White-tailed bucks battle to the end

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Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Sgt. Jon Obst works to separate two bucks that locked antlers Friday morning during a fight for dominance. Looking on are Lee Terry, left, who reported the incident near his home north of Kalispell to wildlife officials. Also pictured is Dennis Anderson. Terry said he spotted eight does in a nearby field that morning. (Photo courtesy of Terry Hamik)

If area hunters were wondering if white-tailed bucks have begun the rut in the Flathead Valley, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Two large, 5x5 bucks locked antlers in a field between Kalispell and Whitefish near resident Lee Terry’s home sometime Thursday night. When Terry discovered them Friday, one had already died while the other was nearing complete exhaustion.

Bucks fight during the breeding season to establish dominance and the opportunity to mate with more does, ensuring superior genes are passed on to subsequent generations.

But Terry’s quick thinking and the quick response of a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden helped the surviving buck return to the wild.

“It’s been an interesting afternoon,” Terry said. “I’m 64 and I’ve hunted deer since I was a kid in different states and it’s only the second time I’ve ever seen two bucks lock antlers.”

Terry said he’d seen it 25 or 30 years ago in Kansas. You just don’t see it very often.

“It’s sad to lose one, but that’s how it goes. And it was nice that one of them got to live,” Terry said.

Terry said a neighbor tried to get the bucks free.

“I told him it wasn’t a good idea. You just don’t know what it might do when it gets free,” Terry said.

For Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Jon Obst, he has only seen two bucks get their antlers locked up in the 22 years he’s been on the job and just three times ever.

“It was something very different for sure,” Obst said. “We usually see deer tangled in barbed wire.”

Obst said he got a call about a deer that needed help, so he went out and used a catch pole to pin the live one to the ground.

“We then used isoflurane, it’s similar to ether, to calm the live buck. It was pretty tired when we got to it. I’d say they locked up sometime last night. It’s hard to say if the other deer died of exhaustion or broke its neck, but when they fight and get locked together, there’s quite a bit of pressure and force there,” the warden said,

Obst sawed an antler off the dead buck, which allowed the live one to get free.

“It got up and staggered a little bit, then ran off, jumped a fence and headed for the river,” Obst said. “We like to use the isoflurane because it doesn’t knock the animal out and they recover very quickly.”

Obst said Fish, Wildlife and Parks appreciates it when people call about such situations.

“It’s not safe to try and work with wildlife in those situations, but we’re happy we could save one buck,” Obst said. “We couldn’t salvage the other deer because it had started to bloat and we don’t want to take a chance on giving the meat to anyone and someone getting sick.”

Terry was complimentary of the FWP response.

“They were spot on getting here and taking care of that deer,” Terry said. “Hunters will be happy to know that buck is still alive, he’s a nice one.”

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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