give the parcel more defined boundaries, bringing the no-shooting area all the way up to the borders of the aforementioned open spaces as well as to Fourmile Creek to the north and Boulder Canyon Drive to the south.
Yellow indicates the current firearms ban and pink is the expansion residents are pushing for in this map from Bob Westby and Anita Moss.
Moss and Westby say their most recent efforts to gain a hearing with the commissioners resulted in them being referred to a town hall meeting about shooting ranges in the region, not about hunting, which is regulated by the Division of Wildlife (DOW).
In fact, they suspect that the DOW has had some effect on the county’s position in continuing to allow hunting in the area, since the division relies heavily on funding from hunting permits.
Moss and Westby say one neighbor has found a dozen arrows in the last few years, and another property owner found one lodged in an outbuilding.
Moss acknowledges being opposed to hunting; but Westby says he is not, describing it as “a public safety issue” instead.
But county officials say they have had no reports from the sheriff ’s office about public safety problems with hunters in the area.
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Sheriff Joe Pelle told BW that he would like more clarity from the county commissioners about what weapons can be discharged there, because his deputies need guidance if they are expected to diverge from the traditional, criminal-law definition of firearms, namely, guns.
Pelle says the firearms definition in the statute cited by Moss and Westby that gave the county the authority to pass the ban in the first place is too broad, and it conflicts with other state statutes.
“A firearm could be defined as a slingshot or an Airsoft pellet gun,” he says of the broader definition. “Anything you could imagine could be defined as a firearm under that statute. … If we really were to enforce this and interpret it as these residents want us to, the device that you pick up to sling the tennis ball for your dog would be illegal. I just want clarity. You tell us what you want us to do, and define it well in the law, and we’ll enforce it.”
He adds, however, that a muzzle-loader would be classified as a firearm and could only be used on private property, as long as the projectile did not leave that property. So, conceivably, hunters could use firearms on private property if their bullet did not cross property lines.
“I want clarity, and I want the county resolution to be clear about the expectations,” Pelle says of the situation. “Otherwise, it’s unfair to the officers, and unfair to the people that we’re issuing a summons to.”
He calls it “a political decision,” adding that “it’s vague, it’s confusing, and it’s unfair to enforce the law under those circumstances.”
Morath, the attorney for Moss and Westby, points out that when the county commissioners passed Resolution 80-52 in 1980, they did not take issue with the definition of firearms as it was described in the authorizing legislation, “they did not carve out any exceptions to it. I understand the sheriff and deputies not being used to this type of definition, but it’s there in black and white.”
She echoes the sentiment that county officials have “insulated themselves. … We’ve tried every avenue we can think of to get an audience, and it’s been very frustrating. A bow and arrow is just as dangerous as a gun.
“You have to make a decision, you have to bring it to a public hearing if we ask for it, so we have a decision on record,” Morath continues. “Because we can’t get an audience, we’re hamstrung all the way around.”
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County Commissioner Cindy Domenico and Boulder County spokesperson Barb Halpin told BW that shooting in general is the focus of a larger, regional study involving multiple counties and agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service. They are apparently referring to the target-practice open houses that Moss, Westby and Morath were directed to. Both Domenico and Halpin acknowledged that the regional study and open houses did not deal with hunting, which is the territory of the DOW, but they said bow-and-arrow shooting might enter the discussions, and no decisions on specific local issues like the situation in Sugarloaf would be made until the broader study was complete.
“There are strong opinions on both sides,” Halpin says of the Sugarloaf debate, adding that when the original resolution was passed back in 1980, “it’s interesting that it wasn’t challenged by [the DOW] or hunting enthusiasts.”
She adds that county officials hope the Forest Service designates certain areas for shooting.
When asked about the claims that Moss and Westby have been given the cold shoulder, Halpin says, “The commissioners, really, at this point, have opted to not consider any specific local issues until after they look at the regional solutions. It’s not specific to Sugarloaf, they’re applying that across the whole area.”
And when asked if the commissioners are trying to appease hunters, she replies, “I don’t have any sense of that.”
Domenico says she understands and empathizes with Sugarloaf residents’ concerns, but she adds that a hearing held about eight years ago on the subject was dominated by opponents of hunting and restrictions on guns.
Domenico told BW that she has no personal view on the matter, and that the board is waiting for legal advice from the county attorney’s office before deciding whether to hold a hearing on the matter.
In a phone interview, County Attorney Ben Pearlman agreed that additional clarity is needed, and that his office has been “keeping tabs on it.” He says that ultimately, it is up to the commissioners whether they want to address the issue.
When asked about Pelle’s desire for more clarification, Pearlman said, “If you have a law, you need someone to enforce it, and you need additional clarity to have that happen.”
He acknowledged that the statute authorizing the county’s 1980 resolution defines firearms broadly, to include bows, but under the letter of the law that could include things like a slingshot.
“I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people think the common interpretation of that term is that a firearm really does mean a gun projected with some gunpowder or something else, not a human-powered bow and arrow,” he says.
And Pearlman says that Pelle, being an elected official, has discretion on how to enforce the law.
“He’s not going to bring people in on charges when he doesn’t think that’s a fair reading of the resolution,” he says.
“Fundamentally, this is a political question, and the board’s going to have to decide if and when they want to bring it to the public,” Pearlman adds. “It’s the status quo until something changes, and that’s a decision the board’s going to have to make based on whatever factors they want to use.”
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Bob Radocy, president of Gamelines Archery, a local club that has a bow-hunting and archery target-shooting facility on top of Lee Hill, says there’s probably little cause for concern regarding bow-hunting in the Sugarloaf area.
He describes bow-hunters as “pretty low-profile, most of the time. You’re not even going to know they’re in the area.”
Radocy adds that a liberal community is likely to be opposed to hunting.
“Boulder, in general, has a tendency to be somewhat anti-hunting anyway, so I’m imagining that neighbors in the area are probably more upset with the fact that it’s hunting and not that it’s bow-hunting in particular,” he says. “Bows and arrows are not firearms, they can’t be defined as a firearm. A firearm means that typically there’s an ignition, there’s a powder, there’s an explosive. It certainly is a projectile device, and in that regard, so is a spear. So is a baseball.”
Radocy also says bow-hunting does not pose a significant threat to the public.
“Bow-hunting has an incredibly very, very low incidence of any kind of safety issue,” he says. “It’s rarely that anyone ever gets shot. The only incidences I know of people that have been harmed fooling around with bows and arrows are people shooting apples off their heads, things like that.”
Radocy explains that bow-hunters are required to take a multi-day safety course and pass a test before they can get a license. And he notes that arrows fly only 150 to 300 feet per second, compared to bullets, which travel around 2,000 feet per second, meaning the average flight of an arrow is only 60 to 70 yards, whereas a bullet can travel a mile. A bowhunter’s target is usually within 30 to 40 yards, he says, which is equivalent to the length of a basketball auditorium.
“So it’s not like you’re accidentally going to shoot a pedestrian or a hiker or a bicycler or something like that, it’s not going to happen,” Radocy says. “You have to see and be very close to the quarry.”