Locked bucks saved from watery peril

Richfield, Wis. – A group of Washington County DNR employees
saved two trophy bucks from a watery death on Friday, Nov. 16, the
day before the gun deer season began.

DNR Conservation Warden Bob Lee received a call at 8 a.m. on
Nov. 16 from a resident who found two big bucks with locked antlers
leaning against an old truck. The caller asked if he could shoot
the bucks, but the Friday before gun deer season is one of the few
days during the fall that no deer can be legally shot with either a
gun or bow.

Lee called the Pike Lake DNR office and consulted with wildlife
biologist Tom Isaac. Isaac said shooting the locked bucks with a
drugged dart was rejected because after an animal is drugged, the
meat is unfit for human consumption for at least several days.
Because the gun deer season was set to open the next day, they
could not take a chance that one or both of the bucks might be
harvested by a hunter in the near future.

Killing the bucks or just leaving them locked together was
rejected, and a decision was made to attempt to shoot the antlers
apart with a shotgun. Lee and Isaac knew this tactic had worked in
similar situations, so they decided to give it a try.

When Lee arrived at Amy Belle Lane in the town of Richfield, he
found a large 8-pointer and an even larger 12-point buck locked
together – and still fighting and sliding down a slope.

The bucks slid down the hill and ended up in a pond that was
neck-deep on the bucks. The larger buck was dunking the 8-pointer
under the water. Lee knew he had little time to save the smaller
buck from drowning. He also knew if the 8-pointer died, its weight
would pull the 12-point buck under water to the same deadly
fate.

Lee loaded his 12-gauge shotgun with slugs. The area around and
beyond the pond was clear, so Lee took aim at the base of the
8-pointer’s antlers. His shot freed the bucks.

“The 12-pointer got out of the pond, stood around for about 15
minutes, and then lay down,” Lee said. “Then he took off.”

The smaller buck was still in the pond alive and breathing well,
but Lee figured it eventually would die there if he couldn’t get it
out of the water. Lee found a nylon rope and lassoed the buck
around its remaining antler. He then proceeded to drag the
200-pound-plus deer out of the water.

“Now I stand there looking at half of an 8-pointer looking at me
with a rope around its antler,” Lee said. “It’s one of those things
were you solve a problem and then you have another problem. I tried
cutting the rope as short as possible, and I got it cut to around
six feet.”

The buck was tired, but it would not let Lee get close enough to
fully remove the rope.

At that time, Isaac arrived with wildlife technicians Bob
Zinkgraf and Julie Peterson. Isaac asked several neighbors who had
gathered at the scene if anyone had a long pole with a hook on the
end. One lady went home and retrieved a pole with a hook that might
be used to hang curtains or clean a gutter.

Isaac tried to use the pole to hook the rope, but every time the
hook got close to the antler, the buck would back off. Eventually,
Isaac, moving slowly, got the noose loose, but a knot in the rope
got caught in a half moon-shaped hole in the antler caused by the
slug that shot off the other antler. Isaac tugged on the rope and
the buck tugged back. Finally the rope slipped free and the group
backed off to give the buck space.

The buck began walking around, then it stopped to rest. It
appeared to be regaining its strength, but the DNR employees had
other tasks to complete, so they had to leave before the buck ran
off. Isaac said he wasn’t sure of the buck’s ultimate fate, but he
didn’t get any reports of a hunter shooting a half-rack buck with a
slug hole in the antler.

Isaac said based on the two bucks’ body and antler sizes, they
probably were 3 or 4 years old. There’s no shortage of deer in
Washington County, but Isaac believed it was worth the effort to
save them.

“These were two nice bucks and we thought if we could get them
apart they would still be out there and potentially someone could
legally hunt them,” Isaac said. “Other than being tired, they were
probably still healthy. Sometimes when deer get really stressed
like that, they die later on when they get restressed. But it’s
hard to say if that will happen or not. You know deer get stressed
all the time from one thing or another.”

Isaac said this is the fourth case of bucks with locked antlers
he’s heard of this year.

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