Game warden faces slippery surface to rescue deer
by Rolf Parker
Jan 19, 2017 | 4720 views | 0 0 comments | 125 125 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Watkin carefully slid the buck to safety with a two-by-four.
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WILMINGTON- On Saturday, game warden Richard Watkin received two calls from anglers who saw a deer struggling on the ice on Lake Harriman, northwest of Maynard’s Cove, and he set out to help it. “I was called Saturday morning twice, by different ice anglers who were concerned about this deer. He was struggling to get up. I suspected the deer was likely injured, as every year coyotes chase deer onto the ice and tear them apart.”

However, when he made it out across the slippery ice to the deer, he got a pleasant surprise. “I determined it was seemingly not injured, rather it simply could not gain traction on the ice and therefore was unable to get up. I have no idea how it made he out to the middle. I think the most likely outcome would have been the coyotes would have got to him. If that did not occur then I suspect it would have frozen to death.”

Watkin said the deer weighed approximately 130 pounds and could not be safely carried to shore, so he had to devise another way to rescue the animal. “It’s a game warden’s responsibility in general to try and help wild animals that are suffering, but only in a manner that does not compromise the safety of the warden. Deer are capable of causing serious injury with their hooves and going hands-on was not an appealing option. The deer was unable to get to its feet because of the ice, but it had full function of all its limbs. I needed something that could create distance between me and the deer to avoid personal injury.”

Watkin searched for a suitable tool. “The item needed to be sturdy enough to facilitate moving an animal weighing over 100 pounds (on slippery ice). There wasn’t much to pick from the driftwood and debris around the lake edge and a length of two-by-four was about all I could find. I spent the next 45 minutes or so sliding the buck toward the nearest shore a few hundred yards away.”

Watkin said the deer didn’t help make the rescue operation easy. He said he used his knowledge of the deer’s anatomy to avoid pushing on parts of the animal that could do harm, but the deer was understandably resistant to help. “He fought me all the way. He kicked out and tried to attack the two-by-four with its head, like he still had antlers, oblivious that I was attempting to help him. Animals don’t necessarily understand we are trying to help them and can react out of fear, which in turn (can) exacerbate a situation.”

Watkin said the buck looked tired from the ordeal, and managed to get himself in worse straits before things got better. “He was panting so I backed off for several minutes. Harriman is the worst lake as the ice drops with the lowering of the water which creates steep embankments of ice that lead right to these frozen edges and their associated fissures. When I returned to try and get him onto the embankment, he got a rear leg trapped in an ice crevice, which I had to then break open to release his leg. Once released I went back to the task of getting the buck on his feet.”

However, after the deer finally got up, instead of an easy end to the story, it was the start of a standoff. “I was hoping he would simply take off. I tried clapping, yelling, etc., but he wouldn’t go, so I walked away and just watched.” Watkin said his backing away seemed to do the trick. “ After about half an hour he meandered along the lake edge before heading up into the woods.”

Watkin said that Harriman is only one of several local waterways that pose challenges to deer, and that he has had to remove dead deer from them in the past. “Deer go through the ice on occasion. I have pulled a couple of dead deer out of local water bodies after ice-out that likely went through thin ice. Several years ago two dogs chased a deer out onto the ice where the Deerfield River flows into Sherman Reservoir. The deer and one of the dogs perished.”

Watkin said that people should be cautious about trying to rescue wild animals from the ice. “Best intentions can end disastrously. If in doubt, call for assistance.”

Watkin can be reached at (802) 257-7101.

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