It is a scene that happens every winter in the snow covered hills of Western Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. Free roaming dogs, traveling singly or in packs, catch the scent of a nearby deer.
There is a crust on the snow and the dogs can run quickly across it without falling through. The deer cannot. In a very short time, the dog have hunted down the deer and slaughtered it.
This year, say game officials in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, deer have been slaughtered in unprecedented numbers primarily because of the heavy snowfall and the severity of the winter.
"I've been here nine years and I've never seen anything like this," said Robert Miller, forest wildlife program manager for the Maryland Wildlife Administration.
In a one week tour of the rural areas of Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties, Miller said, he found carcases of 100 deer, all slaughtered by dogs.
There are probably twice that number that he didn't find, Miller said.
"The disgusting thing about it is that they're not doing it for the food," Miller said. "They kill a deer, eat a little off the hind quarter and then go on and kill another deer. It's a matter of killing for the sake of killing."
"This has probably been one of our, worst winters for losing deer to dogs in year," said Dale Sheffer, chief of the Division of Game Management for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "We've had some counties where we know there are as many as 150 dead deer."
'If they (dogs) get on a deer's trail, the deer will eventually get exhausted and the dogs get it. They range from big German shepherds to little Beagles. A Beagle can kill a deer by following it untill it gets tired and then going for the hamstring."
Most of the dogs responsible for the deer slaughter are domestic pets whose owners permit them to run free during the day at night, official say.
But some of the slaughter may have been inflicted by "coydogs" - an animals that is part coyote and part dog - according to Michael Fox, director of the Institute for the Study of Animal Problems for the Humans Society of the United States.
Such animals have been found as far east as Louisiana and Georgia, Fox said, and "they could be in this area. I would suspect that some of the predation could have been due to these animals."
Many of the dog predators, Fox said, "are abandoned pets that can breed in the wild. Temporary packs will form around a bitch in heat.
"This dog predation is very serious. There are significant wildlife impacts. There is an ecological responsibility in owning a dog. If you let it run free, it is going to kill something."
In West Virginia, according to Capt. Harry Shaver of the Law Enforcement Division off the Department of Natural Resources, conservation officers are authorized to kill dogs chasing deer if they are unable to catch them or locate the owner.
But in fact that option is rarely exercised "because dog owners tend to get emotional about it if you shoot their dog," Shaver said.
He estimated that between 250 and 300 dog-slaughtered deer have been found in West Virginia this winter. "We've had two hard winters in a row, so the deer's strength is low."
In the current issue of Wonderful West Virginia, the Department of Natural Resources' magazine, an article on the problem of deer-slaughtering dogs urge dog owners to exercise greater control over their animals.
In Virginia, "there are a number of deer that are killed by dogs every year," said Jim McInteer, assistant director of the Commission on Game and Inland Fisheries.
"It's been a problem every year, but I don't think we had any abnormal problems in Virginia this year."