While it may look like a grisly trophy, the story behind the picture of the antler-locked bucks above is one of survival and endurance. I recently spoke with Luke Laha, a wildlife management instructor in Kansas, about how he and his students rescued an antler-locked deer that had been carrying around the head of his rival.
So how did this deer come to be wearing such bizarre headgear? Laha said that there was once a body attached to that head, before the coyotes came.
Laha works as an instructor at Pratt Community College’s Wildlife Enterprise Management program, and he first saw the deer while scouting out some territory in south-central Kansas. The encounter was a fleeting one, but Laha said that the deer remained in the back of his mind for months.
“I saw it was a decently-sized buck with what I thought at the time was a smaller buck,” Laha said. “But then I saw that all the was left of the second one was the head, spine, and rib cage.”
That was about two months ago. To the coyotes living in the area, the buck was a moving feast. Laha was not able to help the deer on their first meeting, but he remembered the encounter when he and his students came back to the property to trap some ‘yotes. He expected to find the remains of one or both of the deer earlier this year. But he hoped he would find the buck alive and asked his students to keep an eye out for a deer with a rack too many.
“We trapped all week but didn’t see anything,” he said. “On the very last day, Friday, we got to the last trap on the left side of the property and one of my students says ‘hey, there’s your buck.’”
It was January 17 and the snow had mostly melted. Despite lasting this long, Laha could see that the deer was struggling.
“It’s been stressed for the last few months, pulling around its own body weight and looking-eye-to-eye with coyotes,” he explained.
Then Laha and his class moved into action, trailing the buck on 4x4s and on foot. As chases go, it wasn’t the most exciting.
“He was falling over every 20 feet or so, really struggling,” Laha said. “When we got on top of him, the fight was out of him.”
The buck was already down when one of Laha’s students, Zack Sammons, mounted the animal and held it while he and Laha debated how to separate the two racks. Lacking a hacksaw, they ended up doing it by hand. You can see the aftermath below in a video Laha uploaded to YouTube:
Laha added that the whole class was involved in the chase, which occurred mostly on foot after the deer entered the cover of trees.
The buck was released safely, although Laha said he’s not sure if the deer will be strong enough to survive the rest of the winter. He has not seen it since.
Still, with a lighter load and less coyotes chasing him, the buck may very well get a second lease at life. Or at least a better chance than he would waiting for his antlers to shed.
“We weren’t doing this to make a video or make something out of it; we just wanted to save this deer’s life if we could,” Laha said, after the video’s popularity exploded on Facebook.
But Laha did get one additional souvenir from the rescue. He cleared the deer head that dropped off with a game warden and plans on having it mounted in his classroom.
Laha doesn’t plan on naming the mount, but I suggest calling it the “Godfather” buck.