Upon my retirement from employment by Virginia Tech in December of 2014, I wanted to do something interesting and connected with my love of the outdoors. I signed on with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) as a volunteer in their “Complementary Work Force,” a group whose role is to take over some of the duties done by Conservation Police Officers when possible, freeing them up for more important things, like law enforcement.
Initial assignments included some work with the fish hatchery in Paint Bank, stocking streams with rainbow trout and feeding the fry. In recent months, however, my assignments have expanded: I was given training on the issuance of "kill permits" for game animals causing a nuisance. These are mainly (but not exclusively) deer. As part of the training we were shown typical examples of deer damage and briefed on what the normal procedures are for inspection and issuance; also the requirements for who can and can't be on the permits.
A “kill permit” has to specify the location (with a drawing of any restrictions, safety zones, etc.) and the times of day when culling can be carried out. The permit also specifies the number of deer that can be taken, and is usually issued for a period of a month. Only antlerless deer can be taken on kill permits under ordinary circumstances: to take antlered deer the request for a permit has to show “clear and convincing” evidence that buck deer are doing the damage. An example of this would be rubs on fruit trees. The intention of this restriction is two-fold. First, it minimizes the chances of abuse of the permit; and second, because removal of does is the fastest way to reduce the size of the local deer herd.
Culling can be done during the day or night, and the permittee can use means that would otherwise be illegal, e.g., spotlighting and bait. Nor are there restrictions on the weapons, unless the permit specifies them for safety reasons. Under ordinary circumstances there are minimum calibers for hunting, but...this isn't hunting. A culler can use a .223 (or a .22 LR) but a hunter can't. The DGIF greatly prefers that a caliber suitable for legal hunting be used, however, to reduce the chance that an animal won’t be killed swiftly and humanely.
Oddly enough, though we got Sunday hunting (at last) a year ago, culling nuisance animals isn't "hunting," by definition, and hence the permittee can’t take them between Midnight Saturday and Midnight Sunday during the stated period. However, culling can be done at night, using spotlights, something which I have personally done.
The permit has to name specific shooters, and no one else can be on hand: no onlookers, kids, family members, etc. This is to minimize the chances of "cheating," and to prevent some of these non-sporting practices from being accepted as "examples" of hunting that can be tolerated. The issuer (that would be me) can't be on the permit, as this would be considered a conflict of interest.
The meat from the animals can be kept for the landowner's consumption; he can give it away, he can donate it to charity (e.g., Hunters for the Hungry); or he can bury the carcasses. What he can't do is sell it, nor can he just leave the dead animals on the ground to rot. The general public accepts the necessity for lethal culling, but the Department doesn’t want the sort of negative PR that would result from waste; so some way or another the animal is to be used, or properly disposed of.
The DGIF’s decision to allow volunteers, rather than CPO’s, to issue kill permits is apparently a fairly recent one: we were told that only certain people were selected for and invited to the training. We were also told to expect a surge in requests for permits soon (as the weather warms and crops start growing) and that in the coming years there is likely to be an uptick in the number of requests to shoot nuisance bears. At the present time volunteers can’t issue bear permits, only CPO’s can do that.
To date I’ve been out on two calls. The first time I went with one of the local CPO’s to “learn the ropes” in the field, so to speak. I had received an e-mail from the Volunteer Coordinator: there had been a request from a farm in Giles County, was I available to meet the CPO? I was, and after talking with him directly I met him at the farm.
The Back of Beyond, which is where this farm seemed to be located, is actually less than 40 miles from my house. My GPS unit led me a merry chase along numerous back roads, and when I arrived I found a scene out of the Harrison Ford movie "Witness."
The farm is in White Gate, an Amish village not far from the WV line. The farmer is an amiable guy in his late 30's, weatherbeaten but vigorous, well-spoken, and quite pleased to see us. It’s what I would call a “truck farm.” He raises vegetables not only for his own use, but as a cash crop. At harvest time he and others in the community put their produce on buckboards and are met by trucks from various buyers.
He was surrounded by his brood of eight (count 'em, 8) kids: four boys and four girls, all in "stair step" order: it is quite clear that birth control isn't a priority in this family, and it was also clear that all these kids except the very smallest do some of the farm work. The eldest boy, about 14, was wearing a straw hat, as was his brother about 10 years old, and another brother about 4. Papa and the boys were all wearing overalls that pretty obviously were handed down from one to the next, and were held up by suspenders. Papa was wearing sturdy boots, but the boys (and for that matter, the little girls) were all barefoot; the kids were clearly comfortable with that. None of them said a word during the proceedings, but were clearly interested and eager to assist.
The two-story farmhouse appeared to have last been painted (or perhaps whitewashed) about 1950. Two or three little girls in ankle-length dresses, and a woman who could either have been Mama or the eldest daughter (it was hard to tell) were in evidence, doing their own domestic chores: hanging laundry and that sort of thing. The girls were as silent as the boys, shy in the presence of strangers. All of them except the very youngest, who might have been 3, had their hair covered. Considering that the temperature was about 90 degrees, that must have been terrifically uncomfortable.
Amish the farmer may have been; un-electrified his farm clearly was; but he had machinery and a tractor running, so I assume he isn't Old Order Amish. My wife is from Knox County, Ohio, a stronghold of Old Order Amish, a place where when you’re driving at night you have to keep your eyes open for horse-drawn buggies clop-clopping at 3 miles per hour in the middle of the road. Later the CPO told me this particular Amish community is divided into three groups, one of which is Old Order; we did see warning signs with silhouettes of buggies on them. The second group is somewhat more attuned to modern life in that they have a "community phone" that allows some contact with the outside world. The third group, to which I suppose this family belongs, is the type who consider that God probably isn't against agricultural machinery and will use it. But if this man owned a car I never laid eyes on it.
It’s amazing that people still live this way in the 21st Century, even in rural Virginia. I'm certain this farm has no electronic contact with the outside world, and that "news" is what they hear from their neighbors. There is no way they have a TV set. I don’t know if the kids are home-schooled but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The Amish in general seem to feel that beyond a certain level needed to read, write, and calculate, education isn’t necessary. Perhaps not having TV isn’t a bad idea, as we get into yet another Presidential campaign!
In the course of the permit conversation the farmer asked if it was OK to shoot the deer with a .223 rifle, he had one of those. We suggested that this caliber would undoubtedly kill deer but wasn't legal in the
hunting season, and while it was permissible for culling, perhaps it would be better to step up a bit. "Well," he said, "I got a .25-06, is that OK?" This man may have been the most heavily armed Amish farmer in Virginia.
We gave him a permit to take 5 deer and also set him up to get "deer control permits" that allow him to take additional deer during the season over and above the one-a-day limit. The kill permit is good for
a month and if he wants another he can ask.
The second call was yesterday, to a typical rural subdivision in Montgomery County. A man who is obviously an avid gardener wanted a permit because deer had been ravaging his extensive ornamental plants. The rows of day lilies and other flowers were buzzed off as if by a reaping machine, with not a bloom in sight at a time of year when they should have been abundant. He told me there was a doe who had “…been coming for the past 3 years…” and since he no longer had a dog, the doe had become bolder and bolder, even coming in daytime with her mostly-grown fawn still in tow. There were some directions in which it wasn’t safe to shoot, and we agreed on “fields of fire,” mostly looking down into the woods. He was a waterfowl hunter and the only rifle he owned was a war surplus Mosin-Nagant, and all he had was hardball military ammunition. I suggested that this was legal but not suitable, and that he might want to try shotgun slugs, as the ranges were short and slugs are very effective. I issued him a permit for three deer, so he could take the fawn as well if opportunity allowed. Two neighbors, who hunt his property, were added to the list of authorized shooters.
I’ve found this to be an interesting activity, and hope to continue doing more of it as the Summer goes on. I’m told we are now getting into the period of the year when calls come in hot and heavy for permits, so I expect significantly more activity in the near future.
Anyone interested in joining the Complementary Work Force and giving DGIF a hand should contact them at their web site for volunteer activities and apply.