Angry Beaver Interferes With Buck Recovery

A wounded Bibb County buck ran off into a beaverpond, and the beaver wasn't too happy when the hunters showed up...

Daryl Gay | January 4, 2015

Taxidermist Steve Ward knows a big deer when he sees one, and he’s picky when it comes to taking a shot. But as most deer hunters know, recognizing a really big buck takes only a moment. That’s a good thing for Ward, because a moment is all he had to make a trigger-pulling decision the morning of Nov. 16.

If he could have predicted the events of the following six hours—especially the fight with an angry, stepped-on, underwater beaver—maybe that decision would have been different.

In his first season hunting property in Bibb County’s Echeconnee Swamp, Steve had already passed up a heavy-racked 6-pointer with an estimated 18-inch spread that he figured weighed 200 pounds on the hoof. Then he passed up two more bucks: an 11-pointer that came to a scrape, and the 8-pointer that had just made the scrape.

At 10:40 that Sunday morning, however, there was no doubt about the buck that appeared in the swamp bottom.

“It’s tremendously thick where I hunt, and the deer just showed up quartering to me about 30 yards away,” Steve recalled.

“I was pretty high in a climber—shot him with my .308 (165-grain Barnes bullet) and was shocked that he didn’t hit the ground. He took off and just disappeared, but I heard him cough, so I knew the direction he took and that I had made a lung shot.”

Steve also knew that the surrounding swamp lived up to its name; so instead of immediately following up the animal, he called in his son, Tyler, and Tyler’s friend Cail Brinson.

Cail, who is 20 years old, would later remark, “It was the most amazing day of deer hunting of my life.”

Before that day was over, though, Cail was probably wishing he’d had urgent business on the other side of the state! Cail picks the story up from here.

“When Tyler and I got over there, we found one puddle of lung blood but couldn’t find anything leading from there.”

Steve Ward remarked that the puddle was about the size of a basketball, and he also said the trail ended there. He made the decision to call for a tracking dog, and Bibb County handler Mike Lopez (630-240-6394) arrived around 2:30 p.m.

Cail continued, “Tyler plays football at Mercer, and he had to go to practice. The deer went in a big circle in shin-high water and matted grass, and finally got deep into the swamp itself. There was a point in there where Steve and the other guy had to stop, it was just so bad. They were beat, and they couldn’t make their way through. But there was no way I was going to quit as long as I could go, so I took the dog handler’s gun (a compact bolt-action 7mm-08) and took off.

“The dog had the deer bayed up roughly 40 yards away, but it was through chest-deep water. It took a while, but I waded through, holding the gun over my head, and finally got up on dry land again. The deer was in a big grassbed that looked completely dry, but he saw me coming and jumped up. I shot him at 20 yards or so, but he still ran another 150 to 200 yards.

“The stuff he ran through was unbelievable. I was still holding the gun over my head and trying to sprint through water up to my knees. All I could see was his trail, with the dog right behind him. It went through a big pool, and when I tried to go through it I fell into a beaver run—and actually stepped on a beaver under the water!”

The beaver didn’t appreciate that much. Along with Cail, it made its way atop the pile of limbs that constituted its home, and the beaver stood its ground.

“I actually got into a fight with that beaver,” Cail laughed. “Nobody would believe it, but I had to baseball-swing that rifle and hit it with the butt to keep it off me!”

Meanwhile, the deer and dog were still moving—but not much farther.

“They ran into what looked like a big duck pond, and it was really deep. I could see the deer out there still kicking, so I stripped down to my underwear and T-shirt and swam out to it.”

The buck gave a final few feeble kicks as Cail grabbed an antler and swam and floated it back to dry ground. Speaking of antlers, the buck was an 11-pointer, scored by Steve at a rough “155 and change,” he said before adding, “Two DNR biologists were at the processor’s, and they measured it at 154. He had a broken brow tine that would have been at least 5 inches, so that hurt him a little.”

Cail Brinson had the deer on dry ground, but it was still a long way from being out of the swamp. And he was in trouble. The hours of exertion began to take their toll.

“When Steve and the handler finally got there, they were so winded. We were only about 450 yards from where the deer was shot, but we ran a whole lot farther than that in a circle. Steve asked if it was dead, and when I told him it was, we went crazy like a couple of little girls, screaming and beating on each other and hugging.

“But I was so cold that I started shaking and couldn’t stop. I was also having bad chest pains, and it was really scary. I finally got him back on land just before 5 o’clock, which means I had been in the water for more than two hours on a 50-degree day. I don’t know how cold the water was, but it felt a lot colder than that. I got the flu because of it, and somewhere during the chase I also got a bad cut over my left eye. I don’t even know what happened, but Steve saw it and got scared because there was blood all over my face. I was so wet I guess I thought it was water.

“Right after that, and before he saw the buck, he asked me how big it was. I told him, ‘It’s the biggest dad-gummed deer I ever saw!’

“And whatever it took, there was just no way we were going to leave it in that swamp.”

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