By Ian K. Friedman, Esq.
Deer in Southeastern Pennsylvania are a pretty common sight regardless of where you live in the area, whether it is the more rural Newtown area of Bucks County or Ardmore in the Main Line suburbs. However, while deer are known for being hit by cars, they generally don’t try and crash through the windows of a Toyota and Armen Chevrolet of Ardmore car dealer and get stuck underneath one, as a buck did earlier last week on October 23rd, 2013.
As reported by the Main Line Times, a deer, which no one is certain where it appeared from, began first trying to ram itself through the window of a Toyota dealership and then succeeded in ramming itself through the glass window at the Armen car dealership. The deer at this point managed to pin itself underneath the undercarriage of a Chevy Malibu from which it was unable to free itself. Lower Merion Animal Control Warden, Ed Boegly, who is a sworn officer, dispatched the animal using a single shot from an unknown type of firearm.
According to Tom Walsh, the Public Information Officer for Lower Merion, the current theory by some of the officers is that the deer saw another buck, but that otherwise everyone was mystified by its random and aggressive appearance.
Now the above example is fairly uncommon, and the action taken by the Lower Merion Animal Control Warden was quite lawful, but what happens if you find yourself coming upon a critically wounded deer that has been struck by either your car or another’s car on the side of the road? You may be surprised to learn that your options in this situation are extremely limited.
In Pennsylvania, as the Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest (put out by the Pennsylvania Game Commission) notes each year in the General Hunting Regulations, “It is not legal to kill ‘put out of its misery’ any injured wildlife.” In fact, except for a limited number of exceptions, it is illegal under § 2307. Unlawful taking or possession of game or wildlife of the Pennsylvania code, which states the following:
It is unlawful for any person to aid, abet, attempt or conspire to hunt for or take or possess, use, transport or conceal any game or wildlife unlawfully taken or not properly marked or any part thereof, or to hunt for, trap, take, kill, transport, conceal, possess or use any game or wildlife contrary to the provisions of this title.
This means that if you are not legally authorized to take an animal, you may not do so. It should be noted that someone who is legally hunting IS required by law to make all efforts to retrieve a wounded animal (though it does not allow them to trespass on private land). However, in this hypothetical situation, unless a BMW or Audi has been added to the acceptable means of taking deer in Pennsylvania (along with new methods of road hunting), you are not governed by this rule.
The problem is that many Pennsylvanians (whether Sportsmen and Sportswomen or not) do not like the idea of leaving a critically wounded animal to suffer by the roadway; it strikes most people as being both cruel and unwarranted. The question is what can they do in this situation?
The first thing that one should always do is call the regional Office of the Game Commission for the part of the state in which you are currently. The problem is that Pennsylvania is an extremely large state, and the number of Wildlife Conservation Officers who can be dispatched are limited both by numbers and geography. A second option (if a Wildlife Conservation Officer cannot be sent out soon or at all) is to contact the local Police Department or State Police. They are legally allowed to dispatch the animal, but they may choose to defer to the Game Commission and decline to take action. This leads us to ask, who else can legally dispatch the animal? According to § 2307 (d)(1):
Authorized individuals who euthanize critically injured game or wildlife, which shall be permitted when it is reasonable to believe that the chance of survival of the injured game or wildlife is minimal or the injured game or wildlife poses a threat to human safety (emphasis mine).
Now who are these authorized officials? According to § 2307 (f)(1-5), the people allowed to euthanize the animal are: Persons with crimes and offenses enforcement powers (general sworn officers), currently employed Waterways or Wildlife Conservation Officers or a Deputy Waterways or Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers, Currently employed State Park or State Forest Rangers, and finally “a veterinarian licensed to practice in the United States. Violation of § 2307 for a deer is a summary offense of the second degree, which can lead to imprisonment of up to 90 days and fines.
It is also important to remember that if an unauthorized person was to use a firearm to dispatch a deer that could person face far more serious charges, such as a violation of a potential Ban on the Discharge of Firearms by a Municipality. He or she could also face a litany of additional game violations for using an unauthorized firearm (in the case of a semi-automatic handgun or rifle) to take a game species. If someone was to use an edged weapon (that was not illegal to own or have on one’s person in the area), that person would still face § 2307 charges and possibly others, but he or she would not face firearm discharge issues.
The idea of not being able to euthanize a critically injured game species that will die, but not without suffering long and agonizing pain, is extremely controversial among Pennsylvanians who hunt, are members of law enforcement, and people who are neither, but simply do not wish to see a dying animal suffer needlessly. Some will choose to violate that the law due to Officers not being available or due their own sense of ethics.
However, until § 2307 is amended to allow for additional authorized persons under its exceptions, those who chose to dispatch an animal will still need to worry about prosecution, despite their honest and best intentions in the matter.