Brad Dokken: Two more crazy antler encounters
Larry Lunski says he kept pretty quiet about his two encounters with entangled bucks this past fall until he read the recent Herald stories about bucks dragging around the heads of rival deer with eaten-away bodies near Walhalla and Pembina, N.D.
For whatever reason, the stories have been almost a weekly occurrence since early February.
"We haven't told a whole lot of people because we just didn't know how people would get affected by that," Lunski, a home improvement contractor from Ardoch, N.D., said of his two encounters.
The first, which took place opening day of North Dakota's deer gun season Friday, Nov. 10, involved two fighting bucks locked together northwest of Grand Forks. The second occurred three weeks later, when Lunski and his wife, Dee, managed to free a buck from the head of a foe whose body was eaten away by coyotes on a friend's land in Towner County northwest of Devils Lake.
Coming across even one such spectacle is a rare experience indeed, but two in as many weeks almost is beyond comprehension.
It all started about three hours into the deer gun opener, when Lunski and longtime hunting buddy Mark Dobmeier and Dobmeier's son, Jaxson, 5, of Grand Forks, set out for a deer stand on a friend's property in hunting unit 2C.
At Lunski's request, we won't get more specific than that.
They were running late, Lunski recalls, and while he only had an archery tag, Dobmeier had drawn a buck tag for the gun season in 2C.
Best known for his outlaw sprint car racing, Dobmeier hasn't always been able to duplicate his racetrack success as a deer hunter, Lunski joked.
"Mark and my wife (Dee) and I, we hunt together almost every year when we can," Lunski said. "We were always trying to get him a decent buck because he just doesn't have the luck when it comes to hunting, I think."
That was about to change.
The hunters hadn't walked even 100 yards from the pickup that afternoon when they noticed two bucks back in the trees that appeared to be fighting.
Dobmeier says he didn't have a clear shot until he got within about 100 yards of the bucks, which were so intent on fighting they didn't seem to notice him.
He shot the biggest buck, and that's when he and Lunski realized it was entangled with the rack of the smaller buck, which managed to drag its adversary about 75 yards into the field, Dobmeier says.
"So we're wondering, 'What are we going to do now?' " Lunski recalls.
Dobmeier says he then called a game warden to see what they should do. Long story short, Lunski used his archery tag to kill the second buck, which he says had four points on one side and "kind of a twig" sticking out on the other side.
The buck Dobmeier shot had an impressive 21-point nontypical rack "with points sticking out all over the place," Lunski said. Both bucks looked to be in good shape and likely hadn't been entangled more than a few hours, Lunski says.
The buck was Dobmeier's biggest to date and his first encounter with fighting bucks, much less bucks with locked up antlers.
"This one was so odd," Dobmeier said. "I hadn't had a deer tag since 2012 for the rifle.
"I've been deer hunting for years and never shot anything over 8 points," he added. "This is the first big buck I've ever shot and it was probably the luckiest break I've ever seen."
They managed to separate the racks in the field before tagging the bucks and hauling them back to Lunski's place. The entire time, Lunski says he was thinking about how great a mount of the two deer heads locked together would look. A taxidermist from Lake Bronson, Minn., now has the deer heads, Lunski says, and the mount should be finished sometime this spring.
Dobmeier will keep the mount, Lunski says.
"I think he's still smiling about that deer," Lunski said. "The thing is, there's so much luck that was involved. If we would have walked a different way to the stand, we would have never seen them, and they probably would have died there in the trees."
But wait, there's more. ...
Good deed done
Three weekends later, Lunski and his wife were hoping to fill her archery tag in Towner County when they noticed a buck with its head down on the property of friends who own the land. Dee got out of the truck and whistled, and the buck tried to lift its head.
"Then we noticed he was hooked on another deer that was obviously dead, and we thought, 'Oh man, this is not good,' " Lunski recalls. "We're thinking, 'What should we do? We've got this live deer hooked up with a dead one.' And we could see through the binoculars that he was totally chewed up to his shoulders.
"All that was left was the head that was hooked to the other buck and then the front legs."
At his wife's urging, Lunski says they decided to walk out and try to free the entangled bucks.
Sometimes, "the Polish comes out in me," he said with a laugh.
"My wife is talking to him like a horse—like 'whoa boy, whoa boy,' you know?—and all I had with me was a hammer," Lunski said. "I didn't have any of my tools with me.
"I thought, I'm not going to go out there and shoot this deer, either, because he's been through enough."
What happened next unfolded in a blur as Lunski pushed and pulled and hammered, and his wife shot video while holding part of the dead deer and occasionally giving orders.
At one point, the struggling buck lunged at Dee, knocking her backwards.
It happened in the "blink of an eye," she said.
"I felt bad for her," Lunski said. "She got some pretty good bruises on her legs from the antlers, but she was OK in the end when we were able to get them loose."
Sensing its freedom, the surviving buck jumped up and ran away, its antlers intact. They left the head of the other buck for Mother Nature to reclaim.
The rescue took 12 minutes, and Dee got all of it on video, including some colorful footage when the buck knocked her down.
Funny in hindsight, perhaps, but it could have been worse.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to get up and walk," she said. "I thought my tibia bone was broken. But other than that, we just kept plugging away and did what we needed to do.
"It was exciting—and fulfilling—to see we could help that animal."
The incidences of bucks dragging around the heads of half-eaten rivals definitely has gotten the attention of wildlife biologists, said Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.
"Having bucks tangled together definitely is not uncommon, but what is more common in that situation is that they obviously both die," Williams said. "So, to see one buck alive and still having the head, just the head of the other buck that's tangled with it, running around on the landscape is odd. I mean, that's not common."
Dee wouldn't fill her archery tag that day, but she arrowed a nice buck later in December, her husband said.
"It was just a crazy hunting season," he said. "A lot of people would never believe what happened if we didn't have proof."