Two days into the bowhunting season I got the first panic call: "Do you have the Deer Search hotline number," the archer asked.
I did -- 648-4355 -- and the caller told me a harrowing tale of arrowing a deer at 10 a.m., then following it until dark. "I can take the handlers to the blood trail, and if they can get one of their tracking dogs on it I'm sure we can recover the animal," he said.
I don't know if that happened, or if the deer was only slightly wounded (see below), because the archer never called back.
But I do know that the volunteer service had 27 requests for help on the opening day of archery season alone!
The volunteer service pays for a 24-hour hotline available to hunters in Erie County and some areas of the seven other counties of Western New York.
"We are the court of last resort," says searcher Gary Huber. "Before you call, you better be sure you scored a pretty solid hit, better have made honest efforts to track the deer, better be able to lead the handler and his tracking dog to the place where you lost the blood trail and have landowner permission to search for the animal."
The service is free, but donations are accepted.
So are would-be tracers. Volunteers should write Deer Search of WNY, PO Box 25, North Boston, 14110, for information.
Most archers do not wound and lose deer.
The only definitive and scientific study of deer wounding/recovery rates ever conducted showed 87 percent of deer hit by archers were retrieved and tagged, in some cases by another archer.
The study was done from 1991-1994 at Camp Ripley in central Minnesota, a National Guard facility that allows a controlled number of hunters on its land for four days each season. This tight control allowed researchers to interview all the archers in depth to find out what really happened in the woods.
The reports have been published in such diverse publications as "Deer and Deer Hunting" and "Animals Agenda," but after wading through tables, data and definitions (that is, what is wounding, what is a hit what is a loss), the facts appear to be these:
87 percent of all deer hit by archers were subsequently retrieved.
45 percent of all recovered deer that sustained a "substantiated hit" were subsequently shot and retrieved by another bowhunter.
Some of the 13 percent that were lost were not fatally wounded.
The fact that deer were hit then recovered by another hunter (who usually shot them again) was something never before suspected, according to researchers Wendy Kruger and Jay McAninch of the Minnesota Division of Natural Resources, and Prof. Dave Samuel at West Virginia University.
This was the only deer kill/wounding study (of some 47 earlier studies) that used aerial and ground searches to locate deer. The researchers believe that the 13 percent of deer hit and not found includes an unknown number of deer that may have had flesh wounds and subsequently recovered.
In any event, losing only 13 percent of deer shot by archers reverses what was thought to happen.
The animal righteous do not like this study, McAninch said, because it suggests that losses due to archery hunting are "biologically insignificant," and thus could be used to support arguments for allowing suburban bowhunting to control deer population.
Criticism from hunting foes was expected, the researcher said, but he was surprised by a recent attack in AIM, a bowhunting magazine.
Some 43 archery hunting organizations helped fund the study, but the AIM article by Stan Chiras says they were misguided in offering their funding.
There is an element in the hunting community that feels anything that opens hunting to criticism -- an admission that hunters might wound and lose animals, for example -- is counterproductive.
This attitude spawns self-censorship by some outdoor writers. Rock singer (and gonzo bowhunter) Ted Nugent was recently chided by a fellow hunter who hates the Nuge's reference to "kill 'em and grill 'em" projects to feed Detroit's hungry. "But we do kill 'em and grill 'em," Nugent declared.
Safari Club aids scouts
Camp Schoellkopf dedicated a new shooting sports facility Saturday in a ceremony attended by members of the Western New York chapter of Safari Club International. The chapter raised the funds to build the new teaching facility and small arms range for the camp near Cowlesville.
The Safari Club raised more than $12,000 for the facility, part of a $175,000 effort the chapter's 500 members made to aid community and conservation projects from here to the Finger Lakes.
"This has been a great year for our chapter," secretary Mark Aidan said. ". . . We have constructed a facility at YMCA Camp Onyahsa in Chautauqua County and we've begun planning an additional project at Camp Scouthaven in Wyoming County."
Since the Camp Schoellkopf range opened this year, more than 3,000 scouts have used it. The Greater Niagara Frontier Boy Scout Council said 1,400 Scouts and 1,100 Cub Scout families will use the facility annually to learn firearms and archery safety and earn marksmanship merit badges.