Updated throughout, including video and photos: Entangled Kittson County bucks rescued to fight another day
The incident occurred the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 23, when Kittson County deputies Alex Rudnik and Dave Thompson spotted what at first glance looked like two bucks standing side by side eating in a field near Hallock, Minn.
KITTSON COUNTY, Minn. – What could have been a disaster last week for two sparring bucks locked together by the antlers had a happy ending, thanks to some precision shooting by a Kittson County sheriff’s deputy.
Sheriff-elect Matt Vig, who used a rifle to free the bucks, deserves much of the credit for the favorable outcome, said Jeremy Woinarowicz, conservation officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Thief River Falls.
“I want to give him some kudos,” Woinarowicz said. “He made a nice shot.” Vig, along with deputies Alex Rudnik and Dave Thompson, did a “good portion of the work,” Woinarowicz says.
The incident occurred the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 23, when Rudnik and Thompson were on patrol east of Hallock, Minn., and spotted what at first glance looked like two bucks standing side by side eating, Vig said.
Initially, the deputies thought the bucks were simply fighting, Vig said. Turning their vehicle around for a closer look, they could see the bucks were stuck together.
“They drive out there, and the bucks are running away now still stuck together,” Vig said.
Woinarowicz and Vig arrived to help out a short time later. Both of the deer were nice bucks, Vig says. One was a 10-point buck with a rack measuring 130 to 140 inches, he says, while the smaller buck was probably in the 120- to 125-inch range.
“It must have been fairly recent because they were actually still pretty spry and agile,” Woinarowicz said. “At the beginning, we couldn’t get within 75 yards. Their heads were locked together, but they were running almost like a team of horses, parallel to each other, as they were running away from us.”
With the rescuers in hot pursuit, the bucks ran across two different properties before ending up in a large cattail swamp on a third property, Woinarowicz says, all within the same 1 mile-by-1 mile section of land.
“The deer were resting,” he said. “We could probably get within 20 yards of them before they would run and move again.”
Eventually, Vig was able to get within about 20 yards of the bucks for a shot with his M-14 .308 rifle. A video of the encounter is posted in this story on the Grand Forks Herald's website.
"A tine flies up in the air and the bucks take off still stuck together," Vig said. "They crashed through the cattails for probably about 100 yards. When I shot, they took off so fast and violently, they went 100 yards in about 5 seconds."
Vig says he and Rudnik followed the bucks' tracks through the cattail slough and came upon the deer again about 15 yards away. So began a 25- to 30-minute standoff "just kind of waiting" and hoping for a good shot, but Vig says he couldn't shoot because too much of the bucks' bodies was visible.
"Alex is throwing little chunks, just trying to get their attention so they move a little bit and finally we get another shot," Vig said. "I shoot and I blast a hole through the main beam of the one, trying to hit where they're connected. You could see just a perfect hole right in the main beam of the buck, but it didn't bust it; it just plowed a hole through it."
For nonhunters, the main beam is the central stem of the antler. The bucks ran again, but this time not as far, Vig says.
"We walked right with them and then when they stopped, the one was maybe 5 yards away," he said. "One is upside down and the other one is on its feet but its head is all twisted up, and that's just the way they landed."
Eventally, Vig was able to get another shot, this one freeing the antlers, and the bucks jumped up and ran their separate ways, about 150 yards from where they'd initially entered the slough.
"I told (Rudnik), this was quite the deal," Vig said. "It was just as intense as an actual hunt. It was great that the guys even saw the deer and ended up where we got these deer released. It was pretty cool – just rewarding."
Given how feisty the bucks were, there was no other way to free them, Woinarowicz says.
“They wouldn’t let us get close enough to even try to hog-tie them or rope them or anything like that,” Woinarowicz said. “And if they’re flailing and kicking and stuff like that, it just wasn’t safe for us to go try to wrestle them down. So this was our best option in order to basically save their lives. Otherwise, they’re just going to have a long, agonizing death.”
The whole encounter lasted maybe 2½ hours, Woinarowicz said. They used their trucks as a vantage point to keep tabs on the deer in the tall grass until the bucks ran into the cattail slough, at which point they followed on foot, he said. Vig was able to get the piece of antler broken off during the rescue to keep as a souvenir.
“It was laying right where they were at, so he got to keep that portion,” Woinarowicz said. “That was kind of cool.”
Vig says the encounter was definitely a first in his law enforcement career. As a longtime DNR conservation officer, Woinarowicz says this was only the fourth time he’s come across bucks locked together.
Not all of them ended as favorably as this one.
“They’re very nice deer, and now they live to fight another day,” he said.