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Lisbon hunter's fatal shot: Was there a deer or not?

Special to the Union Leader

September 24. 2013 9:42PM
WADE HOLMES ...charged in hunting death 

HAVERHILL — The behavior of deer in the wild became a prime topic of debate this week in Grafton County Superior Court, with one Fish and Game officer even demonstrating for a jury the blowing sound a deer makes.

Attorney Leonard Harden said on the opening day of the 2011 New Hampshire deer season his client, Wade S. Holmes of Lisbon, heard a deer “blowing in the woods” before he fired — fatally wounding 31-year-old Kenneth Brunelle of Marlborough, Mass.

Holmes, 48 at the time of the incident, is on trial for negligent homicide and reckless conduct with a deadly weapon.

Holmes has insisted he saw and heard a doe that morning in the Lisbon woods and shot his Winchester 30-06 bolt-action rifle from about 75 feet.

New Hampshire game wardens were on the witness stand Monday and Tuesday for the prosecution. The exchanges between Harden and Fish and Game conservation officer Robert Mancini grew increasingly testy Tuesday.

Harden said Mancini didn’t know whether Holmes had seen a doe that day.

“I know it’s highly unlikely,” Mancini replied.

Harden repeated that Mancini didn’t know what Holmes had seen.

“I can’t say with any degree of certainty,” Mancini acknowledged.

Prosecutor Jack Bell has dismissed Holmes’ account and says there was no doe in that area off Mount Eustis Road. When he was shot, Brunelle — who had not been hunting — was videotaping the members of the hunting party he was with, including his father and brother.

Both Bell and Harden asked Mancini and, the previous day, conservation officer Gregory Jellison, what the “blow” or snort that deer are noted for meant, and how deer were likely to react on hearing a rifle shot.

Jellison said there are several theories on the “blow.” Deer could be expressing stress if they sense danger, alerting other deer to that danger or snorting in order to clear their nostrils and improve their ability to get the scent of that danger, Jellison said.

At Harden’s request, Jellison demonstrated the sound for the jury.

Jellison testified that there had been times when he’d heard a deer blow only once, while others did so several times. As far as reacting to a shot, “They have different reactions,” he said, including running, walking slowly away, or even standing still and looking at the shooter.

Jellison said he couldn’t know what Holmes saw before he fired.

“There’s no test for that, is there?” Harden asked.

“No,” Jellison replied.

On Tuesday, Mancini told Bell, “There are no absolutes in deer behavior.”

“Deer behavior, unless you’re a deer, I don’t know how you could ever nail it on the head,” Mancini said, as Bell completed his questioning.

During a courtroom break, Harden refused to say whether Holmes would take the stand. The trial continues this morning.

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