Illegally killed York-area buck likely trophy-class, officials say
A 10-point buck illegally shot and killed over the weekend in Spring Garden Township was a game animal any Pennsylvania hunter would have been proud to bag, according to a state game officer.
"If it wasn't trophy-class, it would have been extremely close," said Wildlife Conservation Officer Steve Knickel of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "(Its rack) was perfectly symmetrical. It was a perfect buck."
The whitetail, estimated to be between 3½ and 5 years old, was a big-body deer as well, Knickel said.
But instead of providing venison to a hungry family and a mounted rack for a happy hunter to display, the deer lay unharvested in a suburban cul-de-sac, he said.
"It's a blatant, wanton disregard of this deer — a complete waste of an animal," Knickel said. "That's the biggest frustration for us."
Neighbors on Brookway Drive called police shortly after midnight Sunday morning for a report of a deer that was injured and bleeding but still alive.
But when Spring Garden Township police officers responded, they found the deer had died, according to Knickel.
"They pulled the animal off to the side of the road and they called us," he said.
At that point, officers thought it was a roadkill, and that's the information the game commission was initially given, he said.
Three bad shots: Knickel said he and fellow conservation officers were in the middle of working a detail and finished that before responding to pick up the carcass of what they thought was a roadkill.
When they got there Sunday, they realized the buck had been shot three times either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, he said.
"None of the shots were all that great. None were what I'd call a good, ethical shot," Knickel said.
The buck was shot on Country Club of York property, officials said. He died at the end of the Brookway Drive cul-de-sac, near Hole 14 of the club's golf course, Knickel said.
"There's always monster deer in that neighborhood," he said.
Motive unknown: Knickel said he doesn't know for sure why someone illegally shot the buck.
"People have different motives," he said. "Some are just after the rack. Some are thrill-killers, who kill for the sake of killing animals."
Knickel said he suspects the poacher failed to retrieve the carcass and rack because the buck died right in the cul-de-sac, where there would be a number of neighbors to see the poacher and report him or her to authorities.
The conservation officer also has another suspicion — that the buck could be related to a massive trophy buck nicknamed Rackzilla that was killed by a poacher in September 2009 in West Manchester Township, less than a half mile from where this buck was shot over the weekend.
"They probably share some of the same genetics," Knickel said, adding he noticed a physical similarity between the two bucks "right away."
About Rackzilla: An East Berlin man was found guilty of poaching Rackzilla after DNA taken from one of Rackzilla's shed antlers matched the buck shot by the East Berlin man, which he had maintained he killed in Lycoming County.
Officials from the Boone and Crocket Club, a national hunting and wildlife organization, determined Rackzilla's rack would have ranked in 16th place of all time in Pennsylvania's Big Game Records Book for nontypical white-tailed deer archery category, had it been legally harvested, according to the game commission.
It was the first time the game commission used DNA to prove a York County poaching case, officials said at the time.
Firearms deer season doesn't open in Pennsylvania until Nov. 28; archery season has already begun, officials said.
Knickel said the rut has just started, which is breeding season for white-tailed deer.
Anyone with information on who is responsible for poaching the buck on Sunday is asked to call the game commission's Southcentral Regional Office at (814) 643-1831 or (814) 643-9635. Or fill out an Operation Game Thief form online at https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/operationgamethief.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.