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Video of injured deer sparks calls for animal cruelty charge for Vermont hunter

A foggy forest is filled with yellows, oranges, reds, and some green in the autumn
Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images/iStockphoto
A hunter is facing charges including deer poaching from the fall of 2022, and some are calling for animal cruelty charges as well because of the manner in which he killed a buck in Peacham.

Cell phone video that a game warden said showed a hunter petting an illegally shot and injured deer, and saying "good boy" before killing the animal, has raised calls from wildlife advocates for animal cruelty charges.

But Vermont's animal cruelty law does not apply to activities regulated by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, including hunting and trapping, officials said.

The 21-year-old hunter shown in the video is facing a slew of deer poaching and other charges from incidents in October and November of 2022, including hunting while his license was revoked. His lawyer, who said he had only been appointed to the case two days ago, declined to comment.

In most states animal cruelty regarding hunting is regulated through hunting rules about legal weapons, calibers, hours and seasons, so that hunters do not use methods that could be inhumane or ineffective, said Lindsay Thomas Jr., chief communications officer for the National Deer Alliance. He said he believes many state wildlife enforcement agencies still have the ability to bring charges, or work with state police to bring charges, in cases such as cruelty to a deer.

There's a clear difference between a hunter and a poacher, he added.

"We think of a hunter as someone who's ethical and follows the rules," Thomas said.

In Vermont, the cell phone video showed a buck still alive and laying in a hay barn, state game warden William Seeger wrote in the affidavit.

"The buck can be seen panting, likely with some type of spinal trauma from a broadhead or bullet wound, rendering it mostly paralyzed," Seeger wrote. The hunter and a friend can be heard in the videos, with the hunter "petting the deer and saying, 'Good boy', as if it were a dog or other pet," the affidavit states. Photos were also taken of the deer alive in the barn and then later of a deceased deer hanging in what appeared to be the hay barn, Seeger wrote.

Protect Our Wildlife Vermont wants the hunter to be charged with animal cruelty.

"We would like the state to pursue cruelty to animal charges on this because the definition is tormenting and torturing an animal, and it's our position that this falls outside of the bounds of legal hunting," said Brenna Galdenzi, president of the nonprofit. "This is not hunting what he did, so the exemption that's provided to hunters should not be afforded."

The hunter told the game warden that he shot the buck with a crossbow in Peacham after leaving his ex-girlfriend's home angry. He said he got a friend to help retrieve the deer, returning 45 minutes later to find the animal still alive. They then transported the deer to the hay barn. The hunter said he ran out of arrows and didn't have a knife, implying that he would have killed the animal before moving it if he had the equipment, according to the affidavit.

"The hunter told Seeger "he eventually finished the buck off with an arrow (bolt) while it was in the barn, estimating that it was alive in the barn for five minutes, or maybe longer as he had to retrieve the arrow (bolt) from the residence," Seeger wrote.

The warden estimated that they possessed the buck for at least 30 minutes while it was still alive.

The hunter could not be reached for comment. His cell phone rang unanswered and didn't have a voice message box.

Galdenzi called the case "egregious," including how the hunter mentioned to the warden that he was upset with his ex-girlfriend and "it seems that he was taking out his frustrations on an animal," she said.

She said Protect Our Wildlife Vermont will be working with the legislature to try to change the exemption in Vermont's animal cruelty law by adding the word "lawful" to activities regulated by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"I think we need to show that just because you're a hunter or a trapper, it doesn't mean that you can behave in exceptionally cruel ways and still be protected under the hunting umbrella," she said.

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