Deer is set free

February 20, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

A docile young deer whose plight drew national attention after it was taken in by a Washington County couple was set free Thursday shortly before wildlife authorities could confiscate it.

Kevin and Starla Hall found the deer outside their home on Antietam Drive, northeast of Hagerstown, Sunday and cared for it for four days. Told by state officials that the deer would have to be euthanized, the couple worked to save it.

Thursday morning, after fielding dozens of offers of refuge and help from people in other counties and states, Kevin Hall and two men drove the deer to Potomac Fish & Game Club near Williamsport and released it.


The deer slowly stepped away from the pickup truck, stopped briefly, then walked into the wilderness.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said the deer should have been killed to test it for chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease.

Weight loss and listlessness are two signs of chronic wasting disease, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

While DNR tried to take the deer, Kevin Hall vowed to save it.

"I know the law and I can't keep a wild deer," he said after the deer the couple named Bucky was set free. "But you have to aid when you can and he needed aid."

On Tuesday, the first time the Halls tried to release the deer behind the nearby YMCA on Eastern Boulevard, the deer made it back to their house before Kevin Hall did.

"He was standing ... waiting for us - like a dog," Hall said.

On Thursday morning, minutes after the Halls and Bucky were profiled live on NBC's "Today" show, the deer ran away.

The Halls scoured the neighborhood, finally finding the deer across Eastern Boulevard. Kevin Hall wrapped his arms around the deer and guided it back across the busy road. Two reporters and a photographer halted traffic for them.

Upon reaching the shoulder, the deer bucked. Hall fell in the mud but held on to the deer. Motorists pulled over and gawked.

All morning, people stopped at the Halls' house and called, asking if they could take the deer to a safe place. One television reporter covering the story volunteered to drive the deer in her sport utility vehicle.

At about 10:15 a.m., the Halls took Mike Linde of Fayetteville, Pa., up on his offer to find a country spot. Another man parked at the Halls' home said he would take the deer there. The men didn't know each other until then.

Linde and the Halls went inside to get the deer.

The other man - a Washington County resident who didn't want to be identified - leaned against the driver's door as he waited.

He said he doesn't hunt.

"I don't see the point in killing the deer," he said.

After a few minutes, Linde and Kevin Hall brought out the deer with its front legs and its rear legs tied. They put the deer on the bed of the truck and covered it with a blanket.

Just then, two other men in another truck stopped and got out.

Kevin Hall talked to them a short time and decided to switch the deer into their truck. With Scottie Teach, one of the men, driving, they set out across the county, toward the Potomac River.

Linde walked back to his own truck. He said the fact that he hunts deer doesn't mean he is callous toward animals.

"Emotions run high between hunters and anti-hunters," he said. "(But) we care very much about wildlife and how they're treated."

"I have no objection to deer hunters," Kevin Hall said. "They actually do an environmental service. (And) every deer that's killed gets checked."

Hall later said that on the way to the Potomac Fish & Game Club, the men passed a Department of Natural Resources sport utility vehicle that was headed toward the Halls' house.

Teach, Hall and the other man let the deer free in a section of the Potomac Fish & Game Club a short distance from the Potomac River. By then, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore media were crowded outside the Hall's home. A television helicopter hovered overhead.

Told during a phone interview that the deer was freed there, Randy Myers, the Potomac Fish & Game Club's vice president, said, "OK. Cool."

While about 60 percent of the club's 450 acres are open for controlled hunting, the section where the deer was let go is a "safety zone" where hunting is prohibited, Myers said.

Other deer wander in that area.

"He'll certainly be in good company here," Myers said.

Staff writer Brian Shappell and photographer Ric Dugan contributed to this story.

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