Conservation Wildlife Management

Watch: Alaska State Troopers Pull Blacktail Bucks From Icy Water 4 Miles from Shore

Troopers say the young deer were struggling and wouldn't have survived; critics say deer routinely swim in that area and didn't need rescuing
Katie Hill Avatar
alaska troopers pull two blacktail deer from water
The young Sitka blacktail deer, one button buck and one spike, sat in the boat shivering. Alaska State Troopers

Footage of two Alaska State Troopers hauling a pair of young Sitka blacktail bucks out of the frigid waters of Clarence Strait were posted to AST’s Facebook page Saturday. The two deer—a spike and a button buck, were roughly 4 miles from land when the troopers intercepted them. 

The video opens with the spike buck swimming quickly straight at the idling boat, making no attempts to avoid it. After that, the footage cuts to a shot of the two deer curled on the deck, both clearly shivering as the troopers motor toward the shore.

“He didn’t fight us too hard when we got him on, he swam right to the swim step,” says the off-screen trooper while filming the shaking button buck.

The trooper observes that the spike was doing slightly better than the button buck. Once the troopers made it to the drop-off point, they lifted the deer off the boat and onto the shoreline. If either of these portions of the rescue mission were recorded, the video is cut to omit footage of both hauling the bucks from the water and depositing them on land.

“I’m soaking wet, but we got them off the boat and on shore,” the trooper says. “I think as they move, the blood will start moving again. I had to pick them up and bear hug them to get them onto the beach.”

The two bucks stood there for a minute before violently shaking like dogs to remove as much water from their coats as possible. They eventually disappeared into the woods, reports AST.

Sitka blacktail deer are good swimmers. They routinely cross rivers and straits between the scattered islands of Alexander Archipelago, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. They certainly aren’t the only deer species that does well in the water. The National Deer Association compiled multiple scientist-recorded instances of whitetail deer taking a dip. They ultimately determined that whitetails could swim multiple miles at a time.

Read Next: Watch Australian as Man Punches a Kangaroo in the Face to Save His Dog

“Deer have an enormous set of lungs and what seems like endless stamina,” NDA’s director of conservation Matt Ross writes. He notes that unsubstantiated claims of deer being able to swim 8 to 10 miles at a time might not be that far-fetched. In fact, the NDA even shared photos of a whitetail that allegedly swam 10 miles to a lighthouse off the coast of Maine.

What caused these particular deer to end up in the water in the first place remains unknown, although some commenters on the various social media posts pointed out that bears and wolves often chase prey into the water. Additional commenters criticized the troopers for interfering with what they considered routine behavior. While adult deer are strong swimmers, it’s less clear how far younger deer can swim in conditions like this. Clarence Strait is the strip of open water between Prince of Wales Island to the west and Revillagigedo and Annette islands to the east. Deer in Southeast Alaska number in the hundreds of thousands, according to ADFG.