Fenced In

httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0442.jpg
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.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0444.jpg
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?
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0445.jpg
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?
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0446.jpg
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.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0447.jpg
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.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0448.jpg
The deer lay motionless for several seconds.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0450.jpg
Then looked back at me, but whether in terror or gratitude I couldn’t tell.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0452.jpg
Then the deer rose to its feet and fled. The back leg that had been suspended in the fence was obviously broken.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0453.jpg
The hoof dangled uselessly in a sack of skin. The bone between the foot and the leg had snapped in two.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0454.jpg
The deer struggled to run on only three weak legs.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0455.jpg
But the buck didn’t want anything to with either me or that persecuting fence.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0456.jpg
It struggled weakly toward the middle of the grassy pasture.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0457.jpg
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.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0459.jpg
Would the deer die of starvation in that pasture? Would it be taken out by coyotes?
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0460.jpg
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0460_0.jpg
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.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0461.jpg
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.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0462.jpg
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.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0463.jpg
As it got to the middle of the pasture, the deer again turned my way, probably to ensure that I wasn’t chasing it.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0464.jpg
Then it turned and continued its flight away from the road.
httpswww.outdoorlife.comsitesoutdoorlife.comfilesimport2014importImage2010photo30010DSC_0465.jpg
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?