Animal activists and Lake County Forest Preserve District officials inched toward a truce Thursday in a conflict over reports of a wounded deer in the Ryerson Woods Conservation Area.
"Both sides have learned a lot here," said animal activist Steve Hindi after leading forest district officials on a walk in Ryerson Woods to re-enact his claimed sighting of a bloody trail and a wounded deer on Feb. 15.
Hindi and Greg Campbell of Barrington have charged that a deer was wounded in a deer-culling operation, but forest district officials say the four deer shot by a sharpshooter in Ryerson Woods the morning of Feb. 15 were accounted for and did not escape.
On Thursday, forest district officials went into the woods to open a dialogue with the activists who are unhappy with the deer culling.
Hindi retraced the path that lead from a clearing that had been baited and where deer were shot.
"There was bait right here, and the shooter has a nice , clean shot of the deer" from a shooting station, Hindi said.
"We knew they were culling the deer and came to see what was going on," recalled Campbell.
Hindi said he came upon a trail of blood that day in February.
"We hear a commotion and see a deer getting up," said Hindi. "Greg Campbell says, 'That's her.' With all the blood, we didn't believe the deer was still alive. She turns around, looks at us, probably a spit second, and takes off."
Forest officials said they had not seen a blood trail, and nobody else had reported a wounded deer.
"The largest deer killer here are autos, and the next is poachers," said Roy Johnson, the district's superintendent of rangers.
Johnson advised the activists that the next time they see such an incident to call the forest rangers or law-enforcement officials.
"The next time we find a blood trail, we'll know who to call," Hindi said.
Officials said 18 deer have been killed at Ryerson Woods this year under a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources which also provides a qualified sharpshooter.
Officials say the deer are killed to prevent the animals from overgrazing and destroying forest plants. Activists contend that there are other means of controlling the deer, such as birth control and fences.
Johnson said the sharpshooters use .22-caliber rifles to shoot the deer and aim for the head from a short distance.
"We accounted for all the bullets, and we have no body, so we don't have evidence," Johnson said.
Campbell said he was irate that the forest district tends to discredit the sighting. He acknowledged that he did not see the wound but saw the animal leave a blood smear on a log before running away.
Campbell also complained that the activists have not had a chance to question the sharpshooter involved in the deer culling.
"If something happened, let's make sure it doesn't happen again," Campbell said. "They are looking at the program again and at checks and balances."
Lake County forest Commissioner Diana O'Kelly (R-Mundelein) has volunteered to be an impartial observer at future deer culling.
"We asked all those questions and we have answers they don't want to hear," said Andy Kimmel, the forest district's public affairs director. "We don't know how that deer was injured. That's our answer."
Kimmel said the district does not want to release the name of the sharpshooter involved to avoid possible harassment.