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 Are You In Range of a Stray Bullet?

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Map of Cayuga Heights and surrounding neighborhoods including illustration of typical range of rifle bullets and shotgun slugs.

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Aerial view of Cayuga Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. See for yourself how densely settled this area is. Are you within bullet range of any possible deer kill location?

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Now see for yourself how Cayuga Heights compares with the site in Amherst, NY where a stray bullet ricocheted into a residential home during their bait and shoot program.

 What You Can Do

A positive resolution of this issue depends on individual people getting involved and taking action. Even if you don't live in Cayuga Heights, you can make a difference:

1. Speak up
Contact the following decision makers and let them know your questions and concerns:

Mayor Kate Supron
(607) 257-1238

Deputy Mayor Liz Karns
(607) 257-1238

Police Chief James Steinmetz
(607) 257-1011

Cayuga Heights Trustees:
Chris Crooker email
Stephen Hamilton email
Diana Riesman email
Richard Robinson email
Peter Salton email

Phone messages for the trustees can be left at (607) 257-1238.

2. Sign our online petition
Visit for a quick and easy way to get your name added to our petition and have an email sent in your name to the decisionmakers.

3. Write a letter to the editor

The Ithaca Journal
Ithaca Times
Cornell Daily Sun

4. Sign up to receive updates

Sign up at the top of this column.

5. Help educate others
Get your friends, neighbors and colleagues involved in the public dialogue about this important issue. Begin by letting them know about this web resource. You can do that quickly and easily by clicking on the Send-to-a-Friend button.

6. Attend meetings of the Cayuga Heights Village Trustees

The Village Trustees are the decision makers. Consider attending these public meetings and letting the trustees know your questions and concerns.

Village Trustee meetings are open to the public and are held at 7 PM on the second Monday of every month.

Learn more | What you can do | Sign our Online Petition

The majority of the members of the Cayuga Heights Deer Remediation Advisory Committee (DRAC) are in favor of resolving deer-human conflicts in the Village by implementing an annual deer-killing program.1 The plan being discussed involves baiting and then shooting a large number of animals within the Village limits at undisclosed locations and times—within bullet range of residents in Cayuga Heights and numerous surrounding communities.

   Is It Safe?
Stray bullet from bait-and-shoot deer kill program strikes upstate NY home with father and child inside.

Bullets do not always hit their intended targets, however skilled the shooter may be, however well the gun is aimed. Bullets do not recognize boundaries that are drawn on maps to separate one municipality from another.

Both Cayuga Heights Mayor Jim Gilmore and the Chair of the DRAC, Kate Supron, have contended that decisions around this matter should only be the concern of Cayuga Heights residents, even though the Village is surrounded by several other neighborhoods, including Forest Home, Cornell's North Campus, Northeast residential neighborhoods, and the City of Ithaca—all of which are well within range of bullets fired in Cayuga Heights.

As concerned Ithacans, we are reaching out to our community to raise some important questions and concerns that are not currently being publicly addressed by the DRAC. For example:

Can Cayuga Heights officials guarantee that by having Police Chief Boyce and his officers do the killing, there will be no safety risks to residents of Cayuga Heights and surrounding areas?

Chief Boyce is respected for his competence and dedication to public safety, and rightly so. But firearms, even in the hands of law enforcement professionals, are inherently dangerous. For example, just three hours west of Ithaca, in Amherst, New York, a bullet fired by a police sharpshooter participating in that community's bait-and-shoot program passed through a deer, struck an unknown object, and ricocheted into a residential area. After blowing a baseball-sized hole in the second story window of a young couple's home while the father was inside with his son, the bullet lodged itself in a framed picture on the wall. Immediately following this 2005 incident, an Amherst council member declared the bait-and-shoot program "an accident waiting to happen."2

Is there any truly safe location in Cayuga Heights from which to shoot large numbers of deer?

While there are some scattered fields and small wooded areas within the Village limits, thousands of people travel, study, work, shop, recreate, and reside within firearm range of all corners of Cayuga Heights. In fact, the largest undeveloped parcels of land in Cayuga Heights are several times smaller than the forested area in Amherst from which the bullet emerged to strike and penetrate a family home. (see comparison maps)

Can police officers eliminate risks to nearby residents by only shooting in a direction pointed away from the most populated areas?
Prof. John Reiss is slain by a stray bullet while eating at his kitchen table.

In our densely populated community, roadways and residences abound in all directions. Additionally, for a variety of reasons, bullets do not always end up landing where the shooter intended. The bullet that entered a home in Amherst, for example, was fired by a police officer up in a tree stand aiming down toward a deer on the ground.3

Even bullets that are accidentally fired into the air can be lethal. Doctors at one trauma center in Los Angeles reported that between 1985 and 1992 they treated 118 people for falling bullet injuries around New Year's Eve or the Fourth of July, and that thirty-eight of the victims died.4

Can the risks that go along with discharging firearms within a densely populated suburban community be eliminated simply by using officers who are experienced at hunting in rural areas?

Stray bullet kills five-year old Austin Haley while sitting next to his grandfather.
Each year, factors such as poor visibility, unexpected distraction, fatigue, the unpredictable movement of frightened animals, and the irregular terrain of the outdoors cause even experienced hunters and law enforcement professionals to commit grave errors of judgment. For example, last summer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a five-year-old boy named Austin Haley was shot in the head and killed while sitting next to his grandfather at a family pond. A police officer had been taking aim at a snake in a bird feeder.5 In Manchester, New Hampshire in 2004, a former police officer and expert marksman named Steven Laro killed his hunting partner Robert Proulx with two shots he fired after mistaking Robert for a wild boar.6

Will residents be protected from stray bullets if police officers do the killing late at night, when most people are inside their homes?
Deer hunter's stray bullet strikes within a young girl's bedroom.

Bullets can easily penetrate most residential structures, even after traveling long distances. Just two months ago, retired professor John Reiss of Essex, Vermont, was killed by a stray bullet as he sat at his kitchen table eating dinner with his wife. The bullet was fired by target shooters almost 700 feet away.7

Last fall, Johanna Studer of Stearns County, Minnesota woke up one morning and took a shower. When she returned to her bedroom, she found a bullet hole shot clean through the pillow her head had been resting on just an hour before. The bullet had been fired from a deer hunter's tree stand, over a mile away.8

Will the NY State law requiring shooters to be 500 feet from a residence guarantee safety for those who live near bait-and-shoot sites?

Mayor Gilmore
Casey Burns, shot in the head by a hunter's stray bullet while sitting in her car
In the fall of 2004, 18-year-old Casey Burns of North Whitehall, Pennsylvania, was sitting in her car in her driveway when a bullet fired by a hunter over half a mile away struck her in the side of the head. Casey was saved along with her unborn child, but even after extensive rehabilitation she still suffers from memory loss because of the bone fragments lodged in her brain.9

In fact, every accident described on this page was caused by bullets fired more than 500 feet away from the point of impact.

Will people driving through the area during the deer kill be safe in their cars?
Mayor Jim Gilmore
Mayor Jim Gilmore: "My recommenda-tion to DRAC is to cull the herd" Cayuga Heights Courier, Fall 2008

With the shooting happening on undisclosed locations,dates and times, drivers will not be given the choice to protect themselves from potential stray bullets or other dangers, including frightened or wounded deer careening into traffic. According to the Erie Insurance Company's 10-year study of deer-vehicle collisions in two Pennsylvania counties, the odds of a deer-vehicle collision went up between 300% and 400% during the first days of hunting season.10

Can the shooting be made safe if the right kind of firearms are used?

At a 9/30/08 meeting, Mayor Gilmore informed the DRAC that, as part of moving forward, "We would have improved weaponry, to, you know, help assure 100% accuracy and effectiveness of the culling." This begs the question: Can any weapon designed and fired by human beings be 100% accurate?
Girl shot by stray bullet while riding her horse indoors.

After Casey Burns was shot in her car, the State of Pennsylvania performed an extensive investigation to determine whether requiring hunters to use shotguns instead of rifles might improve public safety. A part of that study, conducted at the US Army Picatinny Arsenal, showed that the range of a typical rifle bullet could be up to 2.6 miles, and a shotgun slug up to 2 miles. In the case of a ricochet, a bullet could travel an additional half-mile, and a shotgun slug could travel even further, over three quarters of a mile after ricocheting11. Consider that the area of Cayuga Heights is only 1.4 square miles. Are any of the Village residents guaranteed 100% safety from a stray bullet discharged in a deer killing program?

In fact, these US Army statistics demonstrate that, no matter where they are fired within the Cayuga Heights Village limits, bullets or shotgun slugs have the potential to travel far into neighboring municipalities. (see chart here)

Can the shooting be made safe if the right type of ammunition is used?

"Frangible" bullets are a type of ammunition designed in part to reduce the incidence of ricochets. The Hornady TAP Urban Ballistic round is an example. However, the use of this sort of ammunition  does not eliminate many significant risks inherent in the use of firearms to kill deer in our densely populated community.

As common sense dictates, any form of ammunition capable of killing deer poses the potential of grievous harm to other large mammals, including humans. Specifically, the Hornady TAP Urban Ballistic ammunition is designed to be deadly. The “TAP Urban” product line, for example, will penetrate ballistic gelatin (used for testing purposes to approximate living tissue) from 7 to 10 inches. Below is a photo from the manufacturer’s web site, with red dye used to trace the bullet’s effect and the numbers indicating inches of penetration,12 demonstrating how this ammunition creates large, devastating internal wounds as the bullet shatters into fragments.

And while this type of ammunition does offer reduced risk of ricochet, it does not eliminate the risks of shots fired accidentally up into the air, or of a poorly aimed or accidentally discharged bullet entering a home through a window or wall, or entering a vehicle through a window. With regard to windows, the manufacturer has this to say:

The debris cloud following a bullet's exit from glass contains thousands of fragments of glass from the size of dust to the size of a .22 bullet. The cloud also contains bullet fragments weighing up to 20 grains with a velocity similar to the bullet itself. Both the glass and bullet fragments are capable of significant penetration. The debris cloud will spread at about 3.5 inches per foot in the first 4 feet behind the glass. The debris cloud must be taken into account in hostage situations. Collateral damage is a serious threat.13

Further, a study conducted to assess the potential of various types of ammunition to penetrate typically constructed homes showed that bullets in the Hornady TAP Urban line of ammunition were not only capable of penetrating a home’s outside wall consisting of siding, plywood, insulation and sheetrock, but that after penetrating the outer wall, the ammunition could go on to penetrate one or more interior walls as well. 14

Given that bullets such as the Hornady TAP Urban ballistic left the muzzle of the test rifle in this study at a velocity of well over 2500 feet per second, it is clear that they are capable of striking targets far outside the village limits.

A Question of Safety?

Both the Mayor and DRAC Chairperson Kate Supron, a Cayuga Heights resident and Co-president of the Cayuga Heights Elementary School PTA, have publicly stated that the reason they are advocating for a bait-and-shoot program is to improve public safety, specifically to reduce the risk of vehicle accidents, Lyme disease, and deer attacking humans.15 But is their assessment of these risks realistic, and is it based on fact? Is a bait-and-shoot program the only alternative, or are there safer, more effective, non-lethal approaches to addressing these concerns? And if safety is the focus, doesn't it make sense to explore whether it is really possible to make a bait-and-shoot program safe in a community as densely populated as ours?

Police Chief Tom Boyce
Cayuga Heights Police Chief Tom Boyce

Chief of Police Boyce has said at public meetings on more than one occasion that he will only carry out a deer kill if there is 80-90% public approval. Decision makers in Cayuga Heights need to hear from a wider cross-section of our community, and they need help to recognize the fact that approving a controversial plan of this sort means imposing risks on people who dwell outside of Cayuga Heights, people who did not elect them to make decisions on their behalf, people whose input has so far not even been considered relevant.

Once a plan to shoot deer in the Village is put into motion, it will be much harder to stop. Now is the time to become informed, get involved, and make your voice be heard. Only concerned citizens speaking up can insure that the important questions are asked and answered, and that all the facts are brought to light.

This web site is published by - Ithacans for Safe, Ethical, and Rational Approaches to Reducing Deer-Human Conflict. We are a group of concerned citizens from Ithaca neighborhoods, including Cayuga Heights. If you would like to join our educational outreach effort and be informed of opportunities where your input can make a difference, contact us.

1.  DRAC meetings: 9/15/08, 9/30/08, 10/23/08
2.  "Officer's errant shot at deer upsets residents," The Buffalo News, 2/8/05, and " Use of rifles fuels turmoil over
     deer control effort
," The Buffalo News, 2/12/05
3.  "Officer's errant shot at deer upsets residents," The Buffalo News 2/8/05
4.  Wikipedia: Falling-bullet injuries
5.  "Stray bullet kills boy fishing in Oklahoma,", 8/6/07
6.  "Hearing set on license of hunter who shot another," The Boston Globe, 3/14/05
7.  "Professor's death raises safety questions," The Essex Reporter, September 2008
8.  KARE-11 News, NBC affiliate for Minneapolis, St. Paul, November 27, 2007
9. "Allentown woman settles after being shot by hunter," HDTV, CBS, 2/15/07
10. "Pennsylvania Deer-Vehicle Collisions Down Slightly," PRNewswire, 9/24/08
11. "The 'safe' slug myth: shotgun slugs are required in some areas, but why?", Guns Magazine, November, 2007
12. Hornady Law Enforcement web site: 223 REM TAP
13. Hornady Law Enforcement web site: FAQs "What can I expect when shooting through glass?"
14. MoveShoot Inc. Tactical Training and Consulting Services: "Ammunition Structural Penetration Test"
15. DRAC meetings, 9/15/08 and 9/30/08