The story I am about to share with you was an extraordinary event in my life. I firmly believe when you are made a witness to something you have the opportunity to walk away or do something. Life is about choices, and I want a clean conscience. I was hiking yesterday with a dear friend and after just about an hour of photographing some carnivorous and very rare plants out at Brooker Creek Headwaters Preserve in Lutz, Florida we came upon a sight that VERY few persons ever see. Sheryl pointed out some white fur in the middle of the trail and I immediately recognized it at the belly fur of a white-tailed deer.
My first thought was coyote, but in that same instant as I looked to my right I saw not 12 feet away a dead deer on the ground. As my gaze lifted I realized there was also a deer standing stark still with its head down to the ground. I thought at first for some reason that this deer was also dead and was leaned up against a tree. I looked over at Sheryl and made a comment on the scene and the standing deer moved. My heart started immediately racing! Their antlers were locked.
This is the worst thing that can happen to male deer. Seldom do the deer live, and one had already died of a broken neck. The ground was tore up all around the area and you could see where they had been fighting. We are nearing the end of the rut in central Florida and last week’s very cold temperatures probably got these fellas looking for does and fighting for breeding opportunities. I was very surprised that the larger of the two bucks was dead on the ground. Both were adult 8-point white-tailed
After assessing the situation and seeing that the surviving deer was in good health and appeared to still have a lot of fight in him we started calling for help. 911 – No good they gave me another number. Swiftmud – no help there either, not even on their emergency number, it was after 5 pm on a Sunday, I do not know what I was thinking, but I was getting angry. I called the FWC, and I was directed to a wildlife rescue place all the way up in Dade City… over an hour away and they were also closed. The sun was not long from setting and I could not just leave them! I slowly approached the buck and grabbed the dead deer by the back hooves, hoping the additional leverage would help the other get free. As I got a closer look there was no way these deer were being separated this way. I kept trying but with no luck. The live deer’s antler was looped up under the jaw of the dead deer and the other antler had been driven into its neck on the other side. My heart was breaking, I knew we had to leave it was near dark and we had a ½ mile walk out of the preserve to the truck. I know there are many coyote out here on this tract of land and I was sure the night would be long and painful for the surviving deer, but we had to leave them. I continued calling additional numbers for help into the evening on the way home and planned to go out at first light. I was able to reach my friend Ellie and she would go with me.
I called the county sheriff and was told they would have an officer in the morning come out with us and to call back when we headed out at daylight. When I called in the morning they said they could not help and the patched me through yet again to the FWC (who was much more helpful this morning than last night),and said they would send out an officer (This was at 6:45 am). I left a map on my truck marking our location. Ellie and I had agreed with or without them we were walking in at 7:15. As we were getting out of our car we saw a very large strong mountain of a man pull in and park his car, around his neck a camera. We introduced ourselves and explained to David what we were trying to do and asked if he would be interested in giving us a hand. Our unexpected guardian angel said yes! He had just started coming out to this area to photograph deer and other critters and had never been on the side of the preserve we were going. David is from England and to be honest his large size and accent were very soothing. I had a very restless night worried for this deer and for an injury I might get trying to help. This animal was over 100 lbs of pure muscle and fighting for its life. It was a blessing to have a sturdy fella by our side!
As the 3 of us approached the site where we had left them last night I first saw the dead dear and my heart sank, almost instantly I noticed the other deer not only still alive but standing strong! It had been a long night for this buck. Over 13 hours he had been there fighting for his life. The coyotes had been in during the night. Much of the hind quarters of the dead deer had been torn away where the coyotes tried to consume it in the night. I was not leaving this deer now till it was free, and there was no changing my mind! The three of us circled the pair just feet from the trail. The entire area was clear as branches and brush were all knocked down from the fight for life the night before. I was able to get a strap on the rear legs of the dead deer and David kept a tight hold. The young buck was still a fighter, and was dragging us all over. At one point he flipped over on his back and we are all so scared this was the end of his fight. His neck was so twisted! We all dropped back and he slowly righted himself. We struggled to get him in the right position to saw off the antlers of the dead deer to free him. It was quite a battle, we were there for over and hour and this deer was strong! Finally he was getting tired and I was able to place my hand on his shoulder, he did not even flinch. I continued speaking to him softly letting him know we were there to help. I sawed halfway through one of the antlers and he jerked and spun around nearly knocking me to the ground and the antler I was sawing broke loose. It was not enough. Again, we went through the process, and again we were unsuccessful. We were making progress; there was space now between the 2 deer heads. He was looser and tasted freedom. His fight intensified! Each time he tired himself I approached, always speaking softly and staying where he could see me. Feeling the strength of this wonderful creature under my hands is something I will never forget. David and Ellie were working hard to get him into a final position where I was able to make one more cut, in a flash he was free! He took three steps away from us, and quickly turned, weak from his fight he walked away down the game trail, never looking back. My heart soared with joy and I thanked Ellie and David over and over. After a couple photos David and I drug the dead deer back off into the woods, away from the trail.
We noticed that most of the bones in his neck, legs, torso and skull had been shattered from where the other buck was fighting and twisting around Cypress knees and trees, these are dangerous animals and should never be approached by anyone not properly trained, experienced or equipped to assist. Nature would take over from here. By morning there will not be much left of this strong old buck and there will be full bellies for coyotes and probably turkey vultures to.
As we walked out the fog had settled in and the morning was beautiful. Ellie and I took David to see the Pink Sundew and Hooded Pitcher Plants as we hiked the trail back to the truck. When we are almost there I received a call from the FWC officer that was going to come out and help (9:30 am). It pleased me to tell him we rescued the deer. I told him that we had drug the carcass back off the trail and he told me to thank those that helped me and ended the call. Our morning had ended on a good note and as David, Ellie and I parted ways we all knew this was a day we would never, ever forget. We took very few photos as all of us had our hands full, but this event will be burned into our memory.
Remember, when you are put in a situation to choose, do the right thing. It may not be the easy thing, but in your heart you will know what is right. I was very blessed that I had Ellie and David there with me this morning and they also chose to do the right thing.