A bad day to be a deer
Annual hunt thins herd at Ridley Creek State Park
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.”
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.
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.
Mike Greco, left, takes a photo of his son Joe as the younger man guts a felled eight-point buck on Thursday.