- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

LARNED, Kan. (AP) - As an avid hunter, Tim Schaller is always angered when he finds a deer poached on his property. Many times he has found bodies of bucks, with heads and antlers removed, on the land he owns and leases in Pawnee County. Most have had their head and antlers removed, and the meat was left to rot.

But earlier this month, a poached buck was found on one of his pastures. The meat, head and antlers were intact. That’s at least four deer he’s found poached within the past year on property that serves a special purpose for the annual Life Hunt program. For the past 12 firearms deer seasons, a small army of volunteers has hosted kids with life-threatening illnesses, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1tYRyD3 ).

“That buck deserved a better end than that,” Schaller, of Larned, said. “We could have given it a better end if one of our kids had gotten to shoot it.”

Schaller and and the local game warden don’t know why the buck had only its penis removed. The dead deer carried an impressive set of antlers.

Larned’s Life Hunt has become a source of community pride. Schaller has had strangers walk up and hand him cash to help with the event that pays for the young hunters’ air fares, license, meals and motels. A Valley Center taxidermist mounts the deer for free. A welcoming banquet is held in honor of the kids before the first day of hunting. Many items are raffled or auctioned to raise funds for the event. Often the buyer has presented a rifle or other item to the child as a gift.

This year’s Life Hunt will host a 13-year-old Pennsylvania girl with an inoperable brain tumor and a 13-year-old boy from North Carolina who is fighting cancer. The loss of at least four trophy bucks from the properties could hurt their chances of success, or at least hurt the hunter’s chances of shooting a buck old enough to carry trophy antlers.

It generally takes at least four years for a buck to grow trophy-class antlers. Even in well-managed herds, such bucks make up less than 10 percent of the population. Schaller said they still have some nice bucks showing up on trail cameras.

As free-ranging animals, Schaller has no way of knowing exactly how many deer will be on the Life Hunt lands when the season opens.

“We only have three days for them to hunt, that’s not a lot of time, really,” Schaller said. “We’re always at the mercy of the weather and deer movement the way it is.”

They’ve also struggled to keep kids warm and well on past hunts. Some needed several opportunities on big bucks before they could physically get things together enough to make a good shot.

Schaller and his volunteers do the best they can to stack the odds in their favor. They have leases they seldom enter so deer can bed there in peace. They also plant food plots for wildlife and put out corn, hoping to get the deer used to coming near the sturdy blinds they’ve made to hold the young hunter and a local guide. Such a setup may have led to the big bucks’ demise.

“I’m 98-percent sure the deer was shot from an elevated stand, near where it was found,” said Matt Stucker, the game warden who investigated the scene the day after the recent poaching. “It was shot at night, and I’m pretty sure someone dropped that person off at a locked gate and they walked in. They had to be picked up, too.”

Stucker said the field is so remote, poachers could feel secure enough to take the time to remove the antlers, if that’s what they were after. He said there was no sign the antlers or meat were desired. The bare testicles were lying beside the buck’s body. That they used only one small incision, Stucker said, would make it apparent the poachers knew what they were doing.

Online research shows deer penises are valued for medicinal purposes in some Asian areas. Still, such occurrences are rare. Last year an antelope in western Kansas was poached, with only its genitalia taken. Beyond that, Stucker isn’t aware of any similar cases in Kansas. Laury Parramore, in public affairs for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said field officers haven’t heard of other mutilations.

Last year Schaller found three bucks dead, with their antlers still attached, but coyotes and other animals had ravaged the rest of the body so he’s not sure if anything had been removed by the poacher. Several trophy-class bucks that had been using the same area as the poached buck are also no longer being seen on trail cameras in that area since the poaching. Schaller said the bucks may have been poached or they just may have moved to another area.

Game wardens routinely patrol the area, Schaller said. He and friends are out there occasionally, too, though they’re presence usually increases as the Life Hunt gets closer. The fact that several nice bucks have been poached on Life Hunt ground since last year’s hunt won’t slow this year’s event. If needed, Schaller said they’ll all work harder.

“We’re a podunk little town, but we try to treat these kids like kings for a few days,” he said. “We give them our best.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com


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