Strange tales fill butcher shop on first day of hunt

November 27, 2010

The 11-point buck with a third antler poking out of the middle of its forehead, as if it were a unicorn?

I didn't see it.

The "dead" deer that suddenly came to life in the trunk of a Toyota?

Missed that one, too.

On the opening day of firearms season Saturday, there were enough stories — and photos — to go around at Austin's Deer Processing, not far from the BWI glide path, as we waited for the first hunters to arrive.

Between writing up orders at the front of the shop and supervising the butchers out back, proprietor Keith Austin said deer season has been flat-out crazy this year, even without the unicorn and undead deer. Business is up, a new smoker means a new product — sugar-cured venison hams — and the deer just keep on coming.

The owner — who's been turning bucks and does into steaks, roasts and chops for more than 20 years at this bend in the road in Hanover — even worked on Thanksgiving Day to try and get caught up.

"Nothing was open for lunch," he says. "All we had was a 7-Eleven hot dog and some chicken wings."

At 9 a.m. Saturday, he was still trying to catch up, laying out strips of marinated venison that, after seven hours in the dehydrator, will become jerky.

"Just the calm before the storm," he said.

And sure enough, the crunch of gravel under the wheels of pick-up trucks and vans announced the arrival of the first successful hunters of the day, who called out to a Department of Natural Resources biologist with a clipboard where they had been that morning: Carroll County, Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Prince George's County, Frederick.

"Some years, I get a deer from every county," said Brian Eyler, who heads DNR's deer team.

State surveys show that between 40 and 50 percent of hunters are successful, killing about 100,000 deer each year. The success rate ensures a stable statewide population of about 230,000 deer.

But the number of hunters in Maryland and across the country continues to decrease, making it harder and harder for biologists to manage the size of the deer herd.

"[Does] can double the population in two to three years. Without hunters taking 50,000 does each year, those 50,000 would be 75,000 next year and 100,000 the year after that," Eyler said. "The 40 to 50 percent of hunters who aren't successful, are they just out taking their guns for a walk? We don't know. If we could get those guys to kill a deer, we'd be in great shape."

Christina Bly and Chris Fowler backed their truck into Austin's to drop off a buck for butchering. The two hunters and their friends have stuck a deal with a Reisterstown landowner who wants 40 deer removed from his spread. So far, they have killed six, filling their own freezers with meat and giving some to others. The next deer will be donated to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a Hagerstown nonprofit organization that pays to have deer processed into ground venison for distribution to food banks and church pantries.

"People don't realize that hunters pay good money to manage the state's deer population. They do it for free, at no cost to the taxpayer," says Eyler. "Without them, we'd be in trouble."

During a break in the steady stream of vehicles, shop manager Kristin Trossbach showed me photos of the unicorn buck, which was dropped off earlier in the week. Definitely weird.

But that's nothing compared to the buck-in-the-trunk tale.

Last Monday, two non-hunters showed up at Austin's, asking for help. They hit a buck not far away. When they went back to look for a piece of the car's bumper, they found a deer that appeared to be dead.

They stuffed the buck in the trunk and brought it to Austin's for disposal. But when Austin opened the Toyota's trunk, the buck raised its head and snorted. (Yes, there are photos).

"That's the first time I ever saw that," Austin said, shaking his head.

Unfortunately, the buck was badly injured and a Natural Resources Police officer showed up minutes later to put down the animal.

But the two non-hunters decided to make the best of a sad situation: They ordered roasts and chops.

Poachers nabbed

In case you missed it on the Outdoors Girl blog Friday, a Tilghman waterman, Jerome William Janda Jr., 55, was charged with multiple striped bass violations as part of an investigation into illegal fishing activities in Talbot County.

Natural Resources Police officers on surveillance on Nov. 10, saw Janda Jr.'s boat leave Knapp's Narrows without navigational lights at 2:35 a.m. and travel to a pound net on the south side of Poplar Island. The officers watched as the watermen fished the pound net and then motored to Lowes Wharf to unload their catch.

The officers found Janda Jr. and the two occupants, Jerome William Janda III, 28, of Tilghman, and Burton Robert Curtis, 25, of an unknown address, loading untagged striped bass onto a truck. The officers seized 2,731 pounds of untagged fish.

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