FERTILE, Minn. - The way Mark Christianson tells it, in his lilting Old Country accent, the deer started the fight.
"I was going out to finish spraying the soybeans," he said. "I stepped out a side door, and we saw each other, and he started coming closer.
"He was pummeling me, standing on his hind legs and hitting me with the front ones. He hammered me good, rapid fire, and I thought, `Well, this isn't good.' I wasn't winning, so I grabbed him and tackled him and we both went down on the ground."
We don't have the deer's account because, after losing the kick-boxing and wrestling portions of this North Woods triathlon, Christianson shot the eight-point whitetail buck, which had brought antlers and attitude and a strong left hoof to the fight but nothing to match Christianson's 30-06 rifle.
The confrontation, which left Christianson, 66, with black eyes and pink-to-purple bruises over his arms, shoulders and chest, occurred last Thursday as he stepped outside his farm home about 10 miles southeast of Fertile.
Mark and his wife, Judy, 65, had seen the deer days before, brazenly hanging out in their yard, sampling Judy's potted impatiens and ignoring all attempts to shoo it away.
"We sometimes have 17 or 18 deer in the yard here, but we have a hard time getting a picture," she said. "You open the door a little and — phfft — they're gone. They're usually so sensitive.
"But this one, I would stomp my feet and it wouldn't go away."
Two days before the fight, Mark came upon the deer near a shed. "He was 8 feet away, and instead of being scared he came right up to me. I went inside, and he stuck his nose right up against the window. Then he banged his antlers against the wall."
As he left the shed and ran toward the house, the deer followed, and Christianson ducked into the back seat of a 1992 Bonneville that had been retired to a side yard.
Later that day, Judy stepped out to hang clothes on a line and turned around to find the deer facing her. The next day, they watched as the buck feasted on a flaming crabapple tree.
On the third day, last Thursday, Judy had been napping when she was startled to hear her husband hollering.
"He got me!" he cried. "He got me!"
"Mark was dripping blood all over, and his ear looked like it had been tore off," she said. "He was shaking and trying to load bullets into his gun. I didn't know what to think."
The buck was still standing its ground.
"I gut-shot him where he was, then saw he went down at the edge of the hill over there," he said, gesturing through a thick stand of old oaks. "I got him a couple more times there."
The deer had sounded "wheezy" and sick, Christianson said, so he had contacted the Norman County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources even before the animal picked a fight.
Blane Klemek, wildlife supervisor for the DNR's Detroit Lakes area, said the deer carcass was sent to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul. Disease specialists there have ruled out rabies but continue to check for other diseases, such as chronic wasting disease or Lyme disease.
He said the deer had no tags or other indications that it was a domestically raised deer.
"It did have a fair number of liver flukes (parasites) in its liver," he said, but it's unclear whether that would explain the animal's unusual behavior.
"It is an odd one," Klemek said. "Deer normally are afraid of people. We don't know why this one would attack this guy. But it's always a concern when we get calls from the public about an animal acting strangely."
Friends "have given me some grief about it all," Christianson said Wednesday. "They said they don't believe my story. They say, `It's the wife.'"
An Amish family lives close by with three small children who often play outside, and Judy had gone over to sound a warning about the deer. After Mark's bout with the buck, the family brought over a lemon pie, Mark's favorite, and a card. The children — Magdalena, 4, Sylvia, 2 1/2, and Perry, 11 months — signed the card with hand prints.
"So sorry you got hurt," the card read.
Christianson said he was too sore to sleep the first two nights after the attack. Blows near his eyes caused blackening about the sockets and bent his glasses, but he said he's grateful the deer didn't damage his eyesight.
The sorest bruise was to his right shoulder, probably due to his sudden take-down move, and couldn't raise his right arm for days. "Friday morning, he had a bowl of Cheerios in front of him," Judy said. "He just sat there, holding the spoon. I said, `You'd better use your left hand.'"
And how would Mark respond if another bellicose buck showed up and tried to pick a fight?
"I wouldn't wait three days to get my rifle."