Evan McAnally spent days afield last deer season, as much to gather good video as to eventually put venison in his freezer.
But it was weeks after the season and McAnally, of Wichita, didn’t have his regular video camera along when he got footage of “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
On Feb. 10 the 29-year-old used his cell phone to video himself freeing a trophy-class nine-point buck that had locked antlers with another nine-pointer several days earlier. Coyotes, it appeared, had already eaten the other buck down to its skeleton. McAnally could have left and come back a few days later, after the coyotes probably would have returned to eat the second buck alive, and the avid bowhunter could have had both sets of antlers for his wall. He said that wasn’t an option.
“We’re hunters, not cold-blooded killers,” he said. “I hunt to harvest an animal to eat, and to share a connection with the wildlife.” McAnnually, who bow-killed a 24-point buck in November, added the thousands of hours he’s spent afield scouting, videoing and hunting whitetail bucks has also given him a deep respect for the animals.
“It was quite the sight, what that one buck had endured,” said McAnally, “and I tried to put into perspective what that deer had already gone through, being locked with the other buck and then the coyotes eating it right there. I really wanted to free it if I could.”
McAnally had driven 90 minutes to a family-owned pasture in Stafford County to check on his remote trail cameras and put out some food for deer and assorted birds. He was walking across the brushy pasture when he saw antlers on the ground. A closer looked showed it was two sets of antlers locked together. To one set he saw the mostly eaten remains of a buck, to the other he thought he saw the complete body of a dead buck. Then, that “dead” buck stood up as McAnally walked near, and the deer began walking away, dragging his dead combatant slowly along.
Whitetail bucks often put their antlers together for light sparring matches, or sometimes in full-fledged fights. Occasionally they push with enough force that antler tines (points) from the two bucks bend enough to become interlocked. Most such fights happen during the November breeding season, as bucks battle over a doe. “I’m not sure if there was a doe coming into late estrous or what happened,” McAnally said. “Something had them really going at it.” He also finds it unique that the antlers withstood such pressure at a time of year when antlers are naturally falling off must bucks so another set can begin growing.
McAnally recognized both bucks from his trail cameras, which are left in the field and triggered by motion. The dead buck had lived on the property for at least three years. The live buck had shown-up during the past season. The bucks were last seen independently on trail cameras on Feb. 2. “They easily could have been locked like that for five or six days,” McAnally said. “You could tell by the looks of things it had been a while.”
Rather than call his cousin, Heath Getty, for assistance, McAnally decided to not waste any time getting the live buck untangled. He set his cell phone in the branches of a plum bush and went to the rescue.
“I spent a lot of the 30 minutes just easing in, trying to keep the buck calm,” Getty said. “It kind of kept pulling away and I kept kind of talking softly and petting its neck a bit. I’m not sure if that really helped.”
After trying to free the locked antlers with his hands, McAnally walked back to his truck and returned with a saw and cut one antler tine from the live buck and two from the dead buck. Not realizing what had happened, the live buck kept his head down until McAnally lifted its antlers a bit so it could feel that it was free. That left McAnally a bit nervous, wondering if the buck might charge him. It didn’t.
“It kind of stomped the dead buck a couple of times, backed up and then took off,” he said. “You could tell it was kind of week and off balance, but that’s probably because of all it had been through for several days.”
As he was leaving the property later, McAnally saw the buck about 300 yards from where it had been freed, walking towards a creek for water. “I’m pretty sure he made it,” McAnally said. “He was kind of gaunt, but he was really in pretty good shape. I hope I see him again this fall when I’m out hunting.” If he does, McAnally said he probably won’t reach for his bow.
“I don’t think I could shoot him,” he said. “We kind of have a connection.”