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Published: Tuesday, 5/28/2002

Spent buck in Erie saved

If a certain young white-tailed deer in Ottawa County were a cat, it would have used up at least two of its nine lives one day this spring.

The animal, a yearling buck with nubs for antlers, first was rescued at sea - five miles northwest of Davis-Besse - after battling wind-whipped waves to near exhaustion. Then it was resuscitated by a determined woman, who wrapped the young buck in a blanket and sat up with it for hours.

“If you only knew,” said David Terry of Gas City, Ind., who recounted the extent of trials to ultimately save the deer. “It was a little button buck,” he said, beginning the tale.

He was on the lake last month with his father, Malcolm Terry, and his long-time buddy, Frank Payne, both of Marion, Ind. They have been coming to western Lake Erie for 30 years.

“We were fishing when we found the deer. When we got to him he was laying on his side, with just enough strength left to keep his nose out of water.” Terry theorized that the strong offshore winds and waves that day may have taken the little deer out to sea and it could not gain shore. “He was pointed in the right direction.”

Just the ears and nose were peeking from the wavetops. “My dad thought it was a big fish tail.”

The three fishermen managed to loop a line behind the buck's forelegs, “and I held his head up as we motored in. He was too much to get into the boat.” It took about 90 minutes “idling back in.”

They reached the launch-ramp at Wild Wings Marina near Davis-Besse and hauled the deer out of the water and tried to dry it off and let it lie in the sun. Meanwhile they called Carroll Township police, hoping to locate a state wildlife officer for advice on how to proceed. It was about 4 p.m.

Which is where Melissa and Paul Ferrell of Huron enter the picture. They had seen the buck, lying near the launch-ramp, en route to their first fishing excursion of the season. They had their three youngsters with them, Brandon, 10, Kat, 7, and Grant, 4. “At first we thought it was dead.”

They had some boat trouble, however, and turned back into the marina in about 25 minutes. Once at the ramp, Melissa went over to check out the deer. “It was still breathing.” For how much longer was the question.

Ferrell's maternal instincts kicked in. She ordered her husband to bring over her Chicago Bulls blanket from the boat. She wrapped up the buck and sat down with it. “He was beyond exhaustion. He let me lay his head in my lap.” At the same time, the Indiana anglers helped keep watch.

The mother of three proceeded to massage the young buck for two hours, whereupon “it started to breathe better.” But Ferrell hardly was through with her vigil.

At one point she told her spouse to run home and swap the boat and trailer for a utility trailer, with hopes of relocating the recovering deer to a nearby woodlot. No deal.

“I'm a big guy,” said angler Terry (6-3, 260). “I couldn't hold his legs.” In short, the young buck had enough adrenaline to kick and buck, even though it still could not get up. So they decided to leave it be.

But the mom in Ferrell would not abandon the deer. “I stayed 'til almost 11. We sat in the van and the kids watched movies [on a VCR in the back].”

As the drama unfolded, patrolman Jim Meek of the township police, stopped by periodically to check on the situation. He told the rescuers that a state wildlife officer advised that the deer be left alone to see whether it could recover on its own.

“It was breathing real hard,” he said about his initial check. “We thought it wasn't going to make it.”

The Ferrells maintained watch until everyone else had left the marina for the night. Meek promised them that he would see to it that the “midnight man,” patrolman Jody Hatfield, would check on the buck's progress overnight. “Around 11 o'clock it was sitting up.”

About midnight, Meek said, Hatfield pulled up and no sooner had opened the door to his cruiser when the buck jumped up, shed the blanket, leaped into and swam across a dock-channel, scaled the far bank, and ran off across a field of corn stubble.

A pleased “Momma Bear” Ferrell exclaimed “that poor baby ... I'm so glad he made it.” Added angler Terry: “My dad said that young buck will have a heck of a story to tell its grandchildren.”

  • The foregoing account of a deer swimming well offshore is not unheard of, said Mike Tonkovich, a biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife and experienced deer researcher.

    He told of a similar case near Ashtabula, Ohio, in October, 2000, and said that biologists elsewhere have reported similar cases.

    For example, the Massachusetts record nontypical whitetail buck in 2000, actually, was found dead off the state's coast in the Atlantic Ocean, tangled in a lobster trap.

    “It's anybody's guess,” Tonkovich said about why deer occasionally get caught offshore. He noted they are strong swimmers nonetheless. ``They may just want to take a swim, or may be escaping pestering insects or a predator.''

    DATEBOOK

    Tonight - Public trapshoot, 6 to 10 p.m., Dundee Sportsmen's Club, 2300 Plank Rd., Dundee, Mich., repeats Thursday 9 a.m. to noon and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.; call the club, 734-529-3581.

    Tonight - Public trap and skeet shooting, 6 to 11 p.m., Camp Perry Shooting Club, Camp Perry, State Rt. 2 west of Port Clinton, repeats Thursday 6 to 11 p.m. and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.; call the club, 419-635-2682.

    Thursday - Trap and skeet shooting, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monroe Rod and Gun Club, 6280 Lighthouse Rd., Monroe, Mich., call Jim Warren, 734-243-9774.

    Thursday - Trapshoot, 6 p.m., Sandusky County Sportsmen's Club, State Rt. 600 east of Gibsonburg.

    Thursday - Public trapshoot, 6 to 9 p.m., Ottawa County Conservation League, Martin-Moline Rd., Martin; call Rick Temple, 419-666-1399.

    Thursday and Friday - Public trap and skeet shooting, 6 to 11 p.m., United Conservation and Outdoor Association of Hancock County, Township Road 243 north of U.S. 224, east of Findlay; call Don Borkosky, 419-427-4236.

    Friday - Bat encounter, 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., Side Cut Metropark, Lamb Center; call for reservations 419-535-2058, extension 101.

    Steve Pollick is The Blade's outdoor writer. E-mail him at spollick@theblade.com.



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