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Tangled whitetails: 'Once-in-a-lifetime' memory to help save a deer

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FARMER — These whitetails have quite a tale.

"They were big deer, I know that," said Annette Steilen, who lives in rural Hanson County.

On Tuesday night, Annette and her husband, Paul, were out checking cattle when she noticed something didn't quite look right. What they found turned into a heck of a memory.

The Steilens found two male whitetail deer with their antlers locked together. As they approached the animals, they noticed one had its head down and was dragging the other, which had already died.

Enter Andy Petersen, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department conservation officer.

Petersen explained it's at this time of year where deer become territorial during the mating season and will often fight. They do this by charging with their head down and use their antlers similar to a weapon.

When the Steilens saw the deer and after contemplating what to do, Annette called Petersen, who's not a greenhorn to helping intertwined deer.

Petersen, who's been a conservation officer for 16 years, has worked on similar cases at least five times.

"This one was a little bit different because the one that was still alive was pretty active," he said. "One is usually dead, and the other is typically in really tough shape. This one, the one had a lot of energy. He pulled the dead deer 20 yards or so, would stop and rest and would do it again."

The group decided the best way to save the deer was for Paul to stand on the dead deer and anchor it down while Petersen used a bolt cutter to clip its tines.

The best part? The whole ordeal was captured on video, so the Steilens will be able to remember it forever.

Petersen made about five clips, and in about four minutes the whitetail was saved. As it broke free, it sprinted away with a weight off its shoulders.

Both deer are well over 10 pointers — one, which Petersen dubbed "the ultimate loser," had a broken neck and died. It wasn't known how long the deer was dead, so its meat wasn't salvageable. The other will likely survive, Petersen said.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing to see," said Annette, who works as manager for Hanson County Conservation District.

For Petersen, it was exciting but "just part of the job."

"It's good that the Steilens called this in for us to assist," he said. "We're out here to protect animals that are in distress, if we can."