Strange harvest: Youth’s first deer not a whitetail

By Don Lehman Contributing Writer

Chester, N.Y. – Every hunter has a story to tell about the first
deer they shot.

Chestertown (Warren County) resident Ethan Moffitt, 17, is lucky
he has pictures as proof of his first big-game success, a deer he
took Oct. 14 not far from his home.

Not many people would believe him otherwise.

Moffitt didn’t take down any ordinary North Country white-tailed
deer during his outing near rural Denehy Road on opening day of the
Northern Zone muzzleloader season.

The animal the North Warren High School junior managed to bag
was a sika deer, a dark, hairy deer native to Asia.

The story got even weirder when the family, through a strange
coincidence, figured out where it came from.

“This just gets stranger all the time,” said Moffitt’s mother,
Sue Moffitt.

Ethan Moffitt said he realized shortly after he fired at the
animal that something was different.

It began running toward him after he shot it, and his father,
Neil Duell, finished it off with a second shot.

When the two found the dead deer minutes later, it looked
nothing like a whitetail and had short, stubby antlers. It also had
a small tag in one of its ears with the number 44 on it, said Sue
Moffitt.

Believing it was escaped from a game farm or some other sort of
compound, the family contacted the state DEC.

A conservation officer who responded determined it was, in fact,
not a whitetail and confiscated it pending identification of what
and whose it was and testing for Chronic Wasting Disease, said Ed
Reed, a DEC Region 5 wildlife biologist in Ray Brook.

The investigation of where it came from was turned over to the
state Department of Agriculture & Markets, which Reed said
administers the possession of non-native deer in New York.

“If it’s not a whitetail, we (the DEC) don’t regulate them,” he
said.

Calls to the Department of Agriculture & Markets were not
returned.

Ethan Moffitt’s family managed to solve the mystery Monday,
after Susan Moffitt’s uncle, Al Harpp of Chestertown, brought a
picture of the deer to his place of work – the Warren County
Department of Public Works building in Warrensburg.

That’s where Walter Harpp, a cousin of the Moffitts, was shown
the picture and identified the sika deer as one that escaped from
his pen late Friday or early Saturday.

“I found it this morning in a picture,” Walter Harpp said Monday
morning with a laugh.

Walter Harpp said he has 13 other deer at his home that he
legally possesses on his property, and the one that escaped jumped
over an 8-foot fence.

He said he reported the escape to the state over the
weekend.

The deer managed to cover 7 to 8 miles between his home and
where it was shot Saturday, probably because it was scared, he
said.

“It’s something strange,” Walter Harpp said of the
situation.

He said he had only owned it for a short time and would not say
where he got it from. Sue Moffitt, though, said he told them it was
purchased from Magic Forest theme park in Lake George, which has a
deer pen.

Calls to Magic Forest and the home of its owner, Jack Gillette,
were not returned.

State wildlife pathologist Dr. Ward Stone said the sika’s
antlers, normally much larger, had been sawed off.

He said the escape of a commercially owned, exotic deer into the
wild can lead to the spread of non-native diseases to the local
deer herd.

Stone said diseases like bovine tuberculosis can be introduced
into the wild. The disease has caused problems in Michigan’s deer
herd, apparently after being brought in by a non-native animal.

Chronic Wasting Disease, which is fatal to white-tailed deer,
was also introduced in New York last year through a captive deer
herd in Oneida County.

“We don’t like it when deer like this get into the wild,” Stone
said. “It has a lot of potential to spread disease into our native
white-tailed deer herd.”

Reed said his office recently received a picture of another sika
deer that was believed to be roaming wild just north of the
Washington County village of Salem.

Ethan Moffitt, meanwhile, was lamenting the fact he most likely
will not get to enjoy the meat, antlers or hide from his first
deer.

He was also worried about a possible trip to court, though Reed
said he did not think charges were possible.

“I hope I’m not going to get in trouble for this,” Ethan
said.

Jessica Chittenden, a spokeswoman for the state Department of
Agriculture and Markets, said the agency determined Walter Harpp
had proper permits and fencing for his deer, and he would not be
charged.

Ethan Moffitt also was not going to be charged by the DEC.

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