Farewell to a Giant

Photographer Bill Draper said it best in a Facebook post:

A James River Park Giant

Farewell my friend, you will be missed! About four years ago I saw a cell phone photo of a local Whitetail Buck posted on social media. Having been around whitetail deer my entire life, I did not believe the photo could be real. I thought that a buck with such massive non-typical antlers could not be living in Richmond. Well, I was wrong, a short time later I was able to photograph the buck in the 600+ acre James River Park and areas he visited ranging from Hollywood Cemetery to Maymont. Through the upcoming years, the numerous sightings brought joy to this wildlife photographer and many other Richmond residents who were lucky enough to live in the neighborhood areas he visited. For years the buck named Prince by local residents or also known as the Hollywood Buck was like a friend we were always happy to see. Unfortunately, this past December an unethical person calling himself a hunter, illegally shot the buck and has since been arrested pending trial. Even thought our friend is gone, he will be remembered. With such an amazing habitat like our James River Park, it’s likely his genetics have been passed on. Hopefully a new Prince will be sighted in and around the park in the future.

The James River Park System is full of deer, so seeing one is not unusual. What made the Hollywood Buck stand out was his non-typical rack of antlers. Unlike horns, which are permanently fixed atop animals like bison, cows, and sheep, deer antlers are a mix of bone, cartilage, and blood vessels, and deer shed them each year. A typical rack has somewhat symmetrical points, and as a deer ages, the rack expands but keeps the same basic shape. Three factors determine the growth: age, genetics, and nutrition. A deer with unusual genetics or an injury may grow a non-typical rack – that is, unsymmetrical. A deer that’s been hit by a car and injured its leg may then grow a non-typical rack. Curiously, the rack may show deformities opposite the side of the injury.

All this being said, the Hollywood Buck would seem to have had some stories to tell. And Bill isn’t the only one to tell stories of seeing him. The Richmond SPCA posted a blog: “Hollywood Buck’s tragic end was cowardly and immoral.”

We agree.

There are many activities in the Park that cause us concern: littering, drinking alcohol while swimming, graffiti… the list can grow quite long. Someone hunting and killing an animal in the Park would top that list. This isn’t to say that we oppose hunting. Some pursue it for sport. Some hunt in an effort to manage wildlife populations. Some simply enjoy the taste of wild turkey or venison or wild duck. Killing an animal in the Park not only disrupts the wild nature of the Park System, it endangers the safety of other users of the Park. Many animals, like the Hollywood Buck, have grown used to their urban wildlife environment, and while we would never consider them “tame,” they never considered having to run away at the sight of a human.

We give them their space while we enjoy ours.

The person who killed the Hollywood Buck was arrested. He faces 19 charges in the killing of this deer and two others, and an alleged accomplish faces scores of other charges. We’re thankful to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources for their diligence and prompt investigation. The subject of their investigation will face his day in court, and the facts will determine his fate.

In the meantime, here are some images that Bill took of the Hollywood Buck and some of the other deer in the James River Park System.

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