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Lancaster neighbors target bow hunter on his own property

Sean Petronsky was not a popular guy at Lancaster Town Hall last week.

At least not among many neighbors living along Trentwood Trail in the Walden Trace subdivision.

Petronsky owns a narrow strip of land there – 50 feet wide – between two streets next to the subdivision, and he hunts there with his longbow.

Neighbors feel that is much too close to their homes and that he could put their children and families in harm’s way. They told board members at the town meeting Tuesday they wanted a law that would forbid him from hunting there.

Some residents are so upset that they informally chatted about offering to buy him out to have control over the land.

No dice. Petronsky said he refuses to sell and said he should be able to continue hunting on his own land.

“I don’t dictate to the people how they use their yards,” he said in an interview with The News. “I haven’t broken any laws. They’re definitely trying to take away my right to hunt on my land.”

This is how the neighbors see the situation. Backyard swing sets, playhouses, pools, children and pets. They’re not against hunting. They just don’t believe hunting belongs in their residential neighborhood.

This is how Petronsky sees the situation: He sits in a tree stand 30 feet above the ground with a range finder, at least 400 feet from the closest home on Trentwood Trail. Neighbors say it is closer.

He says he shoots his longbow – the traditional half-moon shaped bow – only from an elevated post. He does not use a gun.

“The only way I can shoot is downward, and it’s a downward slope of land,” Petronsky said. “I know the direction of every single home, and I’m looking at every safety measure. I went out of my way not to go near their homes. I’m not going to put anybody’s life in jeopardy.”

Petronsky also said he follows state regulations, calling for a minimum 150-foot distance from residential structures.

Many neighbors are not reassured. They turned out for the public hearing on a proposed town law that would restrict weapons including longbows from being discharged within 500 feet of structures in four residential districts.

“I didn’t move to Lancaster to be hesitant and fearful for multiple weeks out of the year when my kids want to play outside,” said Scott Littlewood of Trentwood Trail. “We don’t want to be the first statistic.”

Neighbor Jamie Johnson, a mother of two young children, also is upset.

“We assume everyone is blessed with common sense,” she said. “We are a neighborhood in close proximity to schools.”

Some hunters, though, felt the draft town law, if adopted, would go too far and be too broad for a town where hunting is allowed. Additional restrictions by the town should specifically target the isolated narrow swath of land Petronsky owns between Trentwood Trail and Seneca Place, some said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations recently changed to shorten the allowable distance for discharge of longbows from 500 feet from residences to 150 feet.

In defending hunting in the town, Mark Martzolf of William Street told town officials that residents’ setting off fireworks also present dangers in subdivisions. He called the town’s proposed law “shortsighted” and too broad.

Town leaders are caught in the middle.

“Nobody wants to end hunting in the Town of Lancaster, but this one instance is putting us in a position where we have to do something,” Councilman John Abraham Jr. said of the bowhunting controversy on Trentwood Trail.

Petronsky, a lifelong hunter who owns Petro Builders in Buffalo, said he’s doing what he’s allowed to do by law on the 50-foot wide by 1,731-foot long strip of land he bought in 2008 as part of an extension of a paper street named Mohawk Place. In addition, he said there is a 100-foot buffer of land running the full length of the backyards between the neighbors’ Trentwood Trail backyards and his land, all sandwiched between Trentwood and Seneca Place. Neighbors dispute the measurements.

“This is a slice of heaven for me. It’s just too beautiful and there’s so many animals out there,” said Petronsky, who said he has trail cameras placed on his land.

More than 100 deer roam on his land, he says, describing it as a nature lover’s paradise – also home to foxes, raccoon and coyote.

Petronsky said he began hunting on his property in 2014 and went out about six times last fall. He last hunted there in early December.

How far a longbow arrow travels depends on the weight of the bow, said Mark Irlbacher, owner of Doc’s Archery in North Tonawanda, but the range is 225 to 525 feet.

And hunting from a tree stand makes for a safe hunt, Irlbacher said,

“If you’re aiming at something on the ground … it can’t be unsafe,” he said.

Petronsky said he first learned Tuesday through news reports of the town hearing and a proposed law prohibiting weapon use within 500 feet of structures.

Lancaster police and the DEC, on separate occasions, contacted him last fall about residents’ concerns, he said.

“I’m ready to fight this to the end,” said Petronsky, 43.

He said learned to hunt as a young boy from his grandfather.

“I have every right to be back there,” he said. “This is so wrong on so many levels. … They’re definitely infringing on my constitutional rights.”

Petronsky said neighbors first started criticizing him last October, a day he alerted police of an attempted burglary at a Trentwood Trail home. He said he emerged from the wooded area and noticed suspicious activity at a home and contacted Lancaster police.

The next day, he returned to talk with the homeowner about the attempted break-in, and when the resident asked Petronsky what he does in the woods, he told him that he hunts.

The next day, while hunting on his property, Petronsky said Lancaster police told him to come out of the woods.

He did.

Police Chief Gerald Gill Jr. said Petronsky is not violating any law by bowhunting on his property.

Supervisor Johanna M. Coleman said she knows Petronsky is not doing anything illegal but believes the state DEC should restrict hunting from the 50-foot strip.

“I am not saying he’s doing anything illegal. He isn’t. We all know that,” Coleman said. But the “residents are certainly within their right to petition the board. We all have a constitutional right to petition. We may not be able to do anything. I don’t know.”

Coleman said it will not be an easy solution.

“The town cannot just ram down a local law,” she said. “I see all sides of this man’s issue.”