Theft of mounted deer heads dismays hunters in natural heritage association

`Status symbols' taken in holiday break-in

January 24, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The hunters at the Meade Natural Heritage Association are stewing over a theft.

Two stuffed deer heads -- one nicknamed Old Folks -- had hung on the walls inside the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge hunting control station for more than a decade as a monument to the skills of hunters Golden "Bill" Williams and Roger Francis.

A thief forced in a rear window at the station during the Christmas holiday, passed over the television, videocassette recorder, computer and radios and took the deer heads, wounding the hunters' egos.

"It makes me sick to my stomach that there are people out there who would do something like that," said Williams, an 82-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. "They called and told me, and I was pretty shocked. I had a lot of rage."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service police, who found footprints leaving the scene, have had little success investigating the break-in.

The association, which runs the hunting program at the refuge, wants its bucks. It is offering $100 each for the return of the mounts and $1,000 for a tip that helps convict the thief.

"It's an irreplaceable value to the old man and to the organization," said Bill Dunlap, the group's spokesman. "It's a legacy to us."

"Amongst the hunters, it's a status symbol," said Francis, who hoisted his 12-point buck on the station wall about 17 years ago. "Look at the big buck I shot. You can work your whole life and never get a buck like that."

Refuge Deputy Manager Howard Schlegel said the thief threw a piece of concrete through the plastic window between 1 p.m. Dec. 24 and 4 a.m. Dec. 26, slid through and took the mounts without disturbing anything else.

"Whoever did it wanted those two mounts," he said.

Deer mounts are not easily fenced and would be valuable among game hunters, a small population.

"I've certainly never seen one go through a pawn shop," said Detective Robert Reyes, who heads the Anne Arundel County police pawn unit. "I can't imagine that anyone would want to buy one they didn't shoot."

The mounts are identifiable among hunters.

Francis' mount and Williams' mount, Old Folks, a 13-point buck with an unusual rack, are on a national register of mounts that have been measured and scored for size. With more than 1,000 hunters passing through the refuge station during Maryland's annual hunting season, "those bucks are known all over the state," Francis said.

Since the theft, he has taken three mounts that he and his son donated to the group from the control station.

No one is more upset about the theft than Williams.

"That's not decency," said Williams, a charter member of the Meade hunting group. "They got Old Folks and I'm very, very bitter. That's the only trophy I got."

Williams, who has been hunting since age 14, said he thinks he's seen the last of his hunting days because he had a heart attack six months ago.

He has gathered and swapped a lot of deer stories, but he remembers "every inch" of the Old Folks tale, he said.

It was a cold morning Dec. 6, 1960, the second year Fort Meade's southern grounds had been open for hunting. A soldier had passed by, walking noisily through the woods. About 15 minutes later, Williams heard more noise.

"I heard this clatter, clatter, crash, crash below me," Williams said. " Down about 25 to 30 yards away was this old buck. He was hitting the bushes with his antlers on each side."

Williams squeezed off one round and hit the deer behind the shoulder.

"He squatted down and then he took off," Williams said. "He got to the top of a little hill, and I was going to shoot him again, and he flipped over. When I cleaned him out I found out I had literally shot the top off his heart."

Old Folks didn't hang on the walls of the Williams home in Bowie -- his wife, Guiomar, wouldn't allow it. Williams lent the mount to hunting shops for years until it found a home at the hunting station. The mount brought him status when he visited the refuge, Williams said, because men would point him out as the one who shot Old Folks.

"It'd just make you stand about that much higher for the day," Williams said. "I guess they won't do that anymore."

Pub Date: 1/24/99

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