PERSPECTIVE: Ethical argument surrounding West Virginia teen killing piebald deer needs an injection of morality

There’s been a lot of controversy around Spring Hill Mountain in Kanawha County, W.Va., in the last week surrounding a young man — a 17-year-old to be exact — and a piebald deer.

A lot of us hunters know what a piebald is, but for the reader who doesn’t, they make up about 1-2% of the whitetail population and are essentially one step above an albino deer. They have brown and white spots and, frankly, are beautiful creatures. Something about them seems mystical, and it’s been told that Native Americans believed they held magical properties and were bad luck if killed.

Hopefully, that’s not the case for this young man because the immediate repercussions have been a mix of disgusting and upsetting.

Let’s get the facts out of the way first.

First, the teen harvested the deer under completely legal terms. Putting ethics aside for a moment, the deer was taken by the rule book, and the Division of Natural Resources confirmed this.

Second, the piebald — his name was Skip — held “a beloved status in the immediate area,” according to the father’s statement. Skip’s journey was interesting. He was rehabilitated after he was taken to a local veterinarian, Paul Gunnoe, with contracted tendons. When Skip was deemed healthy, he was allowed to roam free. Further, Skip allegedly had a blaze orange collar on him as Gunnoe told WOWK it was in the hopes that “if some hunter had him in his scope they would choose to look, and look away, and do the ethical thing … just because it was a legal kill doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.”

Third, and, this is an obvious one, there was a huge reaction to the kill. A ton of folks were upset because they felt a connection to the deer, while others took it to an unnatural level and threatened the kid’s life, according to the father’s statement.

Now, let me share my opinion regarding those facts.

Teenagers mess up. People make mistakes. It’s natural. If there was a collar on the animal, a lot of us probably agree we wouldn’t shoot it.

But if you’re a hunter and saw a rare deer, wouldn’t you want to harvest it? Why is there such a stigma around that mindset? Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean endangered, a piebald is just a genetic mutation. It’s bad enough hunters get looked down on for hunting in the first place. I’m not afraid to admit that if I saw a piebald without a collar on I’d harvest it. It’s okay to shoot a rare duck — extra rare if it’s banded! — yet we can’t shoot other rare, non-endangered animals? I call bull and think it’s an unrealistic double standard set upon hunters.

Moving along, I didn’t mention that the father took the deer to the DNR the next morning to have it checked, but that was the best move. Clear your son’s name so he at least doesn’t have to worry about surprise legal ramifications.

Finally, and the crux of this piece, what is wrong with people that they think it’s OK to threaten this kid’s life? Call him out for doing something stupid if you feel that way, but it’s ridiculous to go that far over an animal.

And the sad part is that it’s not an uncommon thing. International trophy hunters get it all the time. Groups like the Animal Liberation Front — which was originally formed as an anti-hunting group called the Hunt Saboteurs Association — is as close to a militant activist group as you’ll find. They have allegedly destroyed property, set animals free and in the early days of the movement sent letter bombs to certain individuals and poisoned food like candy bars. Some people consider them terrorists.

“We are saddened by the vitriolic response from those online who have continued to share the post, many of whom are strangers from across the nation who have no connection to this incident or our beloved state and who have threatened physical harm and even death toward my 17-year-old son as well as our extended family,” the father said in his statement.

By no means am I saying ALF members are responsible for the death threats, but we should never accept or condone this type of behavior. There are clearly better ways to go about protesting for animal rights.

Is it upsetting a rare deer was killed that was admired by the community? Yes. Was it a legal and ethical harvest? Yes. Was it a moral harvest? That answer will vary.

Is it such a problem for internet warriors to take up arms? No. And those who are taking it to an extreme level should be ashamed of themselves.


This was originally written for The Dominion Post and was published on Dec. 15, 2019. The Dominion Post is the largest newspaper in the north central West Virginia.

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