By Kenneth L. Kieser
January 4, 2012
The very wildlife we cherish fights for life daily. Each species is equipped with fur, fins or feathers that sustain life in severe weather conditions, but aspects of the food chain often shorten life. We know this, but on occasion witness wildlife’s daily struggles to survive.
The year of 2011 was in its finally days as Steve Matt and I slipped through the darkness towards several thousand white geese on a small lake. We were in the middle of a portable canvas hay bale hunting blind that broke up our outline. A huge conifer between us and the geese helped conceal our movement of 10 slow steps every few minutes. We both quietly laughed at our Trojan Horse style deceptive approach.
We finally made the shoreline minutes before legal shooting time. Geese milled about in short flights and landed in the lake. The spread of geese was incredibly long, but just out of range of our shotguns. Soon morning broke and the air temperature rose to 18 degrees.
The lake was iced over except where the big gaggle of geese had kept it open with movement and warm bodies. We were deciding our best approach for a shot when the entire flock of at least 2,000 geese took off, all at once. They were not spooked, but just ready to feed in a nearby cornfield. We could only watch and listen.
Mallards were in the area so Matt waded out to arrange several mallard decoys in the open water and we settled in, hoping the ducks would find our one spot of open water. The ducks who were likely feeding in cornfields were not flying yet so we waited until our conversation was broken by a big splash by the lake’s dam, about 500 yards away.
“A deer just jumped on the ice and fell through,” Matt said with a hint of shock in his voice.
I stood up for a closer look and was sickened to see the struggling animal. The deer’s head was clearly visible in the frozen lake. Occasionally its flailing hooves broke the ice as it slowly moved forward through the chilling water. I thought another deer was frantically running back and forth on the pond dam. A closer look showed it was not a deer, but a large coyote, frantically trying to figure out how to catch what would have meant several meals.
We jumped out of our blind and moved down the shoreline to see the doe setting a course towards the opposite shore. She had been chased through thick timber and only blind terror made her choose the freezing water that generally meant a horrible death. I am sure she was already breathing hard from the chase, only to wind up in a situation where every bit of breath was sacred.
The coyote was sneaking around the lakeshore. There was little doubt that the doe would be weak and easy prey if she actually did achieve a miracle and survive the cold swim that had now lasted 15 minutes. The coyote was waiting patiently.
Matt and I decided to save the doe. We were planning on two courses of action, shooting the coyote and roping the doe and dragging it out of her certain-death situation. Problem is, a doe or buck will use sharp hooves to fight man or beast, even though our best intentions were to save her. We decided to wait and see if she could actually make shoreline on her own.
The coyote ran off as we approached the doe in Matt’s pickup. We were surprised to see her head still above water and close to shore. The amazing girl had been in the chilling water over 20 minutes by now and was at the end of her strength limits as was evidenced by her meager movements that no longer seemed frantic. Pauses between ice-breaking thrusts were notably longer as her head dropped lower on the ice.
Miraculously, her hooves touched the lake bottom and she climbed up the steep bank to turn and look at us, her legs trembling from fatigue. We sat in the pickup and watched her slowly walk along a dike on the lake, her head low, occasionally shaking off the water and ice. Suddenly she regained her composure and trotted off across a big field. We observed the area for awhile, watching for that pesky coyote. There was little doubt that a doe with her kind of resolve deserved to live.
At first we were angry at the coyote until it occurred to us that he or she was only trying to survive. There may have been more in the brush but we only saw one. Either way, we witnessed the doe starting this new year by surviving two brushes with death, a true testament to surviving a seemingly hopeless situation where another deer or species would have likely perished.
So I will start this new year with my story of hope and survival for our country, our cherished soldiers and you. Happy New Year everyone, may you enjoy another year of love, peace and prosperity!