Just before Christmas, a buck with a large, magnificent set of unusual antlers showed up near the intersection of Rockrimmon Boulevard and Vindicator Drive looking pathetically underweight with obvious injuries, a noticeable limp, blood-stained fur and antlers and sagging ears.
At the Safeway across the street, customers and employees shared their concerns for the buck. Some speculated he’d been hit by a car, noting the large knots on his legs. Others volunteered that they were taking cranberries and water to the buck.
A few days later, I saw the buck again. Instead of limping along the sidewalk, he was resting on the ledge of a retaining wall, about five feet above the street. He was hidden among shrubs growing on the ledge. He barely moved as people walked right up to him. Next to him was a plastic tub of water left by a neighbor.
In the meantime, concerned neighbors started calling the state Division of Parks and Wildlife office and its officers began making daily checks on the buck.
Some asked if the buck could be caught and taken to a sanctuary for treatment.
Others wondered if it could be moved to a more remote location, away from the busy intersection and the constant stream of turning cars and trucks around the shopping center and the foot traffic of children walking to Eagleview Middle School.
A few even suggested the buck needs to be euthanized because it was obviously in pain.
My wife and I have been keeping tabs on the buck. My son, Ben, reported watching from his school bus as people hand-feed apples to the buck.
Peregrine resident Chris Duffey is among the worried neighbors.
“He doesn’t look like he’s doing very well,” Duffey told me. “It’s frustrating as an animal lover to see that animal there suffering.”
Duffey said it appears to her the buck was hit by a car or truck, noting the knots on his legs are the size of tennis balls.
“I hate to see him suffer a slow death,” she said. “It seems inhumane.”
So I called Michael Seraphin, spokesman for Parks and Wildlife, who confirmed his agency is monitoring the buck.
Seraphin said wildlife agency experts believe the buck, most likely, is a victim of love.
They suspect he is battered, bloodied and bruised after a vicious rutting season in which bucks fight each other for dominance and the right to mate.
“After the rut, male deer often are in poor body condition,” Seraphin said. “They can appear weak and stressed.
“They have been battling with other deer. Often they get so focused on their reproductive drive and the challenge for dominance that they don’t eat. This can really take a lot out of them, especially older bucks like this one.”
Wildlife websites say bucks can shed 20 percent of their weight during the rut. Afterward, they will bed down for several days to recover. Sometimes bucks in rut will fight to the death.
Other factors also may have contributed to the buck’s condition, Seraphin said. A car may have hit the deer. Or a predator such as a mountain lion or coyote could have attacked.
“We’re hoping he’ll regain his strength and his health will improve,” Seraphin said. “But if he continues to go downhill, we’ll have to revisit the decision to euthanize it.”
Seraphin said the ledge where he’s been resting is beneath a couple crapapple trees, which he’s been eating. And he said deer are pretty tough animals, noting a few three-legged deer can be spotted around the region.
But the buck’s magnificent antlers, and the attention of well-meaning strangers, might doom it.
“Even though the rut is over, male deer will continue to jostle him as long as they have those antlers,” he said. “They will take advantage of his weakened condition.”
Then there’s the problem of humans feeding the deer.
“We’d ask people not to feed him,” Seraphin said. “It’s illegal to feed deer. And there’s a good reason. They can starve to death with a full stomach.”
When deer deviate from their natural diet of grasses, shrubs, leaves and other vegetation, they can suffer fatal digestive problems.
“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “Everyone wants to help the deer. But the only choices are putting it down or letting it be and hoping it improves on its own.
“I’m afraid time is not on the deer’s side unless he makes a marked recovery soon. Each day that goes by, we’re getting closer and closer to taking some sort of action. We can’t leave the situation the way it is.”