A wildlife sighting seen only a few times a year greeted one Soldiers Grove resident recently.
Rick Hadley was on his way to work last week when he spotted a buck in a field near the former Indian Hollow Nursery just west of Boaz on Highway 171 in Richland County.
“I was watching the deer and I noticed he wasn’t moving,” Hadley said.
As he came closer to the deer, he noticed that it was tangled by the antlers to another, smaller buck, which was lying underneath it.
“It looked like its neck had already been broken, and it was barely alive,” Hadley said of the smaller deer.
After taking the situation in, Hadley placed a call to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Conservation Warden Supervisor Joe Frost was dispatched from Dodgeville to attend to the situation.
“In this case, it was easy to make decision on what to do,” Frost said. “The smaller animal was on the ground. His tongue was out and he was breathing, but he never blinked. It was clear that his neck was broken.”
Frost shot the animal and then took a second shot at the dead deer’s antlers to break the antler-lock.
Now free, the other buck bounded off to the nearby treeline, apparently unharmed.
Several sets of antler-locked deer are found dead in each of the local counties every year, Frost noted. Only on occasion are they found alive, and when that happens, it is often with only one left alive.
“It’s fairly common for one of the pair to die,” Frost said. “They get injured pretty easily.”
Puncture wounds, broken necks, sheer exhaustion, or even drowning if they happen to be near water, are the causes.
“Given these are powerful animals and fairly unpredictable, I don’t recommend people approach too closely,” Frost said. “Some crazy people do, but for my own safety, I wouldn’t risk it.”
Frost stressed that the best response to finding antler-locked deer is to call the DNR. If the animals are still alive, depending on how they are locked, they may be able to save one or both. And if not, you can purchase the reported animal by getting a tag.
“If you leave them, there is a good chance they will both die,” Frost noted. “But I cannot emphasize enough for people not to get too close for their own safety.”
A video of this particular antler-lock response has been posted online on the social media Facebook page for the group Ridge and Valley Pursuits.
Each fall, as testosterone levels rise, white-tailed bucks begin working off aggression by working rubs and building up much needed shoulder and neck muscles As the breeding season (rut) gets underway, those bucks become rivals, sparring to establish hierarchy and dominance.
The sparring usually takes place between bucks of equal size and stature, but sometimes also between a more dominate buck and a younger, smaller buck.
The sparring takes its toll on the male deer. Not only do bucks lose a substantial percentage of their body weight over the course of the breeding season, but buck-to-buck combat can lead to both direct and indirect mortality.
This drive to spar is utilized by human hunters that imitate the sound, as they rattle horns to draw in dominant bucks that come to investigate who could be in their territory.
If you spot white-tail bucks caught in antler-lock, please call the DNR at 888-936-7463.