A bad day to be a deer

An­nual hunt thins herd at Ri­d­ley Creek State Park

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Rick Kauff­man rkauff­man@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Kauf­fee_TH on Twit­ter

Thurs­day the an­nual hunt of white-tailed deer shut down Ri­d­ley Creek State Park to any­one ex­cept for hunters armed with shot­guns and orange vests who were cho­sen to help in pop­u­la­tion con­trol.

The on­go­ing de­bate rages for the eth­i­cal treat­ment of an­i­mals, with strong op­po­si­tion to sport hunt­ing of white-tailed deer, Penn­syl­va­nia’s state an­i­mal.

Yet, the ar­gu­ment for the eth­i­cal treat­ment of the pop­u­la­tion of deer is at the cen­ter of both sides of the is­sue.

Do you al­low the deer to grow wildly out of con­trol un­til re­sources dwin­dle and they starve in a mode of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion, or do hunters take up ri­fles and kill the deer for food and tro­phy?

“We love the hunt, we love the sport of it, but the meat is the main thing,” said Buck Rodgers of Ri­d­ley Park. “They are so over­pop­u­lated here, it’s bet­ter for all the an­i­mals in the wood.”

In the 1700s, white-tailed deer pop­u­la­tion hov­ered around 10 deer per square mile in the state, kept mostly in check by nat­u­ral preda­tors like moun­tain li­ons and wolves. But, as those preda­tor pop­u­la­tions dwin­dled due to hu­man in­flu­ence, the deer pop­u­la­tions soared to three times the level prior to Euro­pean set­tle­ment in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Thurs­day at Ri­d­ley Creek State Park was the an­nual shot­gun deer hunt, in which 250 hunters were se­lected by lot­tery. Ad­min­is­tered through the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources, the goal was to slow the growth of pop­u­la­tion be­fore the deer over­take the en­tire ecosys­tem.

“We don’t want to see the deer in win­ter dy­ing of star­va­tion,” said James Was­sell, the park man­ager. “There are so many deer com­pet­ing for food that they are starv­ing to death.”

“The small deer are un­healthy be­cause there are so many com­pet­ing for food.”

Was­sell said the white­tail dam­age the health of the for­est, hin­der their own pop­u­la­tion and put at risk other wildlife be­cause they will eat ev­ery­thing be­low a browse line, de­vour­ing small trees and elim­i­nat­ing for­est re­gen­er­a­tion.

“We’re try­ing to con­trol pop­u­la­tion the best way we see fit,” Was­sell said. “The most re­spon­si­ble way is for re­spon­si­ble hunters to har­vest the deer and use the meat to feed fam­i­lies.”

Hunters are al­lowed one buck tag per sea­son, which means the can only kill a

sin­gle adult male deer a year. The buck must have at least three points on one antler to con­sti­tute it as an ac­cept­able kill — any smaller may re­sult in fines to the hunter.

Through data col­lected in each deer hunt, the state de­ter­mines the need for fur­ther pop­u­la­tion con­trol. The pre­vi­ous few years have not shown a sig­nif­i­cant drop in pop­u­la­tion.

“We still want deer in the park, we’re just try­ing to man­age it,” Was­sell said. “If the trend shows less deer, then we’ll is­sue less per­mits or only do one day in­stead of two.”

Mike Greco fired the fa­tal shot that felled an eight-point buck near the end of the day. He and his fa­ther, Joe Greco, said too that the meat was highly re­garded in the hunt. Those who pa­tiently waited, stalked, pushed and fired the shots were not there just for the sport. Although more than a few of the deer killed Thurs­day will soon find their heads mounted on a wall, the veni­son, bologna, kiel­basa, jerky and other forms of deer meat won’t go to waste.

“We’re not just killing them, we’re tak­ing them for the meat,” Mike Greco said. “It was a great fa­ther­son day, I’ve been bring­ing him out since he was 8 years old.”

RICK KAUFF­MAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Ron Kavalkovich Jr. took down an 11-point buck Thurs­day af­ter­noon, the tro­phy of the day. He had it in­spected and tagged by a ranger with the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

RICK KAUFF­MAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Mike Greco, left, Joe Greco, cen­ter, and Buck Rodgers, right, clean a buck that was felled in Ri­d­ley Creek State Park on Thurs­day in a hunt to re­duce over­pop­u­la­tion.

RICK KAUFF­MAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Mike Greco, left, takes a photo of his son Joe as the younger man guts a felled eight-point buck on Thurs­day.

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