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Waterfowl hunting in cities can be tricky business

By Don Mulligan
Star correspondent
September 19, 2004

Practically every major city in Indiana has a river running through it.

In East Chicago, it's the Grand Calumet River. South Bend has the St. Joseph River and Fort Wayne the Maumee River. The Wabash separates Lafayette from West Lafayette, while Evansville has the Ohio River. The White River flows through Indianapolis.

Despite efforts by most towns to enhance recreational opportunities along those urban waterways, one traditional activity is getting harder to do every year on inner-city rivers.

Though big city rivers are generally overpopulated with ducks and geese, waterfowl hunting on them may eventually become a thing of the past.

Each city has the same dilemma -- how to balance the safety concerns of residents, the traditional rights of hunters and the need to manage a growing urban waterfowl population.

Indianapolis waterfowler Chris Hirschfeld has hunted the White River near the Indianapolis city limits with great success.

"It is convenient to have an option so close to home, especially when I don't get drawn for a refuge area hunt," he said.

The key to a successful and enjoyable hunt near the city limits, he said, is knowing the rules and boundaries that delineate where and how hunting is allowed.

In Hirschfeld's case, he called his conservation officer at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources before heading out to make sure he wasn't breaking any laws.

According to Scott McDaniel, the IDNR conservation officer for Marion County, hunting in and around any urban center requires updated knowledge of both city and county ordinances, as well as a tolerance for some harassment, even when in the right.

Local rules

The White River within the city limits of Indianapolis falls under the jurisdiction of the city police. According to the local code, it is unlawful for any person to fire a dangerous weapon, with a couple of exceptions, none of which include hunting.

That still leaves a lot of navigable water within the I-465 loop, but outside of city limits.

"City jurisdiction ends on the south side of Indianapolis, roughly where the river nears Hanna Avenue and the IPL building," McDaniel said. "On the north side, the city's jurisdiction ends just north of Broad Ripple, around the 6,500 block."

North and south of those two spots, it is legal to discharge a firearm. Law enforcement falls under the jurisdiction of the Marion County sheriff until the river meets the next county line.

Where it gets confusing, said McDaniel, is when hunters launch their boat from the Broad Ripple city park, which is in city limits, and motor north, into county jurisdiction.

"If they are tied off in a legally navigable river, outside city limits, they can legally hunt, even if there is a house right behind them," McDaniel said. "They must remember, however, that if they are on one of the new sections of river that is outside city limits but has a new designation as a 'greenway,' the rules change again."

If a hunter shoots a bird along a greenway and it lands on the shore, he must leave his gun in the boat to retrieve it.

Additional legal problems arise if hunters are checked by officers at a city park ramp. Even if their guns are unloaded, it is still illegal to possess a firearm in a city park.

McDaniel also warned that hunters can be charged with criminal recklessness for any damage caused by their firearm, regardless of where they hunt.

"And even when they are within their rights to hunt an area, hunters should realistically expect to be bothered a lot more than if they were farther away from a populated center," he said. "They need to weigh the benefits of hunting close to home with the inevitable reality that anti-hunters and local officers that might not be aware of the laws will constantly be interrupting their hunt."

Urban concerns

Hunting the urban waterfowl actually benefits both the birds and local residents, Hirschfeld said.

"I have never gotten a call about pellet damage from a hunter's gun on the White River, and at the same time, I'll bet I get 10 calls a day in the fall from residents about nuisance ducks and geese on their property," McDaniel said.

He added that city and county councils around the state often make rules to cease all hunting within their city limits, then complain to the IDNR that waterfowl are crowding their cities. McDaniel's answer, he said, is that the IDNR had the problem under control when hunting was allowed, and that the cities created their own problem.

Both Hirschfeld and McDaniel agreed that regardless of the laws, it is incumbent on the hunter to use good judgment and not hunt in some places that might be legally open to hunting. However, neither expressed sympathy for residents who move into a rural area and expect all hunting to stop.

"By living in close proximity to an established waterway, a homeowner takes on the burden of living among all of the traditional uses of that waterway, be it hunting or anything else," McDaniel said.

Don Mulligan can be reached via e-mail at .

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