Things were getting busy at the deer processor's on the opening day of deer season last Monday. It was after noon, and hunters began filing in steadily to drop off the deer they harvested in the morning.
Trucks pulled up and deer were dragged in front of a large garage door, where employees would dash out to check tags, saw off antlers and guide successful hunters to a counter alongside the building to fill out their cut sheets.
In the middle of all the hustle and bustle stood a young boy with a four-point buck at his feet. The young hunter looked to be around 12 or 13, making it perfectly legal for him to harvest the four-point buck.
For a couple minutes the young hunter stood wide-eyed, marveling at the large-antlered bucks on the ground around him and at all the activity as trucks pulled up in a steady stream. One of the men working for the processor came over to the boy and asked if he wanted the antlers sawed off or the deer to be caped out for mounting. The boy said it would be alright just to saw the antlers off, and as the man knelt down to the buck he glanced at the tag attached to the ear and hesitated.
This is an antlerless tag, he said. It's not right.
The boy nervously glanced back toward the parking lot a few times, as if he was waiting for someone to arrive and bail him out of a potential jam.
We were told to use the antlerless tag because it's a mistake kill, the boy said, adding that his father shot the buck. The game warden told us to tag it like this.
This is when a case of setting a bad example revealed itself.
The processor's helper paused for a second while he held the saw at the base of the horns. He glanced at the tag again, pulled the saw away and stood up.
I'm not sure about this, he said while he walked inside to get the owner of the business to take a look at things.
The boy waited, still nervously glancing back toward the parking lot.
The owner quickly came out, looked at the tag and asked the boy again who shot the buck.
My father did, he said.
Upon hearing the response, the owner took a step back, asked the boy to get his father while heading back inside to call the game warden to ask him what he should do.
A couple minutes later the owner returned, but the boy was gone
And so was the tag – someone sliced it out of the buck's ear and left.
The buck was left behind, but the boy and his father, who no one ever saw, were nowhere to be found.
Later that afternoon I thought about the unfortunate scenario and just how impressionable a young hunter like that boy is.
What did he learn from all this, I wondered. He admitted that his father shot the buck, which didn't have the required three points on one side, making it illegal for an adult hunter to shoot.
And rather than admit a wrong and resolve the situation properly, the boy's father never came up to speak with the processor. Instead, someone cut the tag out of the deer's ear and quickly left the scene.
It was wrong on a number of counts – an illegal buck, using the wrong tag, failing to report a mistake kill and simply leaving the deer behind to avoid the matter entirely.
The owner and several hunters who had gathered around the little buck shook their heads in disbelief. I did to as I thought about things later on, and I hoped that the young hunter realized that what occurred wasn't ethical or legal.
And hopefully he won't follow the poor example that was set by another on this day.
Tom Venesky covers the outdoors for The Times Leader.