He took one shot. And now two deer are free. – Wichita Eagle
Like most members of law enforcement, Lynn Koch dreads the day he has to draw his service weapon. Even if to protect his own life, it can mean death to another person.
But on a cold winter day Koch, a Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks game warden, drew his .45 Glock to save the lives of two animals, and ensure the safety of another game warden and his own.
“I have a lariat in my pickup, but knew there was no way to use it without one of us maybe getting hurt,” Koch said of when he and fellow game warden, Brad Hageman, came across two buck deer with their antlers locked together on Dec. 30. “I talked to Brad and we both decided it was best to use the gun.”
A video of the encounter was posted on the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism game wardens’ Facebook page on Monday. A body camera shows the two deer struggling in the snow in Coffey County. Koch asks, “Should I just try to shoot the antler?” Several seconds later, he says, “All right, boys, hold still. Hold still.”
He eased to within about 20 feet of the two deer, took careful aim and shot where the antlers were tangled and the bucks ran away free.
“It doesn’t always end up like that,” he said, referring to the times when both bucks die from exhaustion or are killed and eaten by coyotes. “Last year I (shot the antlers to free two bucks) but one of the deer was already dead.” He told stories of coyotes eating on a dead buck while a live buck was still dragging it around.
Matt Peek, Wildlife and Parks acting big game program coordinator, described bucks battling until antlers are locked as “…not too common, but we hear about it at least a couple of times a year.”
Battles between rival bucks can sometimes be pretty brutal, with one hitting the other hard enough to shatter its antlers. Every year some Kansas whitetail and mule deer bucks are found dead, from where one was gored by the other.
But Peek said locked antlers aren’t always from brute force. He said it’s often just a little point coming off another, one set of antlers that tightly fits between the others or just one antler point giving just enough, without breaking, for the racks to become tangled.
“A lot of times what’s holding them together is hard to even see, or it seems insignificant until you try to get them apart,” he said. “Sometimes they get locked and I don’t think they’re even battling that hard, they’re just kind of sparring a little and something goes wrong.”
Peek said most locked bucks are found during the peak of the breeding season, which is late October through November, but they’ve been found freshly locked as late as February. The biologist said there’s often breeding at these later times as bucks find a fawn that’s late coming into her first estrous. A mature doe that didn’t get bred in the main breeding season might also come back into estrous.
Koch and Hageman aren’t sure why the two bucks were fighting each other. They just know they were a long ways from being exhausted.
“For one thing, they weren’t locked head to head, they were kind of locked side by side so they could really move,” said Koch. “ We chased them for probably over a mile. They could run faster than we could. We followed them across creeks, through trees and (tall grass) fields. Finally they end up on the ice, and fell long enough for me to make a lucky shot.”