Rescuers attempt to evaluate the deer, which was stuck on the ice and in a pool of blood.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — MassWildlife rescued a mature buck stuck on Pontoosuc Lake on Thursday morning.
The 180- to 190-pound animal will now be assessed, treated, and hopefully released back into the wild. It is unknown how long the deer was stuck on the ice but a team from the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife was able to tranquilize the animal and free it from the lake.
"This deer was out on the ice and couldn't get any grip, splayed out. It looks like he has some injury there. The deer is immobilized now and we'll take it off-site and assess the injuries," said Andrew Madden of MassWildlife.
The effort started early Thursday when guests at the Lake House Guest Cottages saw it and reported it to caretaker Cory Williams. Williams called Lanesborough Animal Control Officer Jason Costa.
It was an ugly scene as a large amount of blood was on the ice. It appeared that deer had been attacked but as Costa approached the animal, he realized it looked a lot worse than it actually was.
"I went out there expecting to have to put it down. But, I looked at it, called Cara Petricca*, who is a wildlife rehabilitator, sent her some pictures and got her opinion. She said it looks like just the tail," Costa said.
Costa said it appeared the deer wandered onto the ice and fell. The buck's tail froze to the ice and when the deer attempted to get up, it was ripped off and that's where the large amount of blood came from. A team from MassWildlife, based in Dalton, joined Costa and agree that there was an opportunity to save the deer's life.
Slowly and methodically, Nate Buckhout approached the deer with the tranquilizer gun.
"He was alert, head up, moving around, knew we were there. He tried to get up but it was too slick. All four legs were working, he just couldn't get his front legs up because of the ice," Buckhout said. "He does have some injuries that are hard to tell but our goal is to get him out as quickly as possible. We can treat some of the smaller stuff and he looked pretty decent."
Buckhout said the key to such rescues is to avoid startling the deer as much as possible to avoid having it attempt to get up and hurt itself more or increase its heart rate.
"We just kept it calm. That's the big part, keeping the deer as stress-free as possible," Buckhout said.
He got within yards of it and made a perfect shot and 10 minutes or so later, the deer was immobilized.
"Nate took a good shot getting the immobilizer in the deer, which is the main part. What we don't want is for the deer to start to panic, start to splay out its legs again and injure itself more. We're trying to minimize the disturbance, keep it low stress. Nate made a perfect shot on it. The drugs worked pretty quickly. It all went pretty well," Madden said.
The temperature was in the single digits, which Buckhout said worked in the rescuer's favor.
"It's very cold which in this case works in our favor because it is good ice to walk out on. Sometimes if it is not great ice you have to work with the fire departments on water rescue and it can be a dicey situation. In this case, we were able to walk right out there," Buckhout said.
Buckhout, Madden, and two others from MassWildlife then loaded the buck onto a sled and carried him off the ice.
Madden said it isn't uncommon for deer to get stuck on the ice. Often deer will get spooked and run onto the ice or get stuck trying to cross.
"Early in the season when the ice is new and slick, there is no snow cover on top, we end up seeing it every so often, maybe once a year, sometimes twice a year, and sometimes not at all. It all depends on how the ice forms," Madden said.
And on Thursday, "we have hard, slick ice with no snow to grip on. That's when it is tough for deer."
It isn't known whether the deer will survive its traumatic incident. MassWildlife officials need to see if there are any other injuries but the hope is that the deer will get a second chance thanks to their efforts.
"We like to do what's best for the animal and if it can be saved, that's our ultimate goal," Buckhout said.
*Petricca operates BlueBird Farm, a farm sanctuary and licensed wildlife rehabilitation center. Donations to the sanctuary can be made here.