When Jeff Carpenter heard gunfire outside his rural Forest Lake residence before sunrise Saturday morning, he raced outside to find a man holding a shotgun.
"I was just glad I didn't go out there with my gun. This thing could have got deadly," said Carpenter, who had been burglarized recently and at first didn't realize that he was looking at a city police officer.
On the ground nearby, Carpenter said, were two fawns that he and his wife, LeeAnn, had been feeding.
"They both had huge holes in them," he said Monday. "They were neighborhood favorites. Everybody loved them."
But to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), they were a potential danger. For weeks, the agency had been receiving reports of two deer with colorful collars -- one pink, one orange -- running in the vicinity of North Shore Trail near Forest Lake's border with Scandia in northern Washington County.
"To have somebody put a collar on a wild deer, two of them in fact, I've never heard of it," said Capt. Greg Salo of the DNR's enforcement division.
The DNR, thinking the deer were escapees from a private game farm and could introduce disease among wild deer, ordered a hit on them. The agency notified Forest Lake police in early January that the deer must be shot on sight, Salo said.
Early Saturday morning, a Forest Lake police officer was patrolling near the Carpenter residence at 10010 North Shore Trail when he nearly struck the two collared deer with his squad car, said Capt. Greg Weiss. The four-year officer, a member of the department's special response team, killed one deer 10 yards from the road with a 12-gauge shotgun, Weiss said. The second one was shot dead at least 50 yards from the Carpenter residence, the captain said.
Carpenter tells a different story.
"He stood in our front yard and blasted the first one point blank," Carpenter said. "He walks around the back yard and blasts that one just a few feet from the deck."
The Carpenters discovered the fawns in June when one took refuge in their doghouse. Then the other appeared, bleating for their mother. The doe never appeared, he said, which confirmed to the Carpenters that the fawns were orphans.
"They came and went as they pleased," Carpenter said. "I don't care what the DNR says, these deer were perfectly healthy."
But Salo said nobody should assume that young deer are left motherless. In this case, he said, the deer were well on their way to becoming adults, no longer fawns. "The first big problem we have is him taking in these fawns when they were young," he said. "The second big mistake was putting big flashy collars on them and telling nobody about it."
It's illegal in Minnesota to seize wild deer for captivity, Salo said, but he doesn't know if the Carpenters did that. He said he would refer the case to the Washington County attorney's office but emphasized the Carpenters haven't been charged with a crime.
Carpenter said he wondered if a "rookie rogue cop" shot the deer and said he wants to know who at the DNR authorized the shootings. "There were a hundred different ways this thing could have been reconciled without incident. Wouldn't you think they would knock on the door? How this was handled was ludicrous and outrageous."
Weiss declined to identify the officer but said he killed both deer a safe distance from the house. An online photograph shows a carcass near the Carpenter's home, but it was dragged there after it was shot so a conservation officer could haul it away, Weiss said. The Forest Lake officer identified himself as such to Carpenter, the captain said, and wore a badge, a police patch and a gun belt.
Police didn't know that it was the Carpenters who had put collars on the deer, but as a matter of routine don't notify homeowners when "dispatching" animals, Weiss said.
"There should be no reason to be knocking on somebody's door asking if they own a wild deer," he said.
"The unfortunate thing," Salo said, "is they were destroyed in the very yard of the guy who put the collars on them. I feel for the guy. "
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 • Twitter: @stribgiles