antlers

Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation Officer John Veylupek holds the skull of a buck with massive 12-point antlers. The animal's carcass was discovered by a hunter in western Lancaster County.

A Columbia hunter’s discovery of a record 12-point buck and the state Game Commission’s confiscation of it have raised lots of questions among LNP and LancasterOnline readers.

Why wasn’t the hunter allowed to keep the head? What did he do wrong to warrant a written warning? What if I find a rack of antlers in the woods? What should I do?

We checked with Tom Grohol, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Protection, and John Veylupek, the commission’s wildlife conservation officer for northwest Lancaster County. Veylupek confiscated the rack from the Columbia hunter who found it in the woods near Chickies Hill in West Hempfield Township.

Here are answers to questions posed by readers.

Q: Why can’t the hunter keep the head of the deer? Reader Dianne Dissinger called the confiscation of the head “Ridiculous.” She wrote: “The commission just stole the antlers from the hunter. Shame on them!”

A: The hunter did not apply for a state permit to keep the trophy.

The hunter could have applied for a special permit, which is accompanied by a fee of $10 per point for deer antlers. The fee is $20 per point for elk antlers.

Q: Why do you need a permit to keep a dead animal you found in the woods?

A: To prevent poaching.

“If we did not regulate the sale and possession of various wildlife and their parts, we would have no way of confirming if they were killed or possessed lawfully,” Grohol said. “When someone purchases wildlife under this section of the law, they receive a receipt from the Game Commission that proves they are lawfully possessed.”  

The rule about buying a deer head dates to 1987 and is contained within the subsection of the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code titled “Sale of wildlife and wildlife parts.”

“Wildlife or parts of wildlife accidentally killed on the highway or by other causes … may be sold to a person under the following minimum fee schedule: Deer antlers-$10 per point,” the code states.

Q: Why should the state charge money for keeping a deer head? “So you find a dead animal, call it in, which I never knew about, and then pay $100 to keep its skull,” Bobby Burke wrote on LancasterOnline. “And we wonder why taxes are so high, because there are actually departments of government that come up with this garbage.”

A: Grohol said the fee structure was set before he began working for the Game Commission, but he has an idea why they exist.

“Part of it I am sure was to cover administrative costs associated with issuing the permit,” he said. “I also assume that we wanted to place some value on the purchase of the wildlife and its parts.”

Q: Why was the Columbia hunter given a written warning?

A: Veylupek said the hunter put the antlered deer harvest tag from his own hunting license on the antlers. That’s illegal, said Grohol. The section of the state Game and Wildlife Code pertaining to tagging big game specifies that the harvest tag is to be used on an animal killed by the license holder.

“The hunter in this case clearly did not kill the deer in question,” Grohol said.

Q: How many people actually apply for a permit to keep a deer head?

A: “Very few, under these types of circumstances,” Grohol said.

Q: What if I find an antler? Am I allowed to keep it?

A: Yes. The law differentiates between antlers attached to the skull of a dead deer and antlers naturally shed by living bucks. “Shed antlers are readily identifiable as such and not attached to a skull plate,” Grohol said. “Thus it can be determined that they were not a part of wildlife that could have been taken unlawfully.”

Q: What will happen to the skull and antlers confiscated last week?

A: There’s been no decision yet. The head was being delivering to the Game Commission's Harrisburg headquarters this week. Officials there then will decide what to do with it.

Such trophies often are displayed on the walls in the headquarters office with a plaque stating where they came from, or they are used for public education purposes.