Editorial: Hunters must follow the rules

The man who fired the shot that killed Rosemary Billquist near her home in Sherman last November was shooting – after sunset – at what he thought was a deer. Thomas B. Jadlowski last week pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and hunting after sunset. He faces up to four years in prison when sentenced in January. The maximum sentence wouldn’t be unfair.

Billquist’s death at age 43, as well as the imprisonment of Jadlowski, are the tragic consequences of not following rules.

Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, last spring reacted to Billquist’s shooting by telling The News that “every single hunting incident that we see is preventable.”

The safe use of firearms is a big responsibility, which is why hunting is one of the most regulated sports activities. Hunters must know the rules to get a license, and the DEC is very clear about the regulations for time of day. Sunrise and sunset are official times posted on the DEC’s website and literature.

As Joseph H. Schneider, the DEC’s director of law enforcement, put it, “Sunset is a number that you can look up and know what it is so that you know when you’re done hunting for that day … They’re not just an interpretation of ‘well, it looks like it’s light enough to shoot now,’ or ‘it’s still light enough to shoot.’ ”

Schneider was quoting a familiar-sounding excuse made by a generic hunter, but Sadlowski could have employed similar reasoning to justify firing his gun at 5:24 on Nov. 22, 2017, 40 minutes after sunset.

In our society at large, people all too often justify impulsive or selfish acts by telling themselves that rules don’t apply to them.

Examples abound: People who send or read text messages while driving a car, or who get behind the wheel after “just a few drinks,” or become impatient and run a red light; taxpayers who fudge the figures on their returns to cheat the government; employers who pay their people “off the books.” The consequences of these choices are sometimes tragic; none of them is victimless.

In November 2016, a state DEC officer was shot and seriously wounded while investigating after-hours hunting in Columbia County. Schneider said instances of illegal hunting before or after sunrise have been increasing in the past two years.

The problem, he said, is that “we’re experiencing a rash of these this year with late shooting and or early shooting. It’s not just at night.”

The late Rosemary Billquist was a volunteer with Chautauqua Hospice and Palliative Care, where she was known for her kindness and generosity.

Her husband, Jamie Billquist, says his wife would have forgiven the hunter who shot her because “that’s the type of person she was.”

If any good can come from her death, Jamie Billquist says he hopes hunters will slow down and make sure of their surroundings. “If anything positive comes out of this, I want people to please just be safe,” he said.

The best way to stay safe is for hunters to follow the rules. That’s not hard.