Robin Ficker made his name by heckling NBA players, back when there were such things. Now, Ficker has moved on to shooters of a different sort. The kind with guns.
Early Tuesday, Ficker will be outside the entrance to the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Md., mouthing off to the two dozen or so armed individuals who won invitations, via a lottery, to the three-day deer-killing festival scheduled to begin at dawn. Winners can bag three deer per day. A week later, Ficker will take his act to Seneca Creek State Park, down the road a piece from his farm in Boyds, where a different batch of shotgun-packing lottery winners will take part in another of what Montgomery County officials refer to as “animal management” sessions. Ficker’s shrill taunts once made Larry Bird want to murder him. He hopes the same tactic will stop the gun-toters from murdering deer.
“I’m going to hand out literature about domestic abuse and mental health to these people,” Ficker says. “If you’re attracted to this type of slaughter, you’re not a hunter or a sportsman. You’re a selfish, worthless killer. You’ve got to be crazy.”
Pretty much anybody who knows Ficker would affirm that he knows crazy. He has “issues” the way Coca-Cola has bottles. He really, really wants to be noticed. At Bullets home games, he yelled so much and so loud from behind the visitors’ bench that everybody in the arena had to pay attention to him. He’s run for office and lost so often he’s already after Paul Sarbanes’ seat in the U.S. Senate, though it’s not up for grabs ’til 2000 that it seems as if he just likes seeing his name on the ballot.
Ficker also does whatever it takes including paying people to collect signatures and file lawsuits just to get his wacky fiscal referendums put to a vote in Montgomery County. He then watches as editorial boards at local newspapers, like so many Pavlov’s dogs, tag them “the Ficker amendment” or something similar. Year after year.
Bluntly put, it’s hard not to be sick of Ficker.
But Ficker’s involvement in the campaign to save the deer rings different from all the “Look at me!” pranks he’s pulled over the years. He says he’s got nothing against guns or meat eaters or real outdoorsmen or real hunting. He’s just genuinely appalled that Marylanders, or anybody from anywhere, would actually pay $5 just to enter a lottery in which the only prize is the chance to kill almost-domesticated animals in beautiful, serene places where hunting is allowed only three days a year.
A lot of others are appalled, too. The killings, now in their third year, are allegedly intended to thin out the deer herds, which county officials say caused more than 1,700 auto accidents in 1997 and stole untold flowers and melons from voters’ gardens and yards. In Fairfax County, where deer overpopulation has also been alleged, sharpshooters from the police department’s SWAT team now have the added duty of harvesting female deer at night. But in Maryland, anybody with a hunting license and a shotgun can get in on the killing.
While there are no credible figures showing that the hunts or slaughters or whatever you want to call them have cut the county’s deer population, they have cut the county’s people population by at least two: Anna and David Morgan left the area just to get away from Seneca Creek Park.
That’s where Snowflake is buried.
The Morgans used to live beside the park, which was hailed as a haven for wildlife at its dedication 20 years ago, and during daily walks they grew to know and even befriend the deer there. In 1984, Anna first saw a beautiful young piebald deer stroll by, and she immediately named it Snowflake. After watching Snowflake deliver a fawn on a rainy day, David named the fawn Misty. Snowflake, they say, became the unquestioned leader of the local animal kingdom, and the park’s star attraction.
Then they discovered that the first Seneca Creek Park deer kill was scheduled for 1997. The Morgans protested at public hearings and picketed in front of the homes of state and county game officials even Gov. Glendening got an earful. But once they realized that the killings were going to go on, the Morgans tried to save just Misty and Snowflake. Their efforts to get the pair anesthetized and removed from the park before the shooting failed, but, at the eleventh hour, organizers agreed to tell the lottery winners not to kill Snowflake. Everything else on four hoofs was fair game.
“I’ll never forget being in my house when they started shooting. It was my birthday, and all we could hear all day was ‘boom boom boom,’ like a war was going on,” Anna says, from her new home in Naples, Fla. “I kept thinking about Snowflake, about what she must be going through, and I was just sick in my heart.”
When the smoke cleared, Misty was dead, and more than 130 of Snowflake’s friends and family members at Seneca Creek Park had been killed by lottery winners. Snowflake wasn’t shot, but she was cut up by barbed wire during the slaughter. She died soon after. Park officials, under pressure from locals, buried her in the park. The Morgans used to visit the grave site and even place wreaths there on special occasions, but eventually, the ugliness of what had led to her death obliterated their happy memories. They fled for Florida.
“These deer learned all their lives that this park was a place where they didn’t have to fear people,” David says. “Don’t tell me this is hunting. All you need to hunt deer at Seneca Creek Park is a piece of pipe and an apple. They’ll walk right up to you, and you can just hit ’em in the head.”
Snowflake is the main martyr of the animal-rights crowd that will join Ficker in the pickets at the Agricultural History Farm Park and at Seneca Creek Park. They want the politicians to come up with animal-control methods other than harvesting in the parks. A less bloody, more effective solution to the deer problem might be found in a new type of roadside reflector specifically designed to keep deer off the highway when cars approach, says Mike Markarian, campaign director for the Fund For Animals, an anti-hunting group based in Silver Spring. And deer repellents already on the market can stop animals from munching on voters’ gardens and front lawns. But Montgomery County officials, he says, refuse to promote the new technologies, fearing they might get in the way of a good killing opportunity.
“Wildlife agencies have a pro-hunting bias,” Markarian says. “The salaries and funding all are paid for with hunting fees, which is why they don’t ever do anything for bird watchers or hikers or campers or wildlife photographers. To them, wildlife management just means promoting hunting. The problem that these people want to fix isn’t an overpopulation of deer, it’s an underpopulation of people buying hunting licenses. That’s why we have tragedies like what’s going on at Seneca Creek Park. Yes, we’re against all hunting, but this really isn’t hunting. Something is wrong when deer who are so friendly that kids feed them and know their names are being slaughtered.”
Ficker, briefly reverting to his old megalomaniacal self, recently offered to convert his farm into a refuge for the four-legged denizens of Seneca Creek Park. The animal-rights activists told their new compadre not to bother, however. Maybe it was because his 27-acre spread is far too small. Or maybe they couldn’t decide if subjecting the deer to a life with Ficker was really any less cruel than the fate the lottery winners were offering.—Dave McKenna