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Minnesota conservation officer frees entangled bucks, one alive and one dead

Jeremy Woinarowicz, a conservation officer for the Department of Natural Resources in Warren, Minn., used a shotgun with slugs to free these bucks locked by the antlers Dec. 28 in Polk County southeast of Warren. The one buck had been dead for several days, and the other bounded away after Woinarowicz shot. (Minnesota DNR photo)

WARREN, Minn. - It would be safe to say that Jeremy Woinarowicz's workday got off to a more eventful start than most that recent Wednesday morning between Christmas and New Year's.

Conservation officer for the Department of Natural Resources in Warren, Woinarowicz was responding to a call he'd received late the previous afternoon of two bucks locked at the antlers southeast of Warren in Polk County.

It was nearly dark by the time he'd gotten the message Dec. 27, but finding the two deer the next morning didn't take very long. As Woinarowicz approached, he could see the larger buck was dead; had been for quite some time, by the looks of it.

"I definitely would have called the dead one a trophy," he said of the eight-point buck.

For Woinarowicz, freeing the live buck from the dead buck presented a dilemma. There weren't any neighboring officers or other DNR personnel in the vicinity, and large angry bucks generally don't appreciate human intervention.

This deer was no exception.

"The buck still alive was definitely lively, and when I approached, it frantically tried to free itself," Woinarowicz said. "When I got closer, he tried to come at me."

With limited options, Woinarowicz remembered the story he'd heard about another conservation officer who used a handgun to shoot the tines off two bucks locked by their racks.

Woinarowicz decided it was worth a shot.

"I shot multiple tines off each of the bucks with my handgun, but even with the tines flying off, they were not able to break apart," he said.

More firepower was needed so Woinarowicz walked back to his truck for the shotgun he carries while on patrol.

One slug to the dead buck's main beam later and the antlers were free.

"The live buck bounded into the woods," Woinarowicz said. "I'm fairly confident it will survive."

Woinarowicz said he walked within five feet of the bucks, which was as close as he dared to approach, during the rescue. He said he'll remember the living buck's eyes the most.

"He snorted and his eyes were just flared wide open," Woinarowicz said. "I was just there to help him but he didn't know that. He was so angry."

Woinarowicz figures the buck had been dragging its dead opponent for several days. Even so, the living buck had some strength.

"When I pulled up to it, it could still pull the dead buck," Woinarowicz said. "Not at a decent pace. It pulled the buck about 30 yards and then decided it was going to stay and fight."

Woinarowicz said the prospect of the live buck charging after being freed definitely crossed his mind, so watching it bound away was a relief.

He figures the whole encounter probably lasted half an hour.

"Trying to figure out what to do first probably took the longest," he said. "I wanted to get him free as soon as possible."

Woinarowicz, who kept the head of the dead deer, said he hears occasional reports of bucks that become locked at the antlers while jousting for a mate, but this was the first time he'd witnessed the spectacle.

"It happens more often than we would actually think," Woinarowicz said.

One thing's for sure. Start the morning by staring into the eyes of a raging buck, and it's going to be all downhill the rest of the day.