A Deer So Dear
Author: Ellen Casey
Hunting season had just closed, and peace and quiet had settled into the camps. It was a time to start cleaning up and putting away. I was enjoying not answering the phone, nor waiting expectantly for someone to walk through the lodge door with a need or a question.
I gave a quick scan to the far edge of the pond out the front lodge windows, as I do most times when passing through. It was real easy to spot any new changes out there, because the last few days the lake had frozen all the way across, and it had been raining since the day before. A light mist was falling, giving everything across the lake a fuzzy outline. The surface of the lake was smooth as glass, and had a thin layer of water on top. I noticed some slight movement on the edge of the lake to the far right. I dismissed it as a couple of crows, which upon finding a small delicacy, were fighting for footage on the slippery surface. I went about my business, not giving it a second thought.
Later on that day, as I gave the edge of the lake another cursory check, I again noticed small movement in exactly the same spot. This gave me pause to consider--it would be very unlikely for something alive to still be in the same spot hours later. I thought it so odd that I went and retrieved a set of binoculars for a closer inspection. Something odd was definitely moving out there, but I couldn\'t clearly make out what it was, even with the binoculars. I would have to walk out to the ledge point to get a closer look.
Once out on the point, as I fine-tuned the binoculars, I could finally make out the form of a deer that had obviously fallen down and couldnít get back up. The movement I had detected, but interpreted wrong, was the flailing of the deerís legs as it tried to regain its footing. Now I had something to worry about!
Being relatively new to the ways of the deep woods, I decided to place a call to the game warden. I didnít know if there was something the warden service could tell me to do, or something they could do. Much to my disappointment, I was told that nature would take its course, and the coyotes would probably take care of the situation. This did not sit well with me, because I knew I couldnít keep looking out the window at a creature in distress. My husband and I began to formulate a plan.
We knew that the ice was probably not strong enough to support our weight if we walked on the ice, so we began to analyze our boat options. We figured if we got into one of our 14-foot aluminum boats, we would be able to pole our way across the ice to the deer. Our next step was to get together everything we would need in order to rescue the deer once we approached him.
We had not a clue as to what we were doing, but we knew we had to make the attempt. I ran to the shed while my husband went to get the boat ready. I pulled out a length of rope (for dragging purposes if necessary), a pail full of oats that I dug out of a bin, (I figured he would be hungry and would eat it if necessary), and an old pair of leather gloves. I then took a shovel and bucket and scooped up some loose gravel from the parking lot. I figured I could throw some around his body and it would provide traction if he decided he wanted to get up as we approached close to him. I brought these things down to the edge of the dock, and then went back to dress warmly for our adventure.
After locating and donning my warmest wet weather clothes, I met my husband back at the dock and we picked out one of the 14-foot boats, dragged it down to the shore and began to load our gear. We picked out two metal oars and also a long wooden pole to use as our boat \"propellant\". We wiggled the boat out onto the ice, got in, and tried to move the boat with the poles. After huffing and puffing with the pole and oars for about 5 minutes and only gaining a foot or two, we realized that because of the keel and the shape of the boat, we had not made a good choice. We only had one other possibility-the 12 foot johnboat. For those unfamiliar with naval terms, a johnboat is a flat-bottomed, square-ended boat, which for this purpose, would probably be a much better choice for sliding over the ice surface. We hauled that down to the shore, transferred gear, and once again headed for the deer.
This time the boat slid smoothly across the ice when we worked the poling action simultaneously. It wasn\'t a fast method of travel by any means, but slowly and surely, our target spot on the horizon grew gradually larger. As we approached the deer, (a button buck) who was approximately 75 yards from the shoreline, it appeared to be lying still hoping not to be noticed by us. As we got about 20 feet from him, I thought he would panic enough to get to his feet, but he didnít. He made a few valiant attempts to rise to get away from us, but to no avail. The deer could not even get its legs under itself to get any traction. I tossed gravel around him but soon saw that my gravel idea was not going to work. We had to come up with another plan.
We knew we had to get the deer to shore if he was ever going to have a chance of standing on his feet. How could we do that? We were too far from shore and we couldnít take the chance of getting out of the boat and falling through the thin ice. After consulting with each other, we decided our next plan of attack would be to approach him in the boat from the side, and gently push him to shore with the oars. We maneuvered the boat close as we could to the deer. The deerís eyes were following our every move and we could see the panic registered in them. I put the blade of the oar against the deerís ribcage and using the side of the boat as a fulcrum, I shoved in the direction of the shore. To my relief, the deer slid across the ice with a slow spin. It was going to work!! We followed this procedure for the next 75 yards, and tried not to imagine what the deer was thinking at this point. We knew it was for his own good, whether he knew it or not.
Our next problem was to figure out how far up on shore we would have to leave him. As soon as the marsh grass joined the ice covered lake, the deer would slide no more. We got out of the boat onto the tufts of snow-covered grass. Taking a few minutes to catch our breath, we talked quietly so as not to heighten the deerís panic. Iím sure I directed a little baby-talk to the deer also, as I canít help myself. Where the deer was situated, it still would not be able to gain footageóit would need to be farther up on shore to do that. At this point, the deer was not making any attempt to escape. It was just lying there with watchful, scared eyes.
Without even thinking about it, I walked around the back of the deer, stooped down, and grabbing him around his belly, hauled him about five feet further up onto the marsh grass. Even when I put him down, he made no attempt to escape. He did, however, let loose with a few long bleats to let me know he was not happy. I picked him up and tried to get him to stand, but he was too weak. We stood there looking down at him, wondering about his chances of survival. We even discussed bringing him back to camp, but knew that was a physical impossibility, as well as very impractical. The best we could do was walk away and hope for the best, which is what we did after leaving a pile of oats under his chin. We went to bed that night knowing we had tried our best.
Upon waking the next morning, our first thought was to see if there was any evidence of the deer being still at the side of the lake, We both grabbed a pair of binoculars and started scanning the far shore. The clouds and mist were gone, and the sun was streaming down brightly off the water, sending sparkles of bright lights dancing across the surface. We focused in on the spot where we hoped he would be, but saw nothing to indicate his presence on the shore. Maybe if we had time later on that day we decided we would make another trip across the lake and check it out. We went about our daily routine, every once in a while checking the shoreline.
Around two oíclock that afternoon, we decided to make the pilgrimage across the lake. We hopped into the same boat and proceeded to try to pole our way across, but much to our dismay, the boat would not stay on the ice anymore. It had warmed up overnight, thinning the ice out so that it would no longer support us. The only way we would be able to get across to the shore now was if we were aboard an icebreaker! We had to give up the idea of checking on the deer until the ice got thicker or melted away.
It took the ice two days to freeze back up, and we once again made the attempt to cross the lake. We figured by this point, the deer would either have healed and departed, or we would find evidence on the shore that he had become an easy target for predator(s). Poling across the lake this time seemed a lot longer and harder, not having the adrenaline working for us. As we approached the spot, we could see no deer and we knew right away we would have to get out and examine the signs and tracks left behind in the snow in order to know what happened. I was dreading this moment, because the snow did not look undisturbed as we neared.
Sure enough, the snow told its tale. Having probably torn ligaments and tendons when he fell on the ice, the young buck was unable to get up, and certainly incapable of running away from danger. The deer had met its fate by the small pack of coyotes that work the area. They had dragged him off into the brush and denser cover at the edge of the lake. He had become a part of the cycle of life up here in the Great North Woods.
We were deeply saddened by our discovery, but after thinking it over rationally, we came to the realization that life is tough out in the woods, and one animal must die to keep other animals alive and we had better get used to it. There would be many times when we would want to intervene and change the outcome of a scenario between animals, and sometimes we would be successful, but more oftentimes not. Hard as it was, we had just had our first lesson in Balance of Nature, Part 1.
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Did You Know?
Mothers with young calves are very protective of their young and will attack if humans come too close. Charges by a Moose may only be "bluffs", warning you to get back, however take this seriously. When a moose does charge, it often kicks forward with its front hooves.
Did You Know?
Cows (the female moose) commonly give birth to twins or even triplets, usually in May-June. Offspring are completely weaned from Mom in about 5 months but will stay with her for a year.