It was either a botched block or burst by a buck bent on battling through. But no matter how much mud the mighty deer kicked up while trying to free its antlers, the net pulled tighter and tighter. And this buck was looking at a long night, snagged head-first in the scoring position in a soccer frame alone in a fenced field at Viterbo University.

Freedom would come the following morning with two Wisconsin conservation wardens equipped with a knife, some strategic smarts and the ability to hold steady and strong from a safe distance.

The buck was spotted early Saturday morning by some passing Viterbo baseball players on their way to practice on another campus field. The call for help eventually made it to Warden Supervisor Tyler Strelow of the Mississippi River Team and Conservation Warden Ed McCann of La Crosse. It was 10:30 a.m. on October 27.

“This was a good-sized adult buck,” Strelow said when he eyeballed the deer the wardens guessed had been there all night. “There was mud all trampled down.” McCann added: “You could see it from the highway. It was tired. Its antlers were very tangled in the net.”

The two wardens stood there for a bit, weighing all the options as an audience gathered near the fence at a far end of the field. No matter what escape route they picked for this deer, the soccer net was a goner.

Living to tell about the episode without getting gored was another top priority. That would require keeping a safe distance and being clear of its path when finally freed.

McCann had a knife. But getting close enough to the deer’s head to cut free the antlers while it still had the energy to thrash about was not appealing. Luckily, McCann had a long trap stick in his warden truck. So the two wardens took his knife and zip-tied it to the end. Strelow held the net taut while guiding the deer forward a bit so McCann could carefully and deliberately balance and cut the net strand-by-strand.

“Trying to hold on while a 200-pound deer is thrashing in a net while your partner is trying to cut the net close to the deer’s head got very exciting,” Strelow said. After some strategic snips by McCann to ensure the deer would run in one direction, the buck was free – sorta.

“He was free, but he ran to the fence and it became clear he must have jumped the fence to get into the field to begin with,” McCann said. “The deer was too tired to jump out.” So the wardens got some people to help open the field fence. It wasn’t too long before the deer found the opening and dashed off to freedom.

Cheers echoed from the onlookers. Score one for the wardens — and one for the buck that dashed into the woods, still sporting a touch of net on its antlers.

Images courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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