Bowhunters descend to thin Loch Raven herd

September 16, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,

Perched in an oak tree and wearing camouflage from head to toe, Raymond Pryor was barely visible in the dense forest north of the Loch Raven Reservoir.

Bow and arrows in hand, he had come to kill deer.

As dawn broke yesterday in the stillness of the woods, a flock of geese could be heard in the distance, honking over the surface of the water. Pryor remained almost immobile, his eyes intently scanning the gaps between trees for any sign of movement on the ground.

"Everyone else golfs, or they fish," said Pryor, 56, an electrical contractor. "We hunt."

After years of battling opposition from animal-rights activists, dozens of licensed hunters fanned out across a 1,600-acre area of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed on the first day of the state's fall bowhunting season, which lasts until Jan. 31.

The cull was unusual in that the area around the reservoir has traditionally been out of bounds to hunters. About 400 signed up in advance, although it was not clear to the Department of Natural Resources how many showed up yesterday, nor how many animals were taken.

Officials allowed the hunt because they fear the population of white-tailed deer has grown too large for the local ecosystem. Many deer starve, the officials say, and many more are hit by cars.

A self-described trophy hunter, Pryor dismissed opponents' concerns that wounded animals sometimes flee the scene and spend hours suffering before dying. "If you hit a deer with an arrow in the proper place, he'll bleed out," Pryor said. "They'll go unconscious from the loss of blood."

By "proper place," Pryor meant the animals' lungs, which when pierced fill with blood, preventing breathing. "That's a real quick death," he said. "It's like an anesthesia to them. They just pass out and die. Everybody ends up wounding an animal at some point - you can't help that."

As the morning emerged from a full-moon night near the reservoir in Baltimore County, Pryor set up his perch, a contraption known as a stand, about 15 feet off the ground. He said he had only wounded just three deer in his years of hunting, usually by "hitting him a little back of the lungs." The rest were clean kills, he said.

Wounded animals cannot be approached until they have lain down to die or show no signs of life. "You wait four of five hours," Pryor said. "They're very strong animals. They go miles. You just have to wait for him to expire, and then walk up on him. He's trying to survive just like everyone else. But if you put an arrow through both lungs, it'll only go 100 yards, maximum. By the time you get out of your stand, it'll be dead."

Pryor pulled out a small container of talcum powder, held it up and squeezed. A wispy cloud of powder shot into the air and hung there before drifting off, an indication that there was very little wind to carry Pryor's scent toward a skittish deer.

The 31-inch-long bow Pryor was carrying is an intricate instrument, smaller than one might expect and nowhere near as imposing as what Robin Hood would have carried. But a telescopic sight enables Pryor to get a lethally accurate bead on an animal, as long as it's still and no farther than about 50 yards.

The stainless-steel tips of the arrows are sharp as razor blades. Each arrow is 26.5 inches long. Pryor carried about half a dozen.

As it turned out, it was not a great day for Pryor. A fawn passed right under his tree but it was moving too fast to shoot. Another hunter walked through the area and said he had hit a deer earlier but that the animal had run off, wounded, and he couldn't find it.

One reason there were not as many deer running around yesterday is that the full moon made it easier for the deer to feed during the night, he said.

"Ninety-nine point-nine percent of this is waiting," said Pryor, a widower whose two grown sons also hunt and who has lived in the same house in Little Italy for 50 years. His home is decorated with stuffed animals' heads and full bodies, the trophies of his as a hunter, which began when he was 8. Pryor has hunted black bear in Canada and Arizona and red stag in New Zealand.

"To me, deer are the hardest animal to hunt," he said. "They have every tool they need to be elusive to us."

During the last deer-hunting season in Maryland, more than 22,000 deer were killed by archers, according to the Department of Natural Resources, which manages the hunts.

Organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States and local groups like Deer Solutions MD - which successfully derailed a planned hunt at Loch Raven three years ago - insist that contraceptive methods would be more effective in controlling the size of deer herds, and less cruel than using arrows or guns.

Hunters are unmoved.

"It takes a lot longer for these animals to die of starvation than any way we kill them," Pryor said. "Or it gets too old and can't chew any more. Or it gets hit by a car and crawls over to the side of the road and dies. No one walks over and cuts its throat."

As he headed back to his pickup truck after waiting in his perch less than two hours for a kill, Pryor came upon a luckier hunter, Brian Bichell, who had felled a doe weighing about 90 pounds.

"I'm going to take it home, skin it, de-bone it and put it in the freezer," said Bichell, 35, a steamfitter from Rosedale who has been hunting with a bow since he was 7. "When I was a kid, my grandmother didn't think I could hit the plastic goose in the backyard."

His father, Donald Bichell, 61, who once worked at the General Motors plant on Broening Highway, since closed, said he paid no mind to critics of hunting.

"It goes in one ear and out the other," he said. "People make their mind up, ain't nothing going to change it."

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