Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By David Kveragas

Tomorrow marks the opening of the archery deer season in Pennsylvania. Running through Nov. 15, then resuming Dec. 26 and closing Jan. 10, it is the longest of the state’s big-game hunting seasons.

Despite this being the 21st century, hunters are still allowed to hunt deer (and other animals, including turkeys, coyotes and even woodchucks) using such an archaic and inefficient method as a bow and arrow.

Arrows are designed to kill using trauma and shock. The arrow enters the body of an animal and causes internal damage such as hemorrhaging. They are designed to act as internal knives, continually cutting and tearing muscles and organs. Death is often slow and extremely painful. Only a direct hit in the heart, one of the most protected organs in any animal, will cause immediate death. Many hits are in the lungs, which adds suffocation to the agony. The animals, literally, drown in their own blood.

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Adding to this problem is the fact that hunters are advised not to begin tracking a deer that has been hit immediately. Depending on where the animal is believed to have been shot, the hunter is supposed to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to hours. If the animal is struck near dusk (a prime hunting time, when deer are often moving to feeding areas) and the hit is in a non-vital area, the suggestion is to wait until the next morning.

All the while the animal is in agony, often trying to find a sheltered area or a body of water.

Without a blood trail, it is virtually impossible to track the deer. Couple this with the changing of the leaves, many of which have at least spots of red on them, and recovery becomes even more difficult. A good tracker must spend time searching on hands and knees in the grass looking for the tiniest trail of blood, as well as picking up numerous leaves that may have a tiny spot of blood.

An additional problem with archery hunting is the fact that most archers use tree stands. The height and angle make it difficult to estimate the distance to the animal. Studies have shown that where archers in stands believe their arrows hit the deer, and where the shaft actually landed was off by a wide margin. Stand on a ladder or even a stool in a familiar space, let alone the woods, and see how different everything looks.

Also, too many tend to practice with stationary targets. Despite the rise in the use of three-dimensional targets, there is still the tendency to practice from a ground-level position, often on an indoor range. None of these factors takes into account the natural environment of the hunt, including wind, temperature, adrenaline, movement of the animal, etc.

In the 2002-03 archery season, hunters in Pennsylvania killed 69,648 deer. At least that was the number reported. There is a requirement that for each deer killed, the hunter must file a report with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

These figures do not include the number of deer hit by archers and, for whatever reason, not recovered. The hit and non-recovery rate is estimated to be anywhere from one-third to one-half. Using the lower figure, that means there were approximately 21,000 deer killed, but not recovered. Getting a set number is hard because archers are loath to admit that they may have hit a deer and were unable to recover it. Unlike fishermen, they do not talk about the ones that got away.

Other factors also account for the low recovery rate. Some hunters may avoid reporting their kill because they are in a hurry to leave for work. In other cases, they may be reluctant to report that they shot a deer that got away. I have even been with hunters who have attempted to give up solely because they could not handle the terrain and were too tired to continue their search for the dead animal.

These are the cold, hard truths behind archery hunting. Though I gave up hunting more than 20 years ago, I have experienced these things time and again, and I still live in the country.

These are things you will not see on the sportsmen shows on television and only rarely read about in their magazines. Yet the activity is condoned and even encouraged, and the victims – the deer – are actually the property of every citizen in Pennsylvania.

David Kveragas is a former hunter who lives in Lackawanna County, PA.

He can be contacted at  This article was first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 10/3/03. David said he hopes this will be the start of many such articles! Good luck, David, we hope so, too!


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Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
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