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Sometimes surprises lurk in woods for hunters

Journal Opinion of Bradford, Vermont

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BRADFORD CENTER—Tyler Thurston of West Topsham got more than he bargained for when he set off into the Orange County woods in November to go hunting with his father, Nick Thurston, and cousin, Tonya Salomaa. The trio set up in a hunting spot that Tyler's father frequented years ago, near a family camp in Bradford Center. They positioned themselves so that they were looking in opposite directions, to ensure that they would be more likely to catch sight of a deer.

Salomaa was the first to spy what they all assumed was a deer.

"She saw it and jumped it up," Nick said, explaining that the deer moved toward his son. "I heard branches breaking and he had the gun drawn. "After Thurston's father heard the shot, he ran to his son who was about 50 yards away.

"My first thought was that he had shot a big white tail. I had seen the 10 pointer," Nick said. Once he got closer, he noticed that it wasn't a white-tailed deer and shouted at his son to stop. But it was too late.

"At that point it wouldn't have mattered," Nick said.

When Tyler asked why his father told him to stop, Thurston said he explained that it wasn't a white-tailed, but was instead was some kind of elk.

"I don't think so, Dad," Tyler said. "We don't have elk."

But Nick was correct. The animal was a Red Stag an animal not native to North America, although it is a cousin to North American elk.

Thurston was upset because it is illegal to shoot elk, and he was worried that they would be in trouble. But he also knew that because the elk was a Red Stag and had horns, it looked like a deer which would indicate that his son shot the elk in error.

He immediately called the East Corinth General Store, who contacted the game warden for him. State game warden Jeff Whipple said that although Bradford is not an area that he covers, he took the case because wardens were already stretched that day.

Whipple called ahead to the Thurstons and told them to bring the deer to their house where he would meet them. Whipple took the animal because it needed to be tested for chronic wasting disease.

The disease can be devastating to native deer herds and has been spreading east after first taking hold in the Midwest.

"Chronic wasting disease is very detrimental to our localized deer herd," he explained.

Whipple called his lieutenant and found out that he j ust needed the animal's lymph nodes, so he removed the head and returned the body to the Thurstons.

He then brought the head to a deer biologist who found no signs ol the disease. Whipple returned the head and antlers to the Thurstons for trophy purposes.

On reason why the state's fish and wildlife department was so anxious to test the animal for C WD was that it has been traced to animals at captive hunting facilities.

Whipple could not confirm where the Red Stag came from, but it is likely that it came from either the Wild Hill Preserve, owned and operated by William Richter in West Fairlee or from the property of Steven Hill,. also located in Fairlee. Hill and partner, Chiaki Ito, were charged in late 2012 for operating an unlicensed captive hunting facility and were ordered to stop operating that location.

While captive hunting in Vermont was banned in 2008, a pair of hunt sites that were open prior to that legislation were grandfathered in. Wild Hill is one of them.

In a story on Wild Hill that was published last year, game warden Mark Schichtle told Burlington-based weekly Seven Days that reports of escaped animals from captive hunt sites in and around Fairlee have become so commonplace that he has stopped recording them.

Marianne Farr can be reached at

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Original Publication Date: January 29, 2014

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