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Pa. hunters say deer are disappearing

February 06, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, PA. - A motorist who recently hit a deer with his car may be hard to convince, but Pennsylvania hunters are complaining that they see so few deer anymore that it's hardly worth taking a gun into the woods.

Douglas Bates, owner of Marsh Run Smokehouse south of Waynesboro, processes deer for hunters from Pennsylvania and Maryland. He usually processed about half from each state - until this year.

"This year, Pennsylvania hunters only brought in about 25 percent of what they normally bring in," Bates said.

Bates and several area hunters blame policies adopted by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to thin deer herds. The biggest culprit, hunters say, is combining doe season with the traditional two-week buck season that begins the Monday after Thanksgiving.

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Before the new policy, the state had a three-day-only doe season following buck season.

Some hunters said the effort is working too well.

Does, which usually have twins, become pregnant during the fall breeding season.

"When a doe is killed, that means that two fawns won't be born in the spring," said George Herold, owner of Herold's Gun Shoppe in Waynesboro.

"Several people who come in here say they no longer want to buy hunting licenses," Herold said. "I've been in the business all my life and I've never seen it so bad."

Bill Shindle, owner of Bino Taxidermy in Greencastle, Pa., said his shop experienced a 70 percent drop in the number of deer heads brought in for mounting this year. He, too, blamed the combined buck/doe season.

Hunters from across the state urged the commission at a public hearing in Harrisburg, Pa., last week to put the doe season back to when it was before.

"When you have a two-week hunting season and you can kill anything, it's bound to affect the deer population," said Donald Shade of Waynesboro, a lifelong deer hunter.

Pennsylvania's deer herd currently is estimated at 1.6 million. A record number of deer were killed two seasons ago, followed by a drop-off last season. Figures for the current season, which ended Jan. 29, won't be released until mid-March.

Deer hunters in Pennsylvania, unlike those in Maryland and West Virginia, don't have to bring their kills into an official game-checking station. They only have to mail a deer tag into the Game Commission, a practice not all hunters follow, some hunters said.

A study by Audubon Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Habitat Alliance concluded that overgrazing by deer was damaging to other wildlife that depend on undergrowth for sustenance and cover.

Not everyone attending last week's hearing in Harrisburg agreed that the policies should be reversed. Farmers thanked the commission for helping them control crop damage.

Shade, like several of his fellow Franklin County hunters, said deer populations are down in state hunting lands and in many traditional mountain hunting grounds.

He said he belongs to a 12-member club that hunts on about 1,600 mountainous acres near the Franklin-Fulton county line.

"Two years ago, we saw plenty of deer up there," he said. "The first day I went out this season, I saw 16 turkeys, two squirrels, but no deer. The next day, I only saw two does."

"The guys usually get five to six bucks every year," he said. "All week long the first week, they only got one buck. They got three does the second week."

Shade said there are many deer on private posted land around Waynesboro. He said he shot a nice buck on private land near his home where he had permission to hunt.

"Every morning, you can see four or five deer crossing State Hill Road," he said.

James Dukehart, another local deer hunter, said he had no trouble getting his deer this season, but knows many hunters who shot none.

"Most of the guys are disgusted," he said.

Dukehart brought up another reason hunters blame for the lack of deer - coyotes that prey on fawns.

He said he started to see coyotes in the area in the last few years.

"I never saw any before," he said.

Jerry Feaser, Game Commission spokesman in Harrisburg, said the state's coyote population is on the rise, estimating that there are about 30,000 in the state.

Coyotes adapt well to suburban environments and also are finding an abundance of deer in the state, Feaser said. Coyotes kill fawns and sick adult deer.

Several area hunters said they have heard that coyotes are being brought into Pennsylvania by insurance companies in an effort to reduce the number of deer to cut down on deer-vehicle collisions.

The rumors run statewide. Game Commission officials dismiss the rumors as an "urban legend."

Many people seriously believe that the agency is involved, said Carl Graybill, director of the commission's bureau of information and education.

"The whole thing's pretty absurd," he said.

While the agency doesn't track such claims, Graybill said wildlife conversation officers occasionally are questioned in the field about it.

Commission officials said it's illegal for anyone to release animals into the wild without a permit, and the agency hasn't issued any permits to insurance companies.

Like other rumors, this one seemed to begin with someone who knows someone who knows someone who killed a coyote that has a tattoo, ear tag or collar from an insurance company, Graybill said.

Anyone who finds such a coyote is asked to bring the animal to the commission.

"No one ever comes forward with any proof that it occurred," Graybill said. "People can be very gullible, too."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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