Rusty Snyder, owner of Double Diamond Deer Ranch, conveys a warm, friendly, down-to-earth vibe to those around her. Maybe that’s the result of her caretaker nature. Rusty cares for over 20 whitetail deer-- Odocoileus virginianus-- the gentlest of the large ruminant mammals on Planet Earth.
Located just a few minutes South of Cook Forest State Park, her Ranch entertains thousands of visitors every year who observe deer raised to be friendly to people, not fearful of them. We caught up with Rusty one afternoon, and after our chat we can easily see why her Ranch truly is the must-see live-animal attraction in Western Pennsylvania.
Q: Running a ranch devoted to deer is a little different. How did you get started, and why did you focus on deer specifically?
A: It’s amazing to think we began in the 1980s—nearly 20 years ago, and still going strong. I’m originally from Clearfield County, and as a child, my family did some camping in Cook Forest. So when my husband and I had an opportunity to care for some white tail deer, we really took it to heart. We had been renting a farm. But in 1989, the idea grew on us to buy a 24 acre farm on which to raise three bucks. We cleared two acres for the deer. Today, the Ranch has 22 deer: 13 bucks, seven does, and two fawns. These deer are raised strictly for visitors; they are not used as hunting stock.
Q: Cook Forest would seem to be a wonderful environment for a deer ranch. Does it help what you do, to be located here?
A: Well, it’s an ideal setting. In the summer, a lot of families come to enjoy the outdoors. So we see customers from eastern Ohio, Cleveland and Youngstown, from the north, Erie and Buffalo, and from western Pennsylvania. Moms and children hear about the Ranch and come to pet and feed the deer. After a fawn has been with its mother for two weeks, then we bottle feed it and let children help. Treat time is a 6:00 p.m. Visitors can get a stamp to feed the deer any day of the week until the bucks shed the velvet off their antlers. All our deer are very gentle during summertime.
Q: How about during fall and winter?
A: Well as summer winds down, men start visiting the Ranch in greater numbers. Many of these are guys planning to hunt in Cook Forest and surrounding areas.
By early September, the antlers are finished growing, and the velvet is rubbed off. Then the rut, the urge to mate, gets real strong. Hunters visit the ranch to see how bucks behave. They want to see what they are up against. We don’t allow petting during these months. Deer have a different attitude in mating season during the cold months. But that means there’s always something to see at the Ranch year around. Knowing that, many families in the Pittsburgh area buy a season pass.