Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Better Way To Spend A Spring Morning?

Fulton County, is located in the south central part of Pennsylvania and borders the state of Maryland to the south. It is quite small with a land area of 435 square miles and is about fifteen miles wide and twenty-nine miles long. It is one of the few counties in the state to only have one District Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO). In Pennsylvania, WCOs may be assisted by a Deputy force. Larger counties may have two or more districts.

Wildlife matters are very important in this rural county and at one time it had one of the largest deputy forces in the state. At the time of this story there were seven of us.

In most cases, a training meeting was held each month, at which important events, which were coming up in the near future would be discussed and a plan of action formulated. Deputies were technically volunteers, but were re-reimbursed for a certain amount of service each year. As such, most WCOs gave them extreme latitude in what they were expected to do.

My brother "Salty" and I were lawn enforcement oriented, and worked with the understanding that we would attend required training, but would do little public relations work and little field work during the spring and summer. We would be very active in the fall;
working a heavy weekend night patrol schedule along with mounting several daytime foot patrols into areas were violations were rampant.

We were well know as the "Hill Brothers" or "The Hill Boys" and were hated by the outlaw element in our area, and respected by the true sportsmen.

I initially started in this field because I was a hunter and disliked the outlaw element shooting the big bucks before season and I must say that at that stage I also liked the excitement. In time I found that my views had changed. I no longer hunted and had turned into a wildlife advocate.

At some point in time The Game Commission adopted a "Red Tag" program under which antlerless deer could be shot by properly licensed hunters at other times of the year than the traditional deer seasons. This was a tightly regulated program designed to assist farmers, who met certain criteria to utilize sportsmen in dealing with crop damage. In light of my outlook on wildlife at the time and my commitment to working in the fall, I did not assist with administering this program.

Many of the details about the program are hazy, but I well remember attending a meeting in late winter or early spring where the WCO informed us that Red Tag season was coming in soon. I am not sure of the exact time frame, but I do recall that it was not in effect while the fawns were being born. It was in while the does were visibly pregnant. It seems that this was the first year that youth were being allowed to participate with adult supervision and perhaps the first that it came in this early in the year.

One of the deputies piped up "What better way to spend a fine spring morning than to take a youth doe hunting". I said under my breath, yet loud enough for the entire room to hear, "yeah teach him to shoot pregnant does! This was in a bitter tone of voice and you could have heard a pin drop after I made the remark! After the meeting I lingered and apologized to the WCO for being so blunt, but he was quite honest and said that what I had uttered was the truth.

There are better things to do on a fine spring morning!

Whitetail doe in advanced state of pregnancy

Now I must admit that I can see both sides to a story or in most cases, several sides to a story. Deer can be extremely destructive and may cause devastating crop damage to a farmer who is already having trouble making ends meet, without the deer damage also subtracting from his bottom line.

I did not LIKE persons shooting deer for crop damage, but I did see how it was necessary in some instances. I did not and do not see how that taking a youth out in that time frame to shoot a deer and calling it hunting was a positive thing to do. If one thought they had to do it, it should at least be presented from the viewpoint that this is not a nice thing to do, but the deer are a problem in this area and we are trying to help the farmer solve his problem.

In most cases shooting a doe in late winter or early spring is very cost effective in controlling deer populations as unless the doe is barren, she will have one to two fawns. In effect one is killing two to three deer with one shot!

Whitetail fawn: 1 1/2 months old

There are many beautiful and great aspects to the outdoors and working in wildlife conservation, but there are also situations to which there is no pleasant answer. This is one of those that left a bad taste in my mouth so as to speak and was another milestone in developing my current views on wildlife and wildlife management!


kjpweb said...

I couldn't agree more. I never was in to hunting (other than with a camera), and though I understand the challenge to sit and wait and come that close to a deer, to be able to shoot, but this already the climax of the challenge. Pulling the trigger is no challenge. It's about as rewarding as watching a fight of a todler against Mike Tyson.
The days when you need to hunt in order to have food are long gone, are history and there's no real justification for the avid Sport Hunter left - other than the illusion of grandeur.
So yeah - I'm with you!
Cheers, Klaus

P.S.: As noticed on other blogs, you opted to no longer allow anonymous comments. That's good.
Leaving it open only to visitors with Blogger ID not so much. If you choose registered visitors, you will also allow OpenID, which is as safe as Blogger... Just a tip.

Louise said...

I'm with you! I totally understand the reasons, though I don't like them, for shooting wildlife at times. However, how many youth are responsible? How many are going to have an impression made on them that this is fun or exciting? I realize some ARE responsible, but I see so many who are not. Why not make sure they are old enough to not worry about that problem? It should be a distasteful job that someone has to do, not a sport.

Anonymous said...

The problem with wildlife is that they don't mix well with human beings. Human beings take the space that has been the home of wildlife since the beginning of time. And little is left for wildlife. The problem could be fixed if the people would pack up and move out.

Your photographs are just stunning, Willard.

fishing guy said...

Willard: I don't remember a time when they had the Red Tag season. It doesn't seem right to kill of a pregnant doe. I think deer hunting is something that needs to be done if only from a control situation. I like it better when PA had a lot more deer with a short doe season and there were more deer.

Anonymous said...

Another great educational post, Willard. I learn so much about some of the inside story in my home state's wildlife conservation efforts when I read your posts. Things that I wondered about many years ago.

I have a funny story to relate to you when we meet about an incident from my hunting years and the assistance given to me by a Somerset Co. WCO.

Although I no longer hunt, I don't care for the way deer management is being conducted. I understand the importance of controling the size of the doe population, but I have real problems with when those culling efforts are undertaken. You post hits the nails right on the head.

That's a great photo of a very pregnant doe and a good tree stand shot of the fawn. It's always amazing to me how much they grow in such a short period of time.


Willard said...

Fishing Guy,

Here is a link to a PDF that explains the program in detail.


Below is an excerpt dealing with the Red Tag Program:

"The Agricultural Deer Control, or Red Tag, Program provides those landowners experiencing agricultural deer depredation a tool to remove antlerless deer outside of the regular hunting season. Applications are only accepted from persons who have been enrolled in one of the Commission public access programs (Farm Game Project or Safety Zone) for a minimum of 2 years and are currently enrolled, except for Wildlife Management Units 5C and 5D. Applications for deer control permits are made through the district wildlife conservation officer. Following application approval, a permitted landowner is authorized to enlist the aid of a limited number of hunters. Landowners distribute Red Tag permits to hunters that are valid from 1 February to 28 September each calendar year, excluding Sundays, during the hours of dawn to dusk only. The permit is not valid from 16 May to 31 July, inclusive, for general crop farming and from 16 May to 30 June for vegetable farming. Only antlerless deer may be taken under this program. Because of uncertainty about reporting consistency and procedures prior to 2005, summary data prior to 2005 are not included in this report."

Willard said...

To explain further note that fawning season is not specifically mentioned as being closed but the dates that are listed are consistent with that period, with the closed period being longer for general crop farmers and less for vegetable farmers.

It was understood that this was because of the fawns being born, and if a doe was killed, they didn't want fawns starving to death before they were old enough to eat plant growth.

fishing guy said...

Willard: Thanks for the follow up information. What is really funny was I thought farmers always had the right to cull a herd that was destoying their crops. It just shows you how misinformed a person can be.
The deer in the Alleghny National Forest are another matter. I remember in the old days of seeing a 40 to 50 deer herd at the Buzzard Swamp in the 1960-1970's before they had this open doe season. I went for three years toward the end of my fathers life and if you saw a 5 deer herd you felt like you were lucky. The herd has been over harvested in the mountains of PA and that is a shame. The PA hunter is shooting anything that moves during what I consider the buck season because of the latest rules that allow you can shoot a doe in the early season. I love to see deer even if I don't shoot at all.
Thanks for all your great pictures on your sight.

Willard said...

Fishing Guy

You are right about farmers being able to cull a herd destroying crops, but they couldn't utilize hunters who were not employed by them as farm workers.

This program changed it so that they could utilize the hunting public to do the shooting if the correct procedures were followed.

The Birdlady said...

This seems to be a problem without a good solution, but I just can't imagine being able to hurt one of these gorgeous creatures. BTW, we went to SNP last night and saw a beautiful 8 pt buck - it was really to dark for decent images, but we "shot" him - he was gorgeous!

For The People said...

You never cease to amaze me! Love the fawn and commentary! I got started a little earlier today. Stop by my place if you get a chance. Have a wwonderful day!