When local hunter Randy Tice learned deer were being hunted on the property of Rockview state prison, he immediately questioned why the public hadn’t been informed.
The public has been invited to hunt on the prison-owned grounds in the past, typically through a lottery system. According to Rockview information officer Jeff Rackovan, the public hasn’t been invited to hunt on Rockview lands for four or five years.
But that doesn’t preclude prison employees from hunting on Rockview land.
“You sent in a letter of interest, and you got in or you didn’t,” Tice said regarding the lottery. “To have a special hunt for employees, I don’t think it’s right. Is that portion of Rockview their own private hunting reserve?”
Hunters seen on Rockview grounds Tuesday and Wednesday were employees of Rockview and Benner state prisons, Rackovan said. A controlled hunt was open to the staff in order to thin deer herds that had been damaging crops.
About 90 hunters participated, he said, adding that that number of hunters likely would be sufficient to bring the herd down to a manageable size.
When hunting on Rockview land was opened in the past, it was well-publicized, he said, including working in conjunction with the state Game Commission to advertise in gaming news. This attracted a number of hunters from a wide area.
Thousands of applications would come in, he said, meaning the prison often had to turn away twice as many hunters as they could allow on the grounds.
“You’re going to have a large number of people wanting to hunt,” he said, “you’re going to select only a few, and you’re going to have more disgruntled people than people who get to hunt.”
Rackovan defended the decision to allow only prison staff to hunt, saying the land is state ground in the sense that the commonwealth owns the land, but it’s not public hunting land or Game Commission ground.
“The land is just not open to the public, he said. “There’s no particular right or need or requirement for the public to be on the ground.”
Game Commission wildlife conservation officer Mike Steingraber said the commission was not involved in coordinating this week’s hunting on the Rockview grounds.
Although it would probably be to the Department of Corrections’ advantage to reach out to the Game Commission for help, he said, there is no requirement that they contact the commission.
“They wouldn’t have to,” he said. “It’s their property. Hunting would be lawful there if they wanted to allow it.”
Only staff with appropriate hunting licenses were allowed to participate, Rackovan said. And those who participated did so on their scheduled days off or by taking vacation days. Hunters were allowed to keep what they harvested.
When a hunt is open to the public, he said, it requires more planning, coordination and staff time. More staff is required to man checkpoints, control the crowds and direct hunters to certain areas.
This incurs overtime and costs to the commonwealth, Rackovan said.
“This hunt really required no expense,” he said. “No money came out of our facility budget for this hunt.”
According to the Department of Corrections press office, each prison handles hunting on prison-owned lands individually. Some prisons are on 4,000 acres and can allow hunters; others occupy only a small footprint.
“They should get terrible feedback on it,” Tice said, “because it seems it was all done in secrecy, because a hunt doesn’t go quiet. The people who work there think they’re privileged, and heads should roll for this.”