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By RUSTY DENNEN
It was a shocking and sad moment for Beate Ankjaer-Jensen, the site preservation manager at the Belmont estate in Stafford County.
She and her husband were walking their dog two weeks ago on a trail near artist Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Falmouth.
"At one point I found a piece of fur on the ground. I was thinking, 'Hmmm, that's odd,'" Ankjaer-Jensen said.
A little farther along was a trash bag, blood and deer parts. Antlers had been removed from the head, and meat on the haunches and other areas was sliced off.
"It was clear that someone killed it," she said. She believes it was a mature buck that had been hanging around the estate for a while.
She called a game warden to report the find. She also found some blood in the parking lot.
"They must have cut off the pieces they wanted, then hauled it off" to the lot, she said. "It's just really upsetting. I feel violated."
Deer on the property near the Rappahannock River are tame and wander the estate's 28 acres--occasionally stopping by a vegetable garden near the house--because they are used to people, Ankjaer-Jensen said.
"This is one of the few open spaces" along the mostly built-up section of southern Stafford, "and it has created a wildlife habitat here."
Ankjaer-Jensen said she's not against hunting.
"It needs to be done; it's a good way of culling the herd. But this is not sportsmanlike behavior." The Belmont property, flanked by residential development, does not allow hunting.
Sgt. Ryan Shuler, a conservation law enforcement officer with the Fredericksburg office of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, got the call from Belmont.
He said that, while it appeared the deer had been killed on the property, there was no evidence at the site--no bullet, shell casing or arrow--to indicate that it had been shot there.
He said his office gets lots of calls this time of year about illegal hunting--anything from poaching, trespassing on posted or private property, and taking game out of season.
Still, "I will say this year, we've had less calls" than usual, Shuler said. "It's hard to say why; it comes and goes. There are spells where it's pretty busy," then it's quiet for a couple of weeks.
One recent call involved someone suspected of hunting over bait. It's illegal to hunt where corn or other food has been placed to attract deer.
Shuler said calls like the one from Belmont are unusual.
"There are very few calls for any type of illegal hunting on national parks or estates," he said. Many of those venues have their own law enforcement, Shuler said, and state wardens tend to get involved only when they are asked to help.
Keith Kelly, chief ranger of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said it gets a few calls about illegal hunting every year.
"Some years we catch up with it, some we don't. We're investigating some things now," he said. Rangers routinely patrol the park's four area battlefields--encompassing more than 8,000 acres--for illegal activity during hunting season. Occasionally, he said, the park fields calls from hunters wanting to retrieve deer shot legally outside the protected sites that run onto park land.
In the case of the Belmont deer, VDGIF's Shuler said that finding a suspect would be difficult.
"The only evidence we have is the animal. What we rely on very heavily is cooperation from the public--if they hear or see illegal hunting" and report it.
He noted that hunters are required to attend a safety course, which includes a section on ethics. Killing a deer illegally during an open season is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $500.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431