CROSSLAKE, Minn. — An unusual deer has been sighted in the Crosslake area near Brainerd for nearly a year now.
Since the 2018 archery season, Crosslake residents have been spotting a six-point buck with an arrow sticking squarely out of its forehead. Mikinzie Fox and her fellow employees at Frandsen Bank and Trust spotted the animal last October.
“I looked out the window and there were a few deer here,” Fox said. “They come in every night and eat off of the crab apple tree. He was walking toward me and something looked funny. He turned his head and I saw the arrow sticking out of his face. I kind of watched him a little bit. It was crazy. I didn't think he was going to make it.”
When Fox was watching the deer, she saw that the arrow was catching in the branches of the crab apple tree he was eating from. Survival seemed unlikely with the arrow interfering with eating.
At that time the arrow was full length, complete with fletching. Other witnesses shared their stories with her once she had shared photos and videos of the buck online. Since then the animal has been somewhat of a Bigfoot, with rare sightings and lots of stories. Fox said she hadn't heard much about the deer until she saw it again last spring.
Douglas Moan, who works in maintenance at Crosslake Community School, saw the buck while the arrow was full size just one time in 2018.
“I didn't have a camera with me that day,” Moan said. “Now I carry it with me every day.”
Like Fox, he posted on social media about the deer and his neighbors shared their stories about the buck. Moan likes to take photos of wildlife, and during time off in August he snapped a shot of a buck with a doe and two fawns. He didn't recognize it because the bright fletchings were no longer on the arrow, and it was much shorter.
“A full size arrow was in him last fall,” Moan said. “I didn't realize it until I took that photo and took it home and looked at my photos and realized it was the one with the arrow in his head.”
The unfortunate — or fortunate, depending on how you look at it — buck stirs curiosity in those who see it. Nobody knows who shot it and some wonder how it survived.
“It must be just stuck in the bone and didn't really bleed out of it,” Moan said. “I don't know what kind of tip is on there. I doubt it's a broad tip, but it could be. A broad tip you should see more of the blade sticking out. It's almost more of a target arrow.”
“When I first saw him and he was having trouble eating off the tree I thought it was either going to get infected or something would happen that he wouldn't make it,” Fox said. “The fact that he made it through the winter, especially with the winter he had, that he's still around and seems to be doing fine is pretty cool.”
Even for seasoned members of the Department of Natural Resources, the sight of a deer with an arrow in its head is rare. Wendy Krueger, area wildlife manager in Marshall, did a study on injured deer during archery season at Camp Ripley. She had never seen anything like the deer in Crosslake, but she was able to draw some conclusions.
“(It was) either a poor shot selection or a bad miss of the vital area.” Krueger said in response to the photo. “This is an unfortunate incident from someone who made a bad choice. Deer are tough critters, and since this deer has been living with the arrow for quite awhile now it is likely currently not impacting his behavior or survival.”
Krueger said the deer's skull was thick enough to stop the arrow and prevent major damage. She suspects it does have some impact on the deer's life.
“It might impact its vision somewhat,” Krueger said. “But, as far as the weight issue, it's probably not a big thing. It will probably break off. It was probably very inconvenient at first when it had the whole thing attached there. I would guess it would continue to break off and just be the nub in there. As time goes on it should have less impact.”
Krueger said during her research at Camp Ripley, hunters would report their archery kills, hits, shots and misses throughout the season. They would use metal detectors to search for deer corpses for broad heads and assess for archery related injuries. If a wounded deer was reported, they used a helicopter with heat sensitive camera to attempt to account for those animals.
The study was in response to animal rights activists calling to have archery season banned in Minnesota. Their claim was that archery hunting resulted in many wounded deer who would suffer over a long period of time and die from poor shots. The study suggested that was not the case.
“Only 13% of deer reported wounded were unaccounted for,” Krueger said. “Of that 13% not all of them probably died.”
The study did find that there are some deer living in relative good health with very old archery wounds. Specifically, some deer were found with broad heads in their bodies that had been encased in tissue or bone so that the deer could live for years later. Bow hunters wounding deer, however, was found to be less common than suggested.
“For the most part bow hunters are good, ethical hunters who take good shots and recover their deer,” Krueger said.
Head shots like the one that created Crosslake's legendary deer are uncommon. Even with a rifle, hunters are trained at a young age to take shots that will dispatch a deer quickly.
“I teach firearm safety classes and we do emphasize that and go through shoot and no-shoot scenarios to get them thinking about the consequences of poor shots,” Krueger said. “Nobody wants to leave an animal out there wounded.”
Krueger said hunters should be careful in the coming season to take clean shots, never head shots. Instead, only shoot a deer if the chance of wounding it is very low. The best case scenario is shooting a deer in the vital organs while it is standing still with its broadside facing the shooter.