Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Hog hunting camp fires up Hernando neighbors

BROOKSVILLE — A flashlight beam shone through the sliding glass doors of Tracy Brown's Ridge Manor home about 11:30 p.m.

She rushed outside to make sure no one was disturbing her horses and found something even more alarming — a man who appeared to be drunk wandering along her fence line.

"The man could hardly stand up with a shotgun in one hand and a flashlight in the other,'' Brown said, recalling a night several months ago. When she confronted him, he argued that he had paid to hunt in the area and was just following feral pig tracks.

Brown said she is just one of several neighbors to encounter problems with the customers of the hog hunting camp on a 40-acre parcel next to her property. The land, owned by Ann Semeniuk, has been used as a hunting camp for some time.

In September of last year, a neighbor reported the activities there to the county. A code enforcement officer cited the property because it didn't have a proper permit to operate as a hunting camp.

On Monday, camp manager Ronald Ritter will be before the Planning and Zoning Commission, seeking that permit for the property on the south side of State Road 50, just west of McKethan Road.

Brown and some of her neighbors plan to be there too.

They describe a whole range of problems with the camp: the sound of automatic gunfire at all hours, bullets hitting surrounding properties, domestic animals getting shot, boars being butchered and carcasses being left to rot.

One nearby resident told Brown that she had heard a noise in her living room and found one of the hunting camp customers sitting on her couch too drunk to find her way back to the camp.

Some worry about their property values falling. Others note that the site is very near to the east Hernando solid waste station that gets a lot of traffic.

"We're losing sleep and waking up at all hours of the night. This is rapid automatic weaponry. This is regular shotgun blasts," Brown said.

"This is not shooting a nuisance hog.''

"I shudder to think of having to wear a bulletproof vest to work in my yard,'' wrote Judith Twyman in an email to the county.

Just a couple of days ago, another neighbor, Patricia Proch, reported that there was gunfire from the property hitting on or near her land.

"I am afraid to take my granddaughter outside near the river for fear of a stray bullet hitting her,'' she wrote the county in an email. "I live here on the river to have peace and tranquility, not to be worried about getting shot.''

But Ritter, the hunting camp manager, said the stories neighbors are telling are just that — stories.

The neighbors are upset because now that the camp is operating, they can no longer poach on the land or throw their trash there as they used to do. And most of the gunfire they hear is not coming from the camp property.

"There is not one person out there who doesn't target shoot,'' Ritter said, referring to the residents of the area.

There are no automatic weapons fired at the camp and many of the hunters use bows and arrows to hunt hogs.

Ritter's website — ilivewild.com — describes the method used on the property, where a penned-up group of feral hogs serves as live bait to attract other hogs.

"The feeding of the penned hogs, the sow in heat scent, and constant snorting makes for the best bait," the site states. "Best bait for hog is other hogs!"

The application for the special exception use permit states that only seven hunters would be allowed on the property at any one time, and that hunting stands and blinds will be at least 300 feet from the property lines.

Ritter said he is going through the permit process to show cooperation, but he believes recent changes in state law to encourage "agritourism'' remove the power of local governments to regulate hunting camps.

County planner Omar DePablo said that the county attorney's office is looking into that matter. The Planning and Zoning Commission public hearings begin at 9 a.m. in the County Commission chambers.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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