WOODBRIDGE, Va. (AP) -- Officials at Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge in Northern Virginia say a six-day bow hunt last week was held to trim the deer population, but animal-rights activists said it was a "veiled excuse" for recreational hunting.
"The bottom line is, hunting is a big business," said Heidi Prescott, national outreach director for Fund for Animals. "The more animals there are, the more licenses there are for sale."
Erika Yery of Alexandria said she doubted that Mason Neck had a legitimate population problem. But if it did, she said, it should have been handled by professional hunters hired by the game commission, not by amateur hunters.
About 35 animal-rights activists chanted "shame, shame, shame" Monday as bow hunters entered Mason Neck for the first day of the hunt.
Protesters stood behind ropes holding placards as a videocassette recorder constantly replayed a tape of a hunter who describes his joy as scenes are shown of arrows slicing into the flesh of animals.
The demonstration was more orderly than one last year when six people were arrested and charged with trespassing after three protesters chained themselves to the entrance gate.
Ms. Prescott sees no need for population control by people, believing that nature has its own cycles to handle population problems.
Asked whether she thinks it is more humane to have hunters kill deer or to let them starve as they overrun the available vegetation supply, Ms. Prescott said that starvation is one of nature's self-controlling forces.
"The starvation process is anatural decimation process," she said. "It's part of the cycle ofnature."
She also said weather, disease and predators are other natural means of population control.
Last year's bow hunters killed eight deer and wounded nine that were never found, said refuge employee Yvonne Schultz.
This year's deer population is estimated at 512. The refuge can accommodate 95 to 105 deer, Ms. Schultz said.
The high rate of injury is one reason the activists adamantly oppose bow hunting and consider it cruel and inhumane.
"Bow hunting cripples just for the sport of it," said Dawn Witter of Lorton, Va.
Roy Sigler of Dale City, Va., stood by his truck waiting to see if he would get an opportunity to test his archery skills.
He was on the alternate list, meaning if one of the 30 hunters given permits to hunt Monday left before day's end, he would get an opportunity to hunt.
Mr. Sigler, 30, said the protesters did not bother him.
"They're out there doing their thing. I'm doing mine," he said. "That's just the American way."