BRAD DOKKEN: Nature can be cruel

ROSEGLEN, N.D.--Jeff and Krista Myers got a firsthand look at nature's occasional cruelty Tuesday afternoon while driving their 4-year-old daughter, Lynde, home from preschool.

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The surviving buck walks away after being freed by a North Dakota Game and Fish Department game warden. (Krista Myers photo)

ROSEGLEN, N.D.-Jeff and Krista Myers got a firsthand look at nature's occasional cruelty Tuesday afternoon while driving their 4-year-old daughter, Lynde, home from preschool.

If she hadn't been along, Jeff Myers says, they might not have stopped for a closer look at the whitetail buck standing with its head down in a farm field a few hundred yards off a gravel road "in the middle of nowhere."

"We stopped and noticed the buck was moving strangely," Myers said. "It had its head down going the one way and would back up the other way."

Thinking that was odd, Myers decided to drive into the field for a closer look. That's when he and his wife saw the buck with 5x5-point antlers was entangled with the rack of a 4x4 whitetail buck that was dead and partially eaten, most likely by coyotes.

One of the hind legs on the dead buck had been devoured to the bone, Myers said.


"They'd been trying to get at the organs, too," he said. "I don't know how the deer that was alive could sit and watch. It had to have been pretty terrifying."

Myers, who farms near Roseglen about 270 miles west of Grand Forks, says he thought he maybe could do something to free the antlers, but when he approached the living buck, it quickly became apparent that wasn't an option.

"As soon as it jumped up, you could tell it was way too active," he said.

Myers then called the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and district game warden Ken Skuza of Riverdale, N.D., responded. Wardens have a vast area to cover, and Myers says it took about an hour for Skuza to reach the site of the encounter in northwest McLean County.

While they waited, Myers drove to their nearby home so Krista, an avid photographer, could get her camera to photograph the encounter. When they returned, the buck and its dead foe hadn't moved more than a few hundred feet, Myers said.

Staying back

Handling large, wild animals with sharp antlers is a dangerous business, and Myers and his wife stayed back more than 200 yards from Skuza's vehicle when the warden drove up to the buck.

Myers said his wife was disappointed they couldn't get closer. Even with a 70 to 200mm lens set at maximum zoom, the bucks appeared fairly distant in the resulting photos.


Skuza eventually shot an antler off the live buck to separate the animals.

In a phone interview Friday, Skuza that was the best option. Wardens see bucks entangled every year, he said, but usually they're not as active as the buck he encountered Tuesday.

"Most of the time, they're deceased," Skuza said. "Sometimes, depending on the condition of the deer, you can get up and saw (the antlers) off, but this one was in really good shape. The options are limited to what you can do."

It turned out well, he said, at least for the live deer. Skuza, who was within inches of the bucks when he shot, said he was surprised the antlers stayed intact during the struggle; bucks usually have shed their antlers by this time of year.

"That's the surprising thing," Skuza said. "The live buck would pick that dead one up and toss it around like it was a doll. You'd think this time of year, the antlers would pop right off, but they didn't."

Myers said the buck appeared to be OK, although a bit wobbly, after surviving the ordeal.

"It was able to run and trot, and it looks like it will be fine," Myers said.

It could have been worse. If the living buck hadn't been standing, Myers says they likely would have missed it.


"That was the other thing-he was standing up when we drove by," Myers said. "We'd have never seen him if he'd been laying down."

As for Skuza, the warden said he broke a middle finger during the encounter

"No big deal," he said. "Just another day."

It happens

Incidents of bucks getting locked together by the antlers are most common in the fall during the rut, when the deer spar for mates. That's likely what happened in December 2012, when Randy Schaley of Niagara, N.D., used his bow to shoot a buck that also had become entangled with a foe that by then was dead and partially eaten.

Schaley had a bow license but wasn't hunting when some coyote hunters stopped by his house one Saturday afternoon and said two bucks were locked by the antlers in a nearby field. After shooting the live buck, Schaley obtained a possession tag from the Game and Fish Department allowing him to have both deer. He eventually had Sportsman's Taxidermy Studio in East Grand Forks mount the two bucks with their heads locked at the antlers.

Why bucks such as the pair near Roseglen would be sparring in March is anyone's guess.

"They're probably just like people-maybe they just had a disagreement," Skuza said. "Who knows? It's late in the year, but you never know how things tumble out."

Myers said their young daughter had "about 35,000" questions about the encounter.

"The deer lucked out our daughter was with," Myers said. "Otherwise, it looked like he just had his head down feeding, and I would have just driven by. It's a rural enough area no one would have noticed him.

"It was his lucky day, I guess."

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 1998.

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, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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