The numbers prove it. Realtree fans north, south, east and west live and breathe deer hunting. These guys do, too. Hansen’s from Michigan, Brantley’s from Kentucky, and chances are their version of hunting whitetails is a lot like yours.
Orphaned Deer and Harsh Reality
I do feel sorry for Jeff and Jennifer Counceller, the Indiana couple who took in an injured fawn, nursed it back to health, and are now facing legal recourse from the Indiana DNR. Their intentions were good. And in a video interview, Jeff is sporting a Realtree t-shirt. The Councellers seem to be “good folks like us.”
But there’s more to the story than the emotional frenzy created in the wake of their situation and then stoked by the media, ABC News in particular. Read this story with a video interview, for example. The first line: “Should an Indiana couple go to jail for saving Bambi?”
Can we say, sensationalist?
But forming an opinion isn’t so cut and dry if you consider the facts. According to John Waudby of Indianapolis**, the guy who started the Facebook page and online petition, Jeff Counceller, who is a police officer, responded to a call about an injured fawn. Upon finding the fawn, Jeff called his wife, Jennifer, who is a nurse. It’s unclear what caused the injuries, but the Councellers took the little deer into their home and named it, “Little Orphan Dani”.
The Councellers also contacted the Indiana DNR (which the DNR confirmed). As is standard procedure, the DNR referred them to this page on the Indiana DNR website, which advises people on what to do when they encounter orphaned animals. The page states clearly that, “Removing wildlife from the environment is prohibited by state regulations without a proper handling permit.” The Councellers did not have, and were not given, that handling permit.
That law is important for protecting newborn fawns in particular, though. Fawns spend most of their first weeks of life in solitary hiding. Their mothers leave them hidden, checking back to nurse them only on occasion. The doe doesn’t want to attract more attention than necessary to the fawn because the fawn isn’t yet physically able to escape predators. That the fawns hide—alone—using their coloration for near-perfect camouflage is nature’s survival mechanism for them.
Thing is, well-intentioned humans frequently encounter these hiding newborn fawns, find that they’re easy to catch and assume that, because they don’t see the doe, she has abandoned the fawn. So they take the fawn home and stick a bottle of 2% milk in its face.
“Regulations (against capturing fawns) are put into place first and foremost to protect the fawns,” says Joe Hamilton, a deer biologist and founder of the Quality Deer Management Association, “but also to protect people. Frequently, people raise these fawns into adult deer, and then keep them enclosed in a small area. I know of no other backyard ‘pet’ that injures more people than a captive deer. It almost always ends in a tragic situation for the deer, and too frequently, for human beings.”
What if the deer is indeed injured, as was the case with the Councellers? Well, the Indiana DNR addresses that, too, by offering a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators and further stating, “DNR does not care for injured or orphaned animals.”
The Councellers attempted arrangements with area wildlife rehabilitators without success, according to Waudby. Their only legal option, at that point, was to return the deer to the wild and allow nature to take its course. The Councellers instead continued caring for the deer, feeding it and interacting with it until recently, when it had grown into an adult deer. A DNR officer questioned them, confirmed that the deer was still captive, and advised that, for safety reasons, it would be euthanized. In addition, the Councellers would be facing misdemeanor charges for illegally harboring the animal. Conveniently, Dani the deer “escaped” the very day it was supposed to be euthanized.
And so here we are in a situation straight out of a Disney movie with emotions running high. On the one hand, it’s easy for me to call this what it is: anthropomorphism. The Bambi syndrome. If the Councellers had just let nature take its course, they wouldn’t be in this mess. Jeff Counceller is a police officer, and yet he knowingly broke the law. Case closed.
On the other hand, I really appreciate whitetails. It’s one of those difficult things for an anti-hunter to understand. I will shoot a fawn with my bow in the fall given the chance (they are fine, tender eating), but if I can keep one from suffering and dying a slow death in the woods, you bet I’d want to.
And then we have the Indiana DNR. They will not cave to the court of public opinion, nor will they give their own opinion on this. They shouldn’t. Their job is to protect and manage wildlife, and a big part of that job includes managing human / wildlife interactions and conflicts. That they were going to euthanize the deer may seem callous. But now, there’s an adult deer in the area with no fear of humans. That situation will likely end with the deer's death.
Maybe the hard truth of this story is that all parties involved -- the Councellers, the DNR, and the deer -- lose to a degree. And that’s probably a good reason why those “don’t rescue fawns” laws are there in the first place. What do you think?
(**Attempts were made to contact the Councellers directly, but our phone calls were not returned)