Monday, October 15, 2007

A Tale Of Cameras,Guns, And Whitetail Deer

The old mountain farm is one of the few truly wild areas remaining in our part of Pennsylvania. The land rises from a creek bottom to a low mountain. An old poorly maintained public road winds through the property like a writhing snake. On one side of the road lies a high ridge with meadows along the side of it and on the other is a large group of meadows stretching to the nearby mountain. This is home to a large number of whitetail deer and other wildlife.

In 2003 I was working for The Pennsylvania Game Commission as a full time Maintenance Supervisor and a Deputy Conservation Officer. October 20th was a Monday the second day of the early black powder deer season. Antlerless deer were legal game, but I no longer hunted.
At the end of work there were still a few hours of daylight remaining so I hurried to this spot, hid my vehicle and was soon on station with a Canon XL-1s video camera and my new Canon 10D with 35-350mm L lens.

It was one of those picture perfect October evenings with crystal clear skies and beautiful foliage. A tang was in the air. It was great to be alive and to be in the great outdoors. Several deer were present when I arrived and as it grew later, more and more wildlife appeared. A flock of large gobblers fed through the meadow and I photographed them with the 10D.

As the last rays of the evening sun bathed the mountain, the first large eight-point buck of the autumn appeared. He was following a doe and going through some of the classic maneuvers that a buck performs during the mating season, or rut as it is more commonly know. I was busily videotaping him when I heard the ominous crunch of tires on gravel in the road. A vehicle was coming slowly, and then it stopped! It struck a chill to the bottom of my heart! I ran crouched over to a nearby hay bale from while I could see the road and there was an old Chevy S-10 Blazer stopped at the gate to the property!

Soon the vehicle started moving again and traveled past me to a turning spot, and then came back with a rifle barrell sticking out the window.

This was a terrible dilemma. I knew most of the deer in the field; I had watched them raise their fawns, I had protected them as best I could. Now, death was at the door, but it was my job as an officer to wait until the subject acted and then arrest him. If I approached him at any time before he fired he could claim he was not hunting but just looking at them through his scope. That is assuming I could get to him. If I were really lucky he would let me walk to him and not unload his gun while I approached. Then I would have a loaded firearm in the vehicle violation. Most likely he would flee and return at another time to do more of his evil work.

Luckily I did not have to make the decision as he did not fire at that time and came driving past me when I took the picture that identifies him best. It was very late by this time and I used ISO 1600 with the lens zoomed to 350mm. I shot handheld with a shutter speed of 1/60 and the picture is blurred. Needless to say my nerves were not the best at this point. While this was taking place I realized that several of the deer had followed me and were all around and in front of the bale I was hiding behind. This was not good if he decided to shoot at this point, as I was in his line of fire!

For whatever reason he did not shoot at that time, but went back to the gate and sat for some time. It was not a good situation to use the camera so I watched through binoculars. Again, I saw the rifle come out the window and he fired this time.

I ran to my vehicle to pursue him. As I came in sight he pressed the accelerator to the floor and I never saw him again. I didn’t even have time to engage my red light. I search and searched for a dead or wounded deer in the area in which the rifle was pointed without success. At the time he shot I felt sure that all of the deer that were part of the herd that I photograph on a regular basis were with me.

At the time the District Wildlife Conservation Officer was Travis Pugh a fine, aggressive, young man who took a personal interest in the case. I gave him the pictures and within a week or so he encountered the vehicle on another back road and stopped it. It was the same lad and his fiancĂ©. He was road hunting that day with a 30/30 rifle. When Officer Pugh asked him about the incident with me, he denied any knowledge until he was shown the pictures and then he became confused and wasn’t certain whether Pugh was inquiring about the deer which he shot on Sunday, or the one on Monday. This youth was a roving wildlife criminal, shooting deer wherever he could find them. He had committed multiple violations: (hunting by use of motorized vehicle, and hunting by unlawful methods as the 30/30 was not a legal weapon in black powder season, and other lesser charges). I forget the exact charges that Travis filed, but the defendant did plead guilty to them.

The day after the violation I noticed that one of the does was missing and in time the farmer for the property was driving past and could see her lying in tall brush by the roadside from the vantage point of his tractor seat. When I searched before I was assuming that the deer that he shot at was in another meadow in the area as that is the way the barrel was pointed, but evidently while I was distracted this one left me and walked into the lane behind the gate and he shot her. From a dead rest over the vehicle sill with a scoped 30/30 he shot her in the intestines, and she turned back into the brush where she died a hard lingering death. She left behind one of the cutest fawns I have ever seen. She is still alive today, although I shudder to say that as season is in again, and between the road hunters, the night shooters, or straying from the posted sanctuary, life is very uncertain for a whitetail deer.

"So Sad And Alone Without Any Mother"

The outlaw never thinks of what they leave behind, nor do they care!


Anonymous said...

A truly heartbreaking story. It reinforces my decision, long ago, to give up hunting and fishing.

I don't need wildlife for food and I sure don't need to kill them for "sport."

I really think killing wildlife should be made a criminal offense but then who am I?

Where does a doe go to give birth in Ohio?

More emphasis should be on developing habitats and sanctuaries for wildlife.

Streams and lakes should not only be pollution free but free from mankind's intervention and off limits to hunting and fishing.

I have heard the old arguments about the hunting license going to help wildlife in some way.

I don't think so.

This land was filled from ocean to ocean with so much wildlife that the earth trembled when they passed and the sky turned dark when the flew over but then the Christian Europeans arrived and the slaughter began and is still going on.

Nature has a wonderful way of helping itself without mankind's ideas.

I like your photography a lot. I like what you take pictures of even more.

I think the man in the truck or SUV should have been taken out of the vehicle and told to run.

And then I would have loved to take some pot shots at him -- arm and leg shots only. Make him suffer a little.

These human creatures are the same kind of kids that go around kicking puppy dogs and stomping on cats and kittens.

They are the freaks of nature and in this world there is no shortage of them.

Willard said...


I didn't know it at the time but it turned out that we had arrested this boy's brother for late spotlighting sometime before that. We had also had complaints about he and his brother hunting over bait ,riding their all terrain vehicles on their neighbor's property and shooting deer at night by riding the ATVS, locating the deer with a spotlight and shooting them. We tried to catch them sitting over the bait one morning, but no one was there and no deer had been at the bait so it looks like they had "shot their territory out" In the case of this story he was probably like a kid in a candy store thinking he had found new territory to shoot. Unfortunately for him the situation was too good to be true. Had he had any intelligence he would have realized that all of those deer were there for one reason--someone was trying to take care of them. The problem is tbat sooner or later one of these characters slips by me and succeeds. Right now I am missing another deer. I saw her last on Friday morning. The options are that she wandered from the property and was taken with a bow which was the only legal weapon that day. barring that she was shot from the road, or perhaps at night. I'll post more on this later, but I think the pro-wildlife people are on the losing end, at least at present.

Are you aware that a certain amount of people are actively crusading to permit hunting in our national parks? I can hardly believe this ,but it is true! Here is the address of a blog that concerns itself daily with such issues. Although he is not on the park issue right now. It is interesting to see the thought processes behind it all. I can't figure how to hyper link it so I'll just copy and paste it in.
I know you won't enjoy reading it, but it is illuminating.

I'll try to periodically post on this type of subject. A primary reason for launching this blog was to present the pro-wildlife side of the argument. I realize that few will likely read it, but I became so frustrated having to listen to commentary in most places that I disagree with, with few presenting the other side.

I'll stop for now but try to continue this in future posts.

Thanks for your comments and support.


Old Wom Tigley said...

This is a great post, very sad to read but your views are very refreshing to hear. I have shot in the past, mostly rabbits and small game birds, nothing like deer. I have friends who still hunt with dogs, either for the pot or to feed their dogs. Fishing over here is big, with lots of bait and tackle shops. Sea fishing trips are arranged. I have been on a few sea fishing trips but had to stop as the waste of fish was quite disgusting. Why catch it if you can't or will not eat it. Some thought it was fun to catch fish after fish and then feed the gulls with them.
I'm looking forward to reading your post.
Hyper links... I had to ask Abe about this a week or two back..
and since them I have come across this..

I have it printed out at the side of me now while I'm blogging.. have a look it make be what you are looking for

Faye Pekas said...

Wow Willard, thats quite a story. How sad that a deer you knew was shot and killed. Scary to think what might have happened had the kid decided to shoot one of your friends standing near you.

I drooled when you mentioned your 35-350 L lens :) I have a 75-200 L that I love but the one you have is on my "wish list".