Lost and Found: Should “Deadheads” Put Hunters in the Record Book?

Lost and Found: Should “Deadheads” Put Hunters in the Record Book?

Last fall, a Pennsylvania bowhunter shot a large whitetail buck that was later verified as the new archery hunting state record by the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission. The buck is a true trophy, especially considering it was taken on public land in a state with intense hunting pressure. The only problem is the dead buck was not found until 41 days after being shot, well after the close of archery season. The carcass had been picked clean by scavengers and only the skull and antlers were recovered.

Whether or not this Pennsylvania hunter should be given credit for actually harvesting the record-book buck has become something of a controversy. Most organizations that record and track trophy-class animal scores draw firm distinctions between hunter-killed animals and found, or “picked up” heads from animals that might have been killed by a predator, vehicle, severe winter weather, or even a poacher. Because this particular buck occupies a strange middle-ground between hunted and found, lots of hunters (including a lot of MeatEater fans) are debating how the buck should be categorized with regards to its trophy status.

Under Pennsylvania’s hunting regulations, the buck is eligible for record-book consideration as a hunter-killed animal. It’s certainly fair to say that the hunter went above and beyond his ethical and legal obligations to recover the animal, as he searched for the wounded buck for over a month. And trail camera photos do confirm the buck that was eventually recovered was the same buck the hunter shot during archery season.

But it could also be argued that the circumstances under which the antlers were obtained can’t really be classified as hunting. The deer was not recovered in a timely manner during the season in which it was shot, nor was any meat salvaged. What’s more, it is impossible to determine how the buck actually died. Did it die directly from the blood loss from the arrow wound, or was it merely weakened enough to succumb to other causes of death such as predation or infection? In short, how much time can pass between the shooting and recovery of an animal before it should become ineligible for the hunter-killed record book? A week? A month? A year? Whatever the answer, it’s fairly certain that there will be some sort of asterisk, real or implied, next to this record book entry.

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