A doe struggling for her life in an icy northwestern Minnesota river was rescued and brought safely to shore by a state conservation official and a firefighter.
The deer’s close call with death in a horseshoe bend of the Red Lake River in Crookston occurred midafternoon Wednesday, and much of the 10 to 15 minutes of drama under windy but sunny conditions was captured on video by KROX Radio in Crookston.
Ross Hier of the state Department of Natural Resources and Crookston firefighter Chris Klawitter got in a flat-bottom boat and muscled their way through the stubborn ice using pike poles to pull and push before reaching the deer about 40 yards from shore.
The doe, stuck neck high in the ice and nearly motionless except for a couple of feeble upward thrusts, offered no resistance as Hier and Klawitter grabbed her by the ears and front legs to hoist the roughly 120-pound deer into the boat. Hier said that “between the two of us, she came over like a big, old walleye.”
With the doe’s wintertime fur coat saturated, Klawitter said, “she was heavy pulling her out of there.”
Klawitter said he was grateful that “she cooperated really well, being so worn out and in shock. Hypothermia was setting in, definitely.”
Relying on a rope attached to dry land, the fully occupied boat was pulled back to shore. Once there, Hier gave the doe reassuring pats on the tummy ahead of the next step — getting the animal out of the boat.
The deer was lassoed under its front legs and slowly dragged a short distance up the riverbank. Off came the rope, and Hier stroked the top of the doe’s head a few times.
“Nobody likes to see an animal suffer,” Hier said, explaining the TLC he gave to the doe, which he suspected was pregnant.
Free to go, the deer was either too cold or too exhausted, or both, to move right away.
Hier said he took his dog for a walk about 6 p.m., and the deer was still there but perking up a bit.
Klawitter said he was notified that she finally got to her feet that evening and “walked away. Hopefully, all is fine.”
The veteran firefighter is a dedicated deer hunter but doubts he’ll face a moral dilemma and recognize the doe come next fall’s hunting season. “I hunt in a different area, anyway,” he said.