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May 3, 2010
OL Hunting Editor Andrew McKean was driving in northeastern Wyoming when he spied this young whitetail buck, its leg snared in the top wires of a fence.
The deer had obviously been stuck for some time, based on the dirt kicked up around its front feet and its emaciated condition. I spied the deer out of the corner of my eye, and at first didn't register that it was alive. Then I noticed its head was up. What should I do?
On first blush, it appeared the yearling had only superficial injuries. I could leave the deer alone, and hope it could kick itself free. Or I could let nature take its course. Or I could pull off the road and try to extract the deer from the fence. How many other motorists had driven right by that deer, oblivious to its suffering?
What would you do? On the one hand, fences snare wildlife all the time, and based on the hundreds of whitetails I saw in the Black Hills, the loss of one buck wouldn't change any population dynamics. Still, I couldn't bear the thought of that deer starving in the death grip of that fence. Especially if I could do something about it.
I put down my camera and grabbed the wire. The buck's leg was seriously snared and it took some work to free the deer. As I was working I noticed the buck's leg was lacerated to the bone, and it looked like the femur might be broken. Was I making the right choice by intervening? Or should I mug the deer and slit its throat? Finally clear of the fence, the deer stumbled and fell in the field.
The deer lay motionless for several seconds.
Then looked back at me, but whether in terror or gratitude I couldn't tell.
Then the deer rose to its feet and fled. The back leg that had been suspended in the fence was obviously broken.
The hoof dangled uselessly in a sack of skin. The bone between the foot and the leg had snapped in two.
The deer struggled to run on only three weak legs.
But the buck didn't want anything to with either me or that persecuting fence.
It struggled weakly toward the middle of the grassy pasture.
Every time it tried to put weight on the broken leg, the deer fell over. As I watched it limp away, I wondered if it would have been more humane to shoot it where it hung in the fence.
Would the deer die of starvation in that pasture? Would it be taken out by coyotes?
As a hunter, my remorse at taking an animal's life is profound, but fleeting. But I was tortured as I watched this deer hobble away, helpless to put it out of its misery.
The buck went down, and I contemplated running back to the pickup for my turkey gun. I could probably run it down and shoot it.
There is no healing from an injury this severe. But perhaps the deer could find a place to avoid predators and start to rebuild its health in the greening grass of the spring.
As it got to the middle of the pasture, the deer again turned my way, probably to ensure that I wasn't chasing it.
Then it turned and continued its flight away from the road.
I last saw it hobble over a ridge and out of sight. I can't imagine it lived through the night, but then I recalled seeing three-legged deer at the end of hunting seasons, and hoped that perhaps I had done the right thing by liberating it from that fence. I still don't know. What would you have done?
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