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Fairfax Duck Hunters Target Of Neighborhood's Anger

Robert Bowe's duck blind on the Potomac is squeezed between a multimillion-dollar home and, shown across the river, the 485-acre Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.
Robert Bowe's duck blind on the Potomac is squeezed between a multimillion-dollar home and, shown across the river, the 485-acre Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. (By Ben Hubbard -- The Washington Post)
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By Ben Hubbard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2008

Larry Hirsch got so fed up watching ducks get shot out of the sky that he hatched a plan to get rid of the hunter who hunkered down in the duck blind behind his Fairfax County home. He's not a hunter, but Hirsch acquired the right to build the only duck blind allowed in that spot on the Potomac River.

Hirsch, 55, went out a few times and fired his shotgun, pretending to duck hunt and thereby fulfilling the requirement of his license.

The plan worked, because Hirsch's landowner rights trumped those of the hunter, who had licensed the empty spot, and he was pushed out of his duck blind at least for a year.

This so miffed the hunter, Robert Bowe, who owns Bowe's and Arrows hunting shop in Fairfax, that Bowe finagled land rights from an absentee property owner down the block and built a new blind. He's been hunting there ever since, ignoring neighbors' complaints.

"I tried to be respectful to them until they tried to keep me from there," said Bowe, 63. "I tried to be nice. Now I'm going to hunt."

With two months until duck season, tensions are mounting in Fairfax between hunters and waterfront landowners. More than 100 people packed a public meeting July 9, at which officials from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries spelled out the rules for duck hunting.

Hunters call their sport a Virginia tradition and mobilize at any talk of rule changes. Environmentalists say hunting disturbs other wildlife. Homeowners say gunshots wake them up, stress them out, spook their pets and scare their children.

"In terms of sheer numbers, I get more complaints about duck hunting in suburban back yards than any other single thing," Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-Fairfax) said. "Suburban swing sets and duck hunters are incompatible neighbors."

Fairfax Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said vast residential growth along the river has spiked tensions by moving residents closer to hunters.

"This is a conflict between two types of activity: between the right to have quiet in one's home and the right of others to hunt on the river," Hyland said.

Jurisdictional issues complicate the matter. Maryland controls most of the river, so Virginians might hear hunters licensed in Maryland. And Virginia oversees only certain embayment areas, including Little Hunting and Dogue creeks and the area south of the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, where Hirsch lives.

Ultimately, the county must strike a balance between its ordinance banning gunfire "in areas of the county which are so heavily populated as to make such conduct dangerous" and those places where the state allows hunting.

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