A male roams free again in the woods of Berks County after a state game warden fires a lifesaving shot to free the animal.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Director Ryan Zawada received a call March 6 that a buck had been caught in a net on private property in Earl Township. He said he assumed it was wrapped around the deer’s neck as bucks normally shed their antlers at this time of year.
However, he soon discovered that the young buck had one of his antlers caught in a nylon net supported by steel cables that were used for an old cellar. “Although it is quite rare, it is not uncommon” for a deer to still have its antlers in early March.
While trying to escape, the deer had wrapped around the net several times and its front legs barely touched the ground.
Zawada feared that tranquilizing the deer would do more harm because the deer would be suspended in the air while it attempted to cut the net and wire. “He would have been suspended by his neck while I was doing it and it could have restricted his airway,” he said. “He couldn’t have landed flat on the ground.”
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Instead, he relied on his skills as a firearms instructor and safely fired his 12-gauge shotgun with 00 buckshot atop the woods within 10 yards. “It was pretty close.”
It worked. The antlers snapped and the deer raced down a meadow about 450 to 500 yards and lay down in a woodlot where the keeper could observe his behavior as he began to “rest from his day”.
Zawada believes the deer got stuck in the net for several hours because it looked like a tiller working where it stampeded the ground with its hooves. “It was hidden a few hundred yards from the nearest road,” he said of passing motorists unable to see and report the entangled deer.
What makes the encounter even more memorable is that it was reported by professional photographer Patrick Scott, who took photos of the rescue. The photo of Zawada firing the shot shows the shotgun shell ejecting from the gun as the deer falls from the net. A second image shows the healthy deer running down the hill. “That’s what makes it really unique,” Zawada said of photos capturing the event as it happened.
The director has worked with the state agency since 2018 and said this was not his first relief call. In November, when the deer are in the breeding phase of the rut, the bucks were caught in football nets and similar things that were easier to remove. With this deer restrained by the cable and the net, he had to find a safer alternative for the animal than chemical tranquilization.
If the shot hadn’t worked, he said the deer would have been given away free to a family looking for venison. The keepers have lists of people who like deer meat.
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He pointed out that fighting bucks whose antlers locked together were separated by someone shooting an antler.
“It was definitely a unique incident. I’ll probably never have something like that again, really unique,” Zawada concluded.
The males will begin to grow new antlers in the coming months.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter on your website homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.