Jason Miller pushes aside his tie, pulls up the right side of his black shirt and, squinting at the computer screen in the basement of his Lenexa home, starts to scrawl the phone number of a lawyer on his abdomen — just in case.
It's a little after noon on September 25, and Miller is making the final preparations for a stunt he promises will be a "mind blowing" moment in his battle against the Johnson County Park & Recreation District.
Protest placards and campaign handouts cover the chocolate-colored shag carpet. "Disgusting, evil, atrocity, deplorable," says one poster that's smeared with red paint to evoke spattered blood. "Vick went to prison for a lot less," reads a flier with the image of a dead deer, a pistol atop its rib cage.
Earlier this summer, after nearly two years of study, the Johnson County Park & Recreation District finalized a plan to use sharpshooters to reduce the deer population in Shawnee Mission Park by 75 percent. Miller has made it his mission to stop them, starting a blog and an activist group. County officials have refused to meet with him. They haven't changed course in the face of angry letters or peaceful protests.
"They want to play hardball?" Miller says. "I can play hardball."
The 42-year-old has adhered to the conventional activist playbook so far, but today's presentation will be a first. He has revealed his plan only to his girlfriend, Sylvia Riley, and one other confidant. "It's off the fucking chain," he says.
In his garage, a severed deer head, wrapped in two plastic bags, is defrosting. He took delivery yesterday from a venison vendor in Minnesota, he says. Because the butcher would have tossed the head in the trash, she charged him just $40 for shipping.
The exposed flesh isn't new to him. As a kid, his dad took him fishing and hunting. In college, he dissected a pig. "For as long as I can remember, gruesome things don't seem to bother me," he says.
Still, he's taken aback as he opens the bag encasing the deer head. The plastic adheres awkwardly to the softening flesh of its face and the still-oozing neck.
"Oh, Jesus," Miller says, cringing. "I'm not usually squeamish, but this is getting to me." He exhales hard. "She's not smelling too good, either."
After washing his hands — the first of four trips to the sink — he runs upstairs to retrieve a newspaper. Balling up sections of print, he lines the bottom of a wicker basket. "All right, baby," he says, positioning the head in the gray nest, "you did not die in vain."
He has named the deer Victoria.
At 12:50 p.m., he's poised to leave. Deer blood has dripped onto the floor, so he sprays the spattered tiles in his entryway with kitchen cleaner before letting his pit bull, Chico, back into the house. "I'm a little nervous but more eager, actually," he says. "I feel so strongly about this issue: our culture's fetish with killing everything that gets in our way or is a nuisance."
On this cloudless Friday afternoon, he wants to show Johnson County officials the face of death. More important, he wants his opponents and supporters to know that he won't back down.
For 18 years, Vicky Needham lived in a little ranch house in Shawnee. The boisterous mother with a puff of dark hair raised her three kids and got involved in the PTA. But with her children nearly grown, Needham fled the subdivision life in 2003.
She designed her dream home. The house sits atop a wooded hill, just west of Shawnee Mission Park. Gigantic windows show off sweeping vistas of forest and field.