PORT MANSFIELD, Texas (AP) - Poachers have killed a large buck and wounded at least three deer in recent months in this tiny fishing village where residents' feeding of the animals has made them easy targets, officials said.
"It's become more of a problem this year," Oscar Castaneda, a game warden with the Texas Fish and Wildlife Service, said of deer poaching here.
Norm Lavelle is a resident who helped raise a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poacher who killed the 165-pound buck. He said two other bucks have "disappeared" since January.
Castaneda told the Valley Morning Star of Harlingen that authorities have not determined whether this year's poaching incidents are related.
Authorities are searching for the poacher who used a bow and arrow to kill the 11-point buck that a resident found in her backyard March 30, Castaneda said.
He said he followed the buck's blood trail about 100 yards from the Port Mansfield airport pasture to a resident's mobile home park but could not find the arrow.
"I suspect that they expected the deer to drop but when it didn't they left the area," Castaneda said of the archer.
Castaneda said authorities have no leads in the case.
"It's real tough unless you have eye witnesses," he said of arrests in poaching cases.
Lavelle said he used to feed the buck that he named "Christmas."
"He knew his name," Lavelle said. "I would call him a half-mile away and he would come running to me."
Lavelle said two other bucks disappeared from the Port Mansfield area between Jan. 6 and March 30.
Poachers have used bows and arrows to wound at least three deer so far this year, Castaneda said.
"We found many deer with arrows in them but still alive," he said.
Castaneda said the killing of the 11-point buck marked the first confirmed case in which a deer died at the hands of poachers here since January 2013, when a hunter used a 30.06-caliber rifle to shoot a 12-point buck.
He said the poacher faces a $12,000 state fine in the 2013 case.
Poachers have killed 20 to 30 deer since he began working here nearly 10 years ago, Castaneda said.
Castaneda said authorities have arrested six or seven poachers during that period.
Residents' feeding of deer has made them easy targets for poachers, Castaneda said.
"There are a lot of people who feed deer who need to be more conscious that others are taking advantage of them," he said.
Lavelle, who said he has researched the local deer population, said about 450 deer roam the 7-square-mile area.
Free-roaming deer have become a tourist attraction in Port Mansfield, Port Director Ronald Mills said.
"I've noticed vehicles pulled over with women and children feeding deer corn out of their hands," Mills said.
The Willacy County Navigation District has considered a ban on the feeding of deer to try to stop them from wandering into town.
"About half the community loves the deer and the other half wants them all gone," Mills said.
Some residents here have warned that rutting deer could hurt people.
"There could be deer attacking people or people wrongfully killing deer," Mills said.
He said other residents are concerned deer could carry ticks and fleas into town.