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Thief River Falls firefighters rescue buck from the ice of the Red Lake River

The buck, which has a massive set of nontypical antlers, had fallen through the ice near the new bridge on Mark Boulevard at the south end of city limits, Fire Chief Rick Beier said.

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This photo from the Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department Facebook page shows firefighters rescuing a trophy buck that had fallen through the ice on the Red Lake River on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, at the south end of Thief River Falls.
Contributed/Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department
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THIEF RIVER FALLS – A trophy-sized whitetail buck that has been the talk of the town in Thief River Falls for the past several weeks lived to roam another day Monday morning, after being rescued from the icy Red Lake River by personnel from the Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department.

The buck, which has an eye-catching set of nontypical – hunting lingo for asymmetrical – antlers, had fallen through the ice near the new bridge on Mark Boulevard at the south end of city limits, Fire Chief Rick Beier said.

The Fire Department received a call about the buck shortly before 8 a.m., he said.

“I took a drive down there to verify it, came back to the (Fire Hall), and we decided to put a team of about 10 guys together and send out the equipment and see what we could do,” Beier said.

Devin Spears, a firefighter who was part of the rescue effort, said the buck was trapped in the ice not far from shore about 50 yards south of the bridge. The river on the north side of the bridge was still wide open, he said, but the ice where the buck fell through didn’t look too bad. The ice might have shifted and heaved, Spears speculated, resulting in an area of thin ice.

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“On both sides of where he went in, it looked like good ice,” he said.

The rescuers were able to get close enough to the buck to toss a tow strap behind its antlers, Beier says, and then pull it out of the river and up the bank.

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Rescuers from the Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department were able to loop a tow strap around the antlers of the buck that fell through the ice Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, on the Red Lake River in Thief River Falls.
Contributed/Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department

“There was one guy on each side of the tow strap and then they just kind of looped his antlers with it and dragged him up on the ice shelf,” Beier said. “We let him sit on the ice for a minute or two, and he didn’t do anything, so then we slid him to the edge. And then there’s about a 3- or 4-foot embankment and then we got him up on the bank right on the edge of the woods.

“He just sat there for a minute or two, and then he got up and stumbled his way into the woods.”

The firefighters were back at the fire hall by about 8:45 a.m., the fire chief said.

The incident occurred the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 23, when Kittson County deputies Alex Rudnik and Dave Thompson spotted what at first glance looked like two bucks standing side by side eating in a field near Hallock, Minn.

“Luckily for us, he was pretty played out, so that took a lot of the danger factor away, with the size of the rack that was on that guy,” Beier said. “That’s always a concern when you’re dealing with a wild animal like that because the last thing you want is to put somebody out there, and then they get stabbed by an antler or something like that.

“He was a good-sized animal, so that was our main concern.”

It’s hard to say how long the buck had been trapped in the ice, Beier said.

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“He was pretty tired,” Beier said. “Hopefully he survived.”

Once photos of the rescue hit the internet, it didn’t take long before the effort was the talk of the town – and beyond – Beier says. As of Tuesday morning, the post and photos on the fire department's Facebook page had been shared more than 1,300 times.

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The exhausted buck laid on the bank for several minutes after being rescued from the Red Lake River on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, by firefighters from the Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department.
Contributed/Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department

“It’s been a little crazy, for sure,” he said. “And here’s the deal – he was kind of a legend around here anyway. A lot of people have caught him on their trail cameras and things like that. He’s been plastered on Facebook well before this, and all of a sudden – boom – there he is in the river.”

Buck 5.jpg
Rescuers from the Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department were able to pull the buck up the bank after rescuing it from thin ice on the Red Lake River on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. The buck eventually stood up and walked into the woods.
Contributed/Thief River Falls Volunteer Fire Department

In person, the buck looked even more impressive than it does in the photos on Facebook, Spears said.

“They almost don’t do justice to how big it is,” he said, referring to the buck’s impressive rack. “Even though the pictures are up close, when you see something like that in person – just how wide it is and how tall it is – it’s just crazy.”

Whether the deer survives the ordeal, only time will tell, but Beier and Spears both said it was a good feeling to rescue the trophy buck from what otherwise would have been certain death, a sentiment others on the rescue crew likely shared, as well.

“You hope he makes it until next year now,” Spears said. “Obviously, anything can still happen. When you see pictures of big deer like that, you always wonder, ‘whatever happened to that deer?’

“You think about it, and if that would have been two hours earlier, nobody would have ever seen him go down. Nobody would have ever known what happened to him.”

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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