An impromptu turkey shoot within the city limits of Chenoa on Saturday sparked outrage among residents, a large number of whom showed up at Monday night’s Chenoa City Council meeting to voice their concerns. The reaction ranged from anger of animal activists to outrage over a gun being shot near the middle of town in broad daylight, with a minority thankful for the turkeys’ removal.

    According to residents and eyewitnesses, the incident resulted in the immediate death of two of the game birds and the mortal wounding of a third. Authorized by Mayor Chris Wilder, the act of fowl slay took place Saturday morning a block away from Chenoa Elementary School, which was hosting a local women’s club’s “Breakfast with Santa” event for area children at the time.

    Wilder acknowledged the incident at the meeting after fielding the public’s questions and comments for approximately half an hour. The mayor, who said he acted without conferring with the city commissioners, defended both the method of removal and the method’s executor. Wilder said that the person who carried out the killing was also among the few people who lodged complaints about the birds.

    “As far as the person who handled this, was he qualified? Very much so,” he said. “Some may believe that, some may not. Do I have proof in writing of his qualifications? No. I have what he tells me are his qualifications. I know the gentleman personally, he is a Chenoa resident and yes, his family was on the complaint phone calls.

    “Going back to his qualifications, he was an instructor, or shall I say range master, for police departments. He was an FBI-certified sniper for four years. A range master since 2000 — 17 years qualifications. He’s been on multiple police departments.”

    The Daily Leader could not independently verify the qualifications of said individual. Wilder also asserted that the person contracted to kill the turkeys aimed his firearm, alleged by persons speaking in public comment to have been a .40-caliber handgun, “toward the turkeys, therefore the bullets went toward the dirt.”

    “(Turkeys) chasing children is my biggest concern, the safety of our kids,” he said. “Many of you know I work for the school and I drive a school bus. I would never put any of your children in danger.”

    Wild turkeys, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin’s choice for America’s national bird, had migrated to the area near the beginning of the year. A number of residents and community members appear to have enjoyed the turkeys’ presence, as a Facebook group called “Chenoa Turkeys & Friends” was created in early October and now boasts more than 150 community members.

    On its face, the legality of the shooting appears murky. Section 5-2-8 of the Chenoa City Code concerning the discharge of firearms states that “discharging (is) prohibited …

    “It is unlawful to discharge any firearms, air gun or bows and arrows in the city; provided, that this section shall not be construed to prohibit any officer of the law to discharge a firearm in the performance of his duty, nor to any citizen to discharge a firearm when lawfully defending his property or person; and provided further, that this section shall not prohibit the use of bows and arrows in a duly authorized physical education class under the supervision of a qualified instructor.”

    While these criteria presumably do not apply to a private individual firing off live rounds in close proximity to a school contemporaneously sheltering young children, the mechanism by which the birds were killed may have a legal out external to the city code.

    During public comment, Chenoa resident Cynthia Cummings noted that the Gun-Free Zones Act of 1990 prohibited individuals from possessing or discharging firearms within school zones. Wilder countered that one of several exceptions to both parts of that act is private property that is not part of school grounds; such property is where the birds were claimed to have been killed.

    In addition, Nuisance Wildlife Control Permits, authorized by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, allow for certain animals, such as turkeys and other game birds, to be “taken” (killed, captured or otherwise removed) by firearms within municipalities, “subject to municipal restrictions unless otherwise authorized in writing by an official of the municipality.”

    In order for a governmental body to obtain a permit, a district wildlife biologist must sign off on it. The process for a municipality obtaining a license is much less rigorous than it is for private persons, requiring only approval of the application by the biologist.

    McLean County was formerly part of Region III of the IDNR; however, since Region III is now defunct, counties once represented by it draw staff and resources from one of the four remaining regional offices. John Griesbaum, the district wildlife biologist of McLean, serves the same position in six other nearby counties. A voicemail left for Griesbaum went unreturned by press time.

    In other matters, the council received an update from Invenergy concerning wind energy project and briefly discussion the proposed equipment leasing program, but took no action.