Beloved deer on Daufuskie goes missing. People on social media point fingers at hunters

A beloved deer on Daufuskie Island is missing, leading to lots of heartbreak and a social media frenzy. What exactly happened remains unknown, but many are pointing fingers toward a recent deer hunt as the reason for her disappearance. The hunt’s organizer denies any of the hunters in his group were responsible.

The deer, named Turbo, was loved by island residents and visitors. Locals shared that she’d approach people looking for ice cream or french fries. She would wait by the ferry for her caretaker to return from the grocery store.

More recently she had a fawn, Tupelo, and the two were rarely seen apart.

Turbo was last seen the night of Dec. 15, the day before a yearly deer hunt on Daufuskie. And Tupelo, was found the next day with broken ribs and later died due to gangrene.

In the wake of Turbo’s disappearance, the Daufuskie Island Facebook page was flooded with comments.

“This is a heartwrenching tragedy. Turbo was one in million, a blessing, and memories of her are priceless treasures that will forever be in ours hearts,” said Katie Adams who lives on Daufuskie.

“I’ve said from day one that this drive hunt is horrible,” said Matt Clark of Bluffton. “I am an avid hunter and have done my fair share of hunting on the island...Daufuskie is not the place for dog hunts.”

Hunt master: Hunters were not involved

The hunt master, Roger Pinckney, denied that his hunt, that included 15 hunters and 15 dogs, had anything to do with Turbo disappearing. Before the hunt he instructs all the hunters not the shoot at collared deer; Turbo wore a bright pink one.

Dogs are used in the hunt to track the deer, not to attack them. Each dog has a collar that can be tracked through a tablet. Hunters sit in elevated stands and wait for deer to come into their line of sight. This year, 22 deer were harvested.

“None of my hunters ever shot a collared deer,” he said. “And I went back and checked. We had pictures of the deer harvest. To begin with, there were only three does, and none of them had a collar and none of them had any mark [from a collar].”

Pinckney thinks it’s more likely that the pair of deer were hit by a vehicle. There aren’t many cars on Daufuskie, but golf carts can reach up to 35 mph, he said.

“We don’t have gorillas running around in the woods here, so obviously that fawn was hit by a vehicle,” he said. “And I suspect since the doe and fawn are close together when they run, I suspect that Turbo was also struck and didn’t survive.”

In previous years, Melissa Davis, a wildlife rehabilitator who took care of Turbo, said Pinckney would let her know about the hunt in advance so that she could keep Turbo inside a fence for the day. But this year, Pinckney didn’t do so.

Pinckney says he has let her know in the past, but it was never something he did explicitly.

“I never made an effort to reach out to her ever, but I would see her occasionally to say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna turn it loose next week,’” he said. “It was an oversight, but I mean I never went out of my way to do it.”

Davis is confident that something bad happened to the deer because she wouldn’t have left her fawn and would have turned up by now looking for her morning cereal.

Davis fed and cared for Turbo for six years and said she was different from other any of the deer she’s cared for.

“Every other one I’ve raised gets a fear of humans after you turn them loose, but not her. She was a character,” Davis said. “She’d go right on up to people. She’d go up to dogs and play with them. She was different.”

The hunt elicits strong reactions

It’s not just Turbo’s disappearance that has Island upset about the hunt.

“The local people have never liked this hunt,” said Deborah Smith, with the Daufuksie Island Partnership for Animals. “Ever since I came [to Daufuskie] full time, this dog deer hunt has taken place and not much has really changed.”

Some of the complaints levied against the hunt are the way the deer carcasses are disposed of, the use of dogs being unethical or inhumane and dogs running off the property lines, Smith said.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources weighed in on the matter to say that the hunt Pinckney organized was by the book.

“This was a legal hunt on private land that’s traditionally been an annual event,” said Stephen Fastenau, spokesperson for DNR. “Organized hunts on private land don’t require any sort of separate approvals or permits. There are currently no restrictions on hunting with dogs on private land, except for the existing rules and regulations related to hunting and game seasons. “Hunters don’t report to us how they dispose of a carcass, and a hunt organizer isn’t required to register with us.”

However one person was ticketed for improper tag use. The violation came from one of the hunters carrying tags for him and his wife and accidentally using his wife’s tags instead of his own, Pinckney explained.

“The fact that this was legal hunt shows that the South Carolina law governing dog deer hunts is way too weak,” Smith said. “The fact that the law allows it says to me that the law needs to be changed.”