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The 'Dead Deer' Issue

Pa. newspaper runs deer contest, entrants' photos in tab

The 'Dead Deer' Issue
Grant Darrah watches as his 10-point buck, the first deer he's entered among his 50 kills, gets weighed. (Mike Suchan photo)

Third in a series of three articles from Pennsylvania Deer Camp

Click here for Part I | Part II

SWEDEN VALLEY, Pa. – With his best deer of his life, Grant Darrah thought it was finally time to enter the Big Buck Contest.

So the 55-year-old from Coudersport brought his 10-pointer up to the Sweden Valley Inn on opening day of the Pennsylvania gun season. There he entered it into the Potter Leader Enterprise’s contest, which has been held since the year he was born.

Click image to see the photo gallery
On the opening day of deer gun season in Pennsylvania, a small pavilion in the Sweden Valley Inn will serve as deer central in the Big Buck Contest held by the local newspaper, the Potter Leader Enterprise. (Mike Suchan photo)

Darrah said he’s killed 50 deer in his life, but “never one like this.” He thought the deer might make a run for the money in both the weight and antler divisions, and winning first place would be grand.

“Yes, it would,” he said.

Darrah, among the 50 entrants on the first day, will have to wait to learn as the contest runs through the Dec. 14 gun season. He knows one thing -- he’ll be part of the newspaper’s “Big Buck Roster,” a special tabloid section showing all the successful hunters who entered deer.

“When it comes out, it’s ‘Hey, the dead deer issue,’” Leader Enterprise sports editor Al Lacher said. “Everybody goes and gets it; see who they know.”

Lacher is responsible for all aspects of the contest. He’s traffic cop, deer wrangler, weigh master, official measurer, entry registrar, photographer, reporter and editor. The section is inserted into the weekly paper in mid- to late-January.

Last year’s tab featured 116 hunters with their trophies, filling up 16 pages. They print about 4,000 copies, and people who don’t get it delivered can go to the office and ask for it by name.

“They want to look and see if there’s people they know and the townships that they got them in,” Lacher said. “We also put them on Smug Mug and they can pay for the picture. A lot of them put pictures up in camp.”


The contest is rather simple. Heaviest weight wins that division. Last year, Rex Thomas won with his 197-pounder. In the antler division, the measurement of the outside spread is added to the number of legal points. Jason Bowser won in 2012 with a 13-pointer scoring 37 3/8.

“It’s rudimentary,” Lacher said. “It’s just a little thing and the tiebreaker is the weight.”

The antler score is the tiebreaker in the weight division. There’s also a junior division, and a prize for smallest buck. All deer must be shot in Potter County.

After the first prize of $100 and a shoulder mount from Dave’s Taxidermy, second place is $50 and third $25.

“It’s not a real money making contest,” Lacher said. “It’s more of an honor thing. ‘I got a deer. Let’s go in and enter it.’ There’s other contests around here where first is $1,000.”

The first three days of deer season, Lacher is at his weigh station from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., then mans it from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. until the season is over. He greets most every entrant with a congratulations, then starts his process of cutting into the hocks to place on a gambrel and hoist up to the scale. He asks hunters to maintain control so the antlers don’t fall to the ground and break.

After recording the weight, he measures the outside spread and counts the legal points to place on the entry sheet, which he has hunters fill out before placing a number placard in front of them and setting up the trophy shot.

One of Lacher’s first customers of the day was 11-year-old Jamie Vandergriff. While she had no trouble shooting her first, she struggled to hold its head for the photo. Lacher’s suggestion to switch sides worked.

William Lay Jr. of Joppa, Md., came in with his father, a deer and a broken ankle. He broke it setting up stands the night before but killed his deer from a side-by-side.

“We have been coming up here to the Buckler Camp for 40 years,” said Lay, who needed to return home for surgery. “I love it. But he seems like he weighs more than 120 pounds.”

Folks stop by, mostly in pickups, and ask Lacher how many and how big the deer have been. One, Merle Ludwig, a trucker from Mechanicsburg, wonders where all the hunters are. He relates he saw a lot of cabins empty then headed back out before telling Lacher he likes his contest best.

"Yours is the most organized of the bunch,” he said.

A pickup pulls up and the rear window opens. Eli Small, 5, yells out “7 points” as his brother, Ty, 8, just smiles and sister, Calla, 9, jumps out from the front seat. Steven Small, the new pastor from Sweden Valley, waits his turn to pose with his kids and his deer.

Ryan Kline, 26, of Lancaster brought his wife, Erin, carrying dog Callie, while 14-month old son, Carter, slept in the truck. Kline had his biggest deer to date, a wide 10-pointer.

“Somebody else shot at him before me and knicked his back leg,” said Kline, who drove more than 20 miles from his cabin in Shinglehouse to enter. He had previously entered one deer as a junior.

“We get these guys to keep coming back,” Lacher said. “It’s been going for 55 years.

“The high point was 250 entries in the heyday, around the late 70s. Just a three–day contest then. Got them all in paper. I think the tab was thicker than the paper.”

Go to 2013 Deer Camp

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