The gathered neighbors held their breath as the U.S. Army veteran raised his rifle and aimed at the flapping bald eagle. It's against federal law to wound or kill an eagle. But this bird, hanging upside down, tangled in knots of fishing wire and baling twine, had already been given up for dead.

Enter Jason Galvin.

On his way to get minnows for a fishing trip on Friday, Galvin happened to look up. There, at the top of a towering 75-foot pine, was the young bird, struggling and clearly trapped.

Jason headed back to his cabin on East Rush Lake — about 5 miles west of Rush City — to tell his wife. Jackie Galvin made phone calls — to the sheriff's office, city hall, the fire department, the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

They all told her the same thing: They knew about the eagle. It had been hanging there for at least 2½ days but no one had a tall enough ladder to save it. They thought it was dead. Any struggling the Galvins thought they saw was likely just the wind.

So Jackie turned to her Army veteran husband. Jokingly, he said he could probably shoot it down. Her eyes lit up.

"You have to try," she said. "It's humans' rope, humans' fault that he's up there."

Jason was hesitant. He knew about the federal law — he didn't want to hurt the animal and get into trouble.

He noted the wind, the height of his target, the nearly blinding July sun.

"It's a hard shot," he said.

"If anyone can do it, it's you," Jackie assured her husband.

Jason considers himself a woodsman but he doesn't shoot as often as he'd like — he's got four kids, ages 1 to 9, and they take up much of his time and attention these days. His eight years in the Army and his two tours in Afghanistan honed his sharp-shooting skills, but that was some years ago.

Still, Jackie was insistent: Jason's practiced aim would be the bird's only hope. A neighbor drove by and lent Jason his .22 caliber.

Jason peered through the scope and took a couple practice shots into the wind. Then he trained the cross hairs on the few branches and the mere 4 inches of rope he could shoot without injuring the eagle.

Conservation officer Philip Mohs watched through binoculars as Jason's bullets chipped away at the branch and the twine.

An hour and a half and 150 bullets later, the eagle was free.

"I think every single one of his shots hit that branch until it broke," Mohs said.

Jason and Jackie and the audience of gathered neighbors watched the bird drop 75 feet into the trees below, exhausted, dehydrated and still too young to fly. Jason stayed back as Mohs trekked into the trees to find the fallen bird.

As they wrapped it in a blanket and tucked it into the Galvins' dog carrier, Jason leaned up against his truck and let the waves of relief wash over him. "I just needed to decompress," he said, taking a moment to unwind. "Plus my wife didn't want me going into the trees because she said there might be poison ivy."

Mohs turned the bird over to the Raptor Center, where veterinarian Michelle Willette confirmed that not a single bullet had nicked the young male bald eagle.

Willette said it will be a few weeks before she can determine whether the bird suffered permanent damage that would prevent a full recovery, but the swelling in the foot and leg has gone down and he's able to stand. He is eating and gaining weight, no longer dehydrated.

He suffered no broken bones from the fall and if he is able to fully recover, he will be released where he was found, so his parents can continue to feed him and teach him how to hunt on his own.

Willette said the twine likely came from the eaglet's own nest and wrapped around the branches as he was exploring, trying his young wings. For now, the bird is on pain medication and receiving hot packs on his swollen foot.

"We have seen a lot of crazy rescues, but this one is certainly unique," Willette said.

On the Facebook page that has now been shared nearly 3,000 times, Jackie writes of her husband: "What an amazing hero." And of the bird? "We named him Freedom."

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4753