Duck hunters turned canals in Spring Hill into war zones, residents said. Will the state stop it?

Lots of rain brought ducks — and hunters — to the canals off Hunters Lake.
Published April 15

SPRING HILL — All through duck-hunting season, shotgun blasts rattled the people living along canals that squiggle out from Hunters Lake. Residents complained in Hernando County Commission meetings about the distress that hunters wrought in pursuit of the ducks. After an unusually rainy season, the ducks were drawn into the canals rather than the lake basin, and the county's removal of large floating islands of vegetation called tussocks made it easier for hunters to navigate the lake and its canals.

They described shots that rang out 100 feet from their homes or closer, misses that cracked windows and ripped through pool screens. Parents feared letting their children play outside. The noises unsettled veterans and service dogs. In a January meeting, one man described constant gunfire that "sounds more like a reenactment of the Battle for Fallujah."

County commissioners voted unanimously last month to ask the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to make the 24 canals off Hunters Lake a bird sanctuary. The designation would prohibit hunters from pursuing duck on the canals.

The Conservation Commission likely will take action on the request at a meeting in July or January, according to the resolution.

Christopher Anger, a canal-side resident who's spoken out against the hunting, said it was exactly the step he wanted to see.

"We're not against hunters, we're not against guns," he said. "It's just the common sense we've got to legislate."

The resolution pleasantly surprised Anger, who said he feared nothing would come of residents' pleas for hunting to stop. The county commission lacks the state’s authority to regulate hunting or firearms, according to county attorney Garth Coller.

More than 5,000 people live within a half-mile of Hunters Lake, according to a letter from Hernando County Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb to the Conservation Commission. That area also includes two public schools: Westside Elementary School and the Spring Hill campus of Pasco-Hernando State College, which abuts the lake.

In 2017, Holcomb noted in the letter, the county and state both spent money to enhance a five-acre rookery on the lake.

The county may face long odds, however, in getting the state to establish a bird sanctuary.

The Conservation Commission hasn't designated a bird sanctuary in more than 20 years, according to spokesperson Tammy Sapp, said only once in that time has designated a restricted hunting area.

Meanwhile, residents like Anger are left hoping that the urging of county commissioners will be enough to sway the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

"This carries a little bit more weight," he said, but he still wants state officials to see it from the homeowners' point of view: "Would they want somebody hunting in their backyard?"

Contact Jack Evans at Follow @JackHEvans.