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Entangled bucks put a quick end to plans for quiet afternoon

Randy Schaley was settling in to watch a college football game on TV on Dec. 15 when his son, Beau, 16, walked into the living room of their home near Niagara, N.D.

Two bucks locked together by the antlers
Randy Schaley of Niagara, N.D., came up on quite a sight when he encountered these two bucks locked together by the antlers in mid-December near his farm. Schaley, who had an archery tag, was able to use his bow to kill the buck at left that was still alive. The buck at right was dead and mostly eaten by coyotes. Schaley is getting a full head mount of the bucks with their antlers locked.
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Randy Schaley was settling in to watch a college football game on TV on Dec. 15 when his son, Beau, 16, walked into the living room of their home near Niagara, N.D.

"He said, 'Dad, someone's at the door about a deer,'" Schaley recalls.

He doesn't remember their names, but Schaley, 56, said the two men at the door were coyote hunters from Grand Forks. They told him two bucks were locked together by the antlers in a field about a mile away and they wondered if he had a muzzleloader tag.

North Dakota's muzzleloader season was scheduled to end the next day.

Schaley didn't have a muzzleloader license but remembered he had an archery tag.

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"They said, 'You might be able to get close enough,'" Schaley said.

So began a couple of hours he won't soon forget.

It took a few minutes to round up his archery gear and some warmer clothes for venturing outside, but Schaley and his son soon were in their pickup following the men to the field where they'd seen the bucks.

Schaley said he could see the heads of the entangled bucks, which both were lying down, in the grassy field about 40 yards off the road. He got within about 20 yards when one of the bucks stood up.

That's when he saw the other buck was dead, the back half of its body eaten away by coyotes. Schaley says he also remembers seeing a couple of coyotes run off when he got out of the truck.

"I walked up, and when I got close, all I could see was the red flesh," he said. "And I thought, 'Oh my gosh.'"

In pursuit

The buck that was alive still had enough energy to backpedal away from Schaley. Every time Schaley tried to move closer, the buck would backpedal even farther away.

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"I'm starting to lose ground and started running at him," Schaley said. "He bee-lined backwards into a cattail slough and stopped; now he's in the cattails."

Schaley circled into the cattails to approach the buck broadside and figures he was about 20 yards away when he raised the bow. The buck was frantically thrashing its head, and Schaley missed with the first shot.

He connected with the second arrow.

Before setting out in pursuit of the bucks, Schaley had called Gary Rankin, district game warden for the Game and Fish Department in Larimore, N.D., to see what he should do. He wasn't able to reach Rankin by phone, but the warden by coincidence came driving by just as they were about to pull the bucks out of the cattails.

"He said we had done everything right," Schaley said, and issued a salvage tag to legally possess the second buck.

"It was kind of ironic that Gary just happened to drive by," Schaley said.

The deer were similar in size, and the buck that was still alive had a 4x4 rack while the dead buck had 5x5 antlers. Schaley is having a full-head corner mount made of the entangled bucks -- each head on facing walls -- that will hang in his house.

"They were locked together pretty good," said Jim Benson of Sportsman's Taxidermy Studio in East Grand Forks, where Schaley is having the bucks mounted. "It was a challenge to unlock them."

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The racks will again be locked to complete the mount.

Nature's cruelty

Schaley said the half-eaten buck didn't appear to have been dead more than a day or two because the flesh was only partially frozen. The deer had been completely disemboweled, its chest cavity hollow.

He said it's hard to say whether the buck died from a broken neck in the fight or if the coyotes killed him.

"What was the other deer thinking?" Schaley wonders. "I assume it took more than one or two coyotes to do that."

The buck Schaley shot didn't have any wounds or bite marks, but the coyotes that ran off likely had their eyes on the deer.

"I'm not the first guy to shoot a deer locked together (at the antlers), but I might be the first to have shot a deer that was eaten by a coyote," Schaley said. "I don't want to make it sound like it was shooting fish in a barrel because it wasn't.

"He wasn't going to lay there for me. He backpedaled away from me, and when I started running, he made a 90-degree turn. He knew where the cattails were."

Schaley said the encounter lasted about 2½ hours from the time the men knocked at the door until he was home with the entangled bucks.

"I do give those two guys credit for wanting to find someone with a tag," Schaley said. "I was pretty pumped. I missed the rest of the football game, that's for sure."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Randy Schaley shot one deer with a bow
Gary Rankin, district game warden for the Game and Fish Department in Larimore, N.D., issued a possession tag (right) for Randy Schaley to keep the buck at right, which was dead but still locked at the antlers with the buck at left, which Schaley shot with a bow to fill his archery tag.

Related Topics: FOODHUNTINGWILDLIFE
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1988.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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