Terry Laughman Jr. had a weird request, and he knew it.

"I want the head. Just the head," Laughman told a man in a bloody apron.

In a matter of seconds, a knife-wielding Jim Ilyes severed the dead deer's head from its body, dumped the head into a plastic bag and handed it to Laughman.

The rest of the carcass soon joined a pile of other decapitated deer waiting for their journey through a New Salem processing plant.

On Monday, the first day of Pennsylvania's rifle season, a steady stream of hunters unloaded their prey onto the blood-stained pavement at Charles Ilyes Family Inc.

Once there, Jim Ilyes made the first deconstructive cuts, then tossed the lower legs and hooves into one bin.

The heads, which the state Game Commission uses to compile data on the season's harvest, were tossed into another -- usually.

Ultimately, the heads belong to the hunter, Ilyes said.

Laughman, 43, said he enjoys cleaning animal skulls and mounting them -- a skeletonized version of taxidermy.

"I just like 'em. It's weird. I know it's weird," he said.

There's an artistic element to it, Laughman said, but it's mostly about a fascination with the natural world.

Even though he's gone hunting every year with his dad since he was 12 years old, Laughman said he's killed only two deer in 30 years.

Laughman said he hunts "just to get away, relax, enjoy nature."

In fact, it was Laughman's father, Terry Laughman Sr., who shot the doe they delivered to the processing plant Monday.

Laughman's request might have been strange, but he was hardly the only hunter to ask the butcher shop for more than venison hot dogs, bologna and sausage.

One hunter asked Ilyes to take a photo of the buck in the bed of his pickup. Another sent plant workers on a search for soft measuring tape so he could determine the circumference of a dead deer's rack.

The two weeks of deer season are intense for the family business, co-owner Ron Brillhart said.

Brillhart said the plant typically processes between 1,200 and 1,500 deer in a single season.

So far this year, the hunters are happy, Brillhart said.

"No rain. Nice and cool. They love it," he said.

Brillhart said most deer are killed in the first two days of hunting season.

"I think after that the deer get smart," he said.

Dressed head to toe in camouflage, self-proclaimed animal lover Rhett Bowers was experiencing mixed feelings about the buck he killed in northern York County.

The 56-year-old Mount Wolf man said aging has softened his heart. A lifelong hunter, Bowers said he actually apologized to the deer he shot -- the largest he'd ever bagged.

"I really felt bad," Bowers said. "I'm an animal lover. But I love deer meat."

-- Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.