All photos by Brian Garman
Buck, holding his injured foot
and his assistant Amber Rossi,
bring in tranquilized deer
DFG Biologist David Casady carefully cuts the plastic ring
We were at the site before daylight, We must be settled in before this crippled buck wandered through on his daily rounds. A dark, cold morning for waiting. After setting up the necessary equipment we eagerly headed for the steaming coffee and fresh doughnuts supplied by our hosts and owners of this property, who had called for our help.
Outside once more, we sat quietly and hopefully in the eerie dawn. Then, as the light of day slowly crept over the Annadel Park hills, down through the mist, and barely discernible, filtered the first group of deer. We gazed in awe. Does, cavorting fawns, and a few young bucks headed purposefully toward the grain the homeowner had spread just beyond his fence, hoping this would entice our target buck into the DFG Wildlife Biologist's range, his loaded dart gun rested beside him where he crouched. Heavy brush furnished a perfect cover to camouflage him and his assistant. The deer sampled the grain, then moved across the field.
A second group soon appeared on the hill, but our injured buck was not among them. He must come. We knew this was his one chance to survive. Our host said that the heavy, double black plastic ring, which was wedged tightly over his right front hoof and under the fetlock, now cut deeply into his leg. Pain and swelling caused the buck to hold the leg tucked under. He no longer put weight on the hoof. Before long the infection accumulating under the plastic ring would enter his blood stream and he would die.
For two hours we surveyed each deer that wandered into view. As the sun burned through the mist we became anxious. Each of us silently sent out our own personal plea for the buck to come for the help we could provide. He couldn't know, or understand, that help was waiting.
Suddenly, silently, out of the trees appeared two powerful, lone bucks. Slowly, cautiously, they stepped from the shadows into the sunlight and crossed the field. Then, bringing up the rear, we glimpsed out long-awaited buck! As they ventured down the hillside toward the replenished grain, our wary, limping buck hobbled several yards behind. We dared not breathe. Motionless we watched him approach within range. The, stepping into the early morning shadows, facing us, he lowered his massive head to sample the grain. We willed him to turn, hoping he wouldn't sense us on the still-dark patio, just beyond the fence. DFG Wildlife Biologist David Casady must hit the buck in the rump muscle for the sedation to take effect. He slowly reached for his weapon, measured the distance between them, then took aim, waiting for his one moment, which was all he would get. On cue, the buck turned away, heading back into the sunlight across the meadow. The rifle popped. The biologist's aim was true.
The startled buck leapt, then bolted. Up the hill, through the field he stumbled, quickly disappearing down an embankment, then up the other side and into the woods. Now we must wait until the sedation had time to work before we could begin our search. How far could he run before dropping? The two biologists soon began to move in the direction the buck had vanished. The homeowner and I followed at a distance, fanning out in individual directions in the trees. After what seemed forever, the homeowner jubilantly shouted across the hills that the buck had been found. How fitting it was that he should be the one to spot the buck, since it was he who worked so earnestly to find help for him.
Now the help was here, the buck was down, and the work began. The buck's legs were hobbled and a blinder covered his eyes. Then our strong young biologist picked up this heavy animal and carried him through the trees and down the steep hill to his truck. Elated, and greatly relieved, we drove to the field where the crippling plastic pipe would be removed, the deer would sleep off the sedation and wake in familiar territory.
The biologists cut off the plastic pipe, then removed the buck's two-point antlers and tagged his ear. His antlers would fall off naturally in the fall, but until then, he was legal game for hunters. Hunting season opened soon. This buck would be easy prey as he recovered. My job, as usual, was to clean, flush, and dress the deep wound that circled completely around his leg. Severe infection gave off a powerful, unpleasant odor, but his normal temperature assured us that his infection had not traveled beyond the injury. The wound was cleaned and covered, antibiotics injected, a moistening ointment applied in his eyes, and finally the antler stubs were covered with ointment to prevent infection until they dried.
When the buck began to stir we moved far back to allow him to recover alone. As the sedative wore off the big guy flailed, then managed to struggle to his feet. He swayed unsteadily, stepped out uncertainly, but soon gained his stability and headed for the hills. He limped determinedly across the field, putting a bit of weight on the newly freed hoof, and slowly began to climb. When he reached the trees he lay down to rest in the shade of a giant oak, a safe haven until his strength returned.
Since human negligence put this buck in harm's way, it was our obligation to free him from this life-threatening hazard. Our reward is in knowing he has returned to his wild life. An unforgettable experience. A perfect day.