Hunters? Paintball? Poachers? Play fort? Those were the questions asked by residents of the gated HighPointe subdivision in Dripping Springs this week about an alleged hunter’s deer blind discovered in a wooded area on community property. And what about that XP40 loaded gun that was also reportedly found in the woods on community property this week by a 5-year old?
On Tuesday, one resident reported to the community email group that a loaded gun had been found on community property by a 5-year old. Two days later, HighPointe neighbors learned about an alleged hunting deer blind, photographed in a wooded area on community property. In their gated neighborhood. Where kids play, pets romp, and adults jog, bike, and walk. No wonder some residents were alarmed.
In response to a call to Texas Parks & Wildlife, communications officer Patrick Schubert said he was not aware of the alleged HighPointe deer blind specifically, but said hunting blinds discovered in residential areas across Texas are “not as uncommon as you would think.” He said the agency actually receives several calls per year.
“They’re not as visible to the public and a lot of people in residential areas haven’t been exposed to much hunting. Many of those reports actually turn out to be false,” Schubert said.
Hays County Game Warden James Michael confirmed having received several calls during the past week about an alleged illegal deer blind in the vicinity of HighPointe. Michael said the initial calls were from alarmed homeowners but more recent calls had come from others assuring him it was “just kids playing paintball.”
The game warden agreed the latter explanation didn’t completely make sense in light of the apparent camo-covered feeder on the ground below the makeshift tree blind/stand/fort. As one HighPointe resident commented after seeing the photos posted on the neighborhood email group, “The paintball thing only makes sense if your paintball opponents are deer.”
Meanwhile, conjecture continued throughout the week about whether the site had been a play fort for kids, or a paint ball position – which could possibly explain the sounds of “shots” being fired. No shell casings were reported being found at the site.
By Thursday, it became clear that the loaded gun and the deerblind/fort/paintball site were unrelated. The Hays County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the gun belonged to a former police officer and resident, whose car was broken into in November, 2011, and the holstered, loaded weapon stolen.
Also on Thursday, a resident who spoke to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office about the hunting concerns reported being dismayed at learning that the location of the HighPointe subdivision is considered to be in the jurisdiction of the county, which does not have an ordinance against firing a weapon.
Texas Parks & Wildlife has two Game Wardens on call for Hays County. One of them is Game Warden James Michael, who said the wardens and sheriffs have both been called out to the HighPointe area a number of times before with reports of gun shots.
“Residents should keep in mind that they’re surrounded by ranch land,” Michael said. “Often, the guns they hear are being fired on the nearby 400 acre ranch.”
When illegal hunting is suspected, however, TPW dispatcher Schubert encouraged all residents of any residential community in Texas, to report it immediately to the TPW.
“Don’t wait to call. We are here 24/7 and it’s a lot easier to catch someone in the act than to try and find them and get them to confess,” Schubert said.
On Friday, the HighPointe Property Owner’s Association (POA) issued a statement to residents that the Association had been “notified of illegal hunting equipment stored on Association property and possible illegal hunting.” The HighPointe POA does not operate or moderate the HighPointe neighborhood email user group.
In the statement, the Association stated that “all hunting is prohibited” in HighPointe, and that the organization would be working with “the proper authorities for a full investigation.” The POA email echoed Schubert’s direction for residents to call TPW, as well as the Hays County Sheriff’s Department, with any knowledge of or witness to “suspicious behavior.”
Sgt. Mike Wood of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the HighPointe subdivision is under Hays Country jurisdiction because it is located outside of the Dripping Springs Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ). This means that the lack of an ordinance against firing a weapon in HighPointe is at the county level, not the city level.
Hays County Game Warden James Michael also said that even if HighPointe were in the City’s ETJ, and even if hunting is a violation of HighPointe’s POA, it is not a violation of state law to have a deer stand or feeder on property within city limits or elsewhere within the county. Michael said that means any prosecution of an alleged illegal deer blind in HighPointe would be a civil matter, not a criminal matter, until and unless the landowner – presumably the developer – calls and requires the activity on their property be stopped.
For the many residents of HighPointe who have come from other parts of the country, the ETJ is likely a completely foreign concept. Most certainly don’t feel like they live “out in the county” due to the extensive residential infrastructure within the gates of their community. But this week’s incidents are a reminder that, despite the suburban-like setting, HighPointe is still very much located in the heart of Texas.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the coming week, we will provide an extensive report on the Dripping Springs city limits, the ETJ, and what it all really means to area residents.