EINE KLEINE NACHTMUSIK:
SPOTLIGHTING DEER


I have a good friend whose home is more or less the epicenter of the Deer Overpopulation Epidemic. She has been importuning the DGIF to give her "kill permits" to thin out the ravening hordes of deer that cruise through, devouring her fruit trees and shrubs. Since she has some considerable standing with the local hunting and shooting community (she's a Master Hunter Ed Instructor, among other things) they were obliging enough to issue her a permit. It's good for up to five animals, all of which have to be antlerless.

Under ordinary circumstances there are things that are verboten in this state, stuff that will sometimes get you a jail sentence if you get caught doing them. But if you have a kill permit, anything goes. Baiting, spotlighting, machine guns, poison gas, artillery, land mines (assuming you could get them), you name it: whatever you like, just kill the damned things, it's all OK.  Nor is there any need to check deer into the DGIF system. The meat can be kept for personal use, donated to charity, or just left for the scavengers. The permit specifies the premises, the duration, and the times of day under which the culls can be done, as well as exactly who can do the culling. She was kind enough to add me onto the list of Deer Assassins. Lacking any heavy ordnance, we agreed that lighting them up at night would be a good way to go about things.

Accordingly I went out one Friday afternoon and stayed until 6:00, but without any result: the deer weren't moving.  The following Saturday, however, she called me about 6:00 PM and said she'd seen them moving around, get out here! After dinner I hied out to her place, arriving after dark.

For this first foray I brought my drilling, as I had not yet taken a deer with it, though it had done yeoman service on African animals, including a big ostrich, last Summer. I don't doubt it has taken many a deer in its lifetime (it's older than I am) but not with me, so it got first nod. The rifle barrel—which is astonishingly accurate—is chambered for 8x57JR, and I was equipped with Sellier & Bellot's excellent product in that caliber. The S&B product has a 196-grain soft-point round nose bullet with a great deal of exposed lead (at left). This round worked well for me in Africa, and since S&B's main market (especially for this caliber) is in Europe for use on roe and red deer, I thought it would be well suited to whitetails.

In addition to the rifle barrel I brought along some 16 gauge buckshot for the shotgun tubes. I didn't expect to use it unless the range was very short (my experience with buckshot is limited and not very good: in my opinion if the range is more than 30 feet, forget it) but since the drilling is essentially a single-shot when used as a rifle, having two buckshot rounds would be handy for a finishing shot if I couldn't get close enough to use a pistol.

We placed some bait piles near the house (apples, corn, some old grapes) and sat in her family room watching for a couple of hours.  No deer showed up near the house for several hours: then we decided to walk around the other side of the house and light up the adjacent hayfields.

That's where we hit the Bambi Mother Lode: dozens of them, so many eyes shining in the beam of the tactical flashlights it was hard to count them.  Unfortunately they were over the fence into the neighbor's property, and hence un-killable.  We went back to the house and sat some more, periodically making a tour around to see whether any of them had come over the line into No Deer's Land. At 10:30 I had decided to leave, but as we were going to my car, she said, "There's one on my side of the fence!"  we walked down, and sure enough the two shining eyes were apparently just her side of the wire. 

I loaded the rifle barrel and settled in for a shot at about 100 yards. The tactical flashlights lit that doe up so that the crosshairs were perfectly visible.  I took the shot and the deer disappeared from view. However, when we walked down to the fence to check the results, there was no deer!  Nor was there any immediate evidence of a hit, either. But the shot had felt good to me, and we climbed the wire to look around some more. Then we found a very small spot of fresh blood on the other side of the fence. 

When you light off a centerfire rifle late at night, people sit up and take notice. By the time we were looking around for more blood (perhaps 5 minutes after firing) one of her neighbors who's a retired State Trooper came roaring up her driveway and jumped out waving a Remington 870 tactical shotgun. He also had a  .45 on his hip, and wanted to know what the hell was going on. 

It seemed he was concerned about my friend's safety—he doesn't know her all that well, I think: she's an outstanding shot who can clip the nuts off a housefly with a pistol, and a very independent lady whom no one in his right mind would want to mess with. But it's nice to know that she has neighbors who care about her!  All three of us trooped down to the pasture again and started looking for more blood.

We found no more blood. But there were deer hopping around like rabbits in the light beams and one of those seemed to be limping a bit.  That one, we decided, was the one I'd shot at; it was time to track her down and finish the job, before they decided to vacate the area. The herd was getting a bit antsy, and started crossing the fence back onto my friend's side.

We were chivvying them with the lights to bunch them up, when half the herd scooted, by leaping an internal fence or sneaking under it. The big doe we were watching didn't do either. A little knot of animals led by the doe, with three smaller ones in tow, stayed behind. The ex-Trooper remarked, "That's her.  Mama's hurt and the babies won't leave her."  My friend said she knew that doe, as one that had been, "...cranking out triplet fawns every year."

The doe was standing still, blinded by the lights, and I was able to move a bit closer until I reached a fence post to use as a rest. I was offered a broadside shot at about 90 yards that knocked her down for keeps.  When we walked up, she was still kicking, so I gave her a finishing shot with my little Kel-Tec .380, and that was that.

I wanted to know what happened with the first shot. On inspection, her left front foot had a very minor wound, a scratch, really.  I believe that what happened was that at the time the first shot was fired, she was in fact on the opposite side of the fence, but right up close to it, not (as we thought) on our side. The bullet must have struck a cross wire (which of course I couldn't see) and either been deflected or broken up by the impact.  The small injury was probably from a fragment, because I didn't see a clean hole.  That wound was very minor and not debilitating but explained the visible limp. The second, killing, shot was a high lung hit on the right side, angling downward a little.  I'm glad I was able to finish things quickly: not knowing how insignificant the initial wound was I'd have been worried about it for a long time if she'd got away. No question she'd have been OK the next day, but when you find blood, however little, it means that you have to follow up and complete the job.

Needless to say, the neighbors were a tad rattled by gunfire so late at night. As we were looking for more blood we saw a couple of people who'd come out of their house, who would have figured out pretty quickly that people with guns and flashlights were up to no good. They called the local Sheriff's office; as we were dressing out the doe two deputies in a marked cruiser showed up. Of course we showed them the permit, which allowed shooting until 1:00 AM, and that was the end of the matter, though one of the deputies was a little miffed he wasn't going to at least give us a stiff lecture, even if he couldn't lead us away in handcuffs.  No doubt the neighbors will be unhappy to hear that the noise will recur, but the permit expires on March 5th and we have more to kill before we're done. 

As of last night there is evidence that the beasties have found the bait piles, and more has been put out. Nothing happened last night, but I'm headed out again this evening and we'll see what happens. My friend took the deer to a processor and the next one is mine.  There are four more to kill, so I'm bringing a repeating rifle this time. If we light up a group that holds still I may get a shot at two of them.

I've never done anything like this before. It wasn't a "hunt" (though it had elements of one) it was a cull. While I will certainly do it again if offered the opportunity to do so legally, I can understand why people regard it as unsporting even when and where it's allowed. Deer aren't the smartest animals on the planet, and holding still for a bright light beam is behavior that isn't conducive to long life.  With an accurate rifle and a good light, it's not difficult to kill them this way. I'm sure they can be "educated," but we hope to complete the job before this lot of them learns that lights at night are dangerous things. I'll go back to hunting them in the Fall.


Addendum:

They have found the bait, and one has paid the price for her folly. My friend shot one 50 feet from the house, just before 1:00 AM a couple of days ago. I went out later that morning to dress it and take it to the processor. The second one was preggers, with twin fawns.

The first one had been pregnant too, though I didn't get a fetus count, but she had reportedly always had triplets before. This illustrates why only antlerless deer may be taken on a kill permit: killing a buck will certainly prevent him from leaving descendants, but inevitably some other buck will step up to the plate and impregnate the does he missed out on. On the other hand, killing a doe not only removes her from the population, it removes all her future offspring and their offspring. Of the fetuses half would have been female, so all of their descendants are null and void as well. (Yes, "antlerless" isn't always the same as "female" because a button buck can be mistaken for a doe; but the odds are very much in favor of an antlerless animal being female, especially if it's fully grown.)

People who don't like hunting often squeal about killing deer for herd reduction and advocate "birth control" as one possible alternative method. Quite aside from the practical impossibility of carrying out this preposterous idea, the expense of trying to do so would be colossal.

The best contraceptive is a bullet. Two shots, which cost the Commonwealth not a cent, removed a minimum of five (possibly as many as seven) deer from the herd immediately, and many more in the future generations that now won't ever be born.


Addendum:

The permit expired Saturday, March 8th, with two out of five killed. A lot of Bambiburger in the freezers! My friend says she's seen a doe with a bad leg, and thinks this one may have been injured when the second one got shot. The slug (which passed through) may have nicked her. It's unfortunate, but since she hasn't died yet from the injury (if that's what caused it) likely she won't.