By David Kveragas
Tomorrow marks the opening of the archery deer
season in Pennsylvania. Running through Nov. 15, then resuming
Dec. 26 and closing Jan. 10, it is the
longest of the state's big-game hunting seasons.
Despite this being the 21st century, hunters are
still allowed to hunt deer (and other animals, including turkeys,
coyotes and even woodchucks) using such an archaic and inefficient
method as a bow and arrow.
Arrows are designed to kill using trauma and shock.
The arrow enters the body of an animal and causes internal damage
such as hemorrhaging. They are designed to act as internal knives,
continually cutting and tearing muscles and organs. Death is
often slow and extremely painful. Only a direct hit in the heart,
one of the most protected organs in any animal, will cause immediate
death. Many hits are in the lungs, which adds suffocation to
the agony. The animals, literally, drown in their own blood.
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Adding to this problem is the fact that hunters
are advised not to begin tracking a deer that has been hit immediately.
Depending on where the animal is believed to have been shot,
the hunter is supposed to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to hours.
If the animal is struck near dusk (a prime hunting time, when
deer are often moving to feeding areas) and the hit is in a non-vital
area, the suggestion is to wait until the next morning.
All the while the animal is in agony, often trying
to find a sheltered area or a body of water.
Without a blood trail, it is virtually impossible
to track the deer. Couple this with the changing of the leaves,
many of which have at least spots of red on them, and recovery
becomes even more difficult. A good tracker must spend time searching
on hands and knees in the grass looking for the tiniest trail
of blood, as well as picking up numerous leaves that may have
a tiny spot of blood.
An additional problem with archery hunting is the
fact that most archers use tree stands. The height and angle
make it difficult to estimate the distance to the animal. Studies
have shown that where archers in stands believe their arrows
hit the deer, and where the shaft actually landed was off by
a wide margin. Stand on a ladder or even a stool in a familiar
space, let alone the woods, and see how different everything
Also, too many tend to practice with stationary
targets. Despite the rise in the use of three-dimensional targets,
there is still the tendency to practice from a ground-level position,
often on an indoor range. None of these factors takes into account
the natural environment of the hunt, including wind, temperature,
adrenaline, movement of the animal, etc.
In the 2002-03 archery season, hunters in Pennsylvania
killed 69,648 deer. At least that was the number reported. There
is a requirement that for each deer killed, the hunter must file
a report with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
These figures do not include the number of deer
hit by archers and, for whatever reason, not recovered. The hit
and non-recovery rate is estimated to be anywhere from one-third
to one-half. Using the lower figure, that means there were approximately
21,000 deer killed, but not recovered. Getting a set number is
hard because archers are loath to admit that they may have hit
a deer and were unable to recover it. Unlike fishermen, they
do not talk about the ones that got away.
Other factors also account for the low recovery
rate. Some hunters may avoid reporting their kill because they
are in a hurry to leave for work. In other cases, they may be
reluctant to report that they shot a deer that got away. I have
even been with hunters who have attempted to give up solely because
they could not handle the terrain and were too tired to continue
their search for the dead animal.
These are the cold, hard truths behind archery
hunting. Though I gave up hunting more than 20 years ago, I have
experienced these things time and again, and I still live in
These are things you will not see on the sportsmen
shows on television and only rarely read about in their magazines.
Yet the activity is condoned and even encouraged, and the victims
- the deer - are actually the property of every citizen in Pennsylvania.
David Kveragas is a former hunter who lives in
Lackawanna County, PA.
He can be contacted at [email protected] This
article was first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on
10/3/03. David said he hopes this will be the start of many such
Good luck, David, we hope so, too!