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Get ready for free-for-all when bucks get tangled

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Updated: February 16, 2013 12:08AM

Throwing ‘‘400 pounds of muscle around,’’ two mature bucks locked horns Feb. 6, then put on an improbable show near Plainfield in Will County.

More improbably, three law-enforcement officers, all avid outdoorsmen and deer hunters, worked to shoot off two tines, freeing the bucks to roam again.

The video went viral.

On Friday, I met with Illinois State Police trooper George Del Rio, Illinois Conservation Police officer Michael Goetten and Forest Preserve District of Will County police officer Cameron Povalish at Des Plaines State Fish and Wildlife Area.

It started with a call from a citizen, who noticed the locked bucks.

‘‘I would like to commend the guy who called it in,’’ Povalish said. ‘‘They could have waited for them to die.’’

Then collected the locked trophy antlers, which are rare, valuable collectibles. Whitetail bucks will fight, most often around early November. On rare occasions, their antlers become locked. When that happens, the bucks die locked or are freed when they wear down.

This was an odd case. Whitetail bucks drop antlers every year, beginning in midwinter and peaking in February. To have two mature bucks throwing each other around like rag dolls in early February is improbable in the first place. Even more improbably, neither rack busted loose.

These were trophies. Povalish said the biggest was a seven-point main frame, estimated as a 5- or 6-year-old in its prime. They estimated it would score in the 165-inch range (that’s record-book territory). The other was an eight-point, estimated as a 4-year-old.

Of the one, Povalish said: ‘‘He’s a stud. I saw him in the parking lot of Lake Renwick [in the fall] with 14 does. He’s awesome.’’

So were the officers. They responded within an hour. Even then, the bucks were lively. On another video, one body-slams the other like a WWE participant.

The officers, who had worked together in various pairings previously,, worked seamlessly to corral the deer.

‘‘We had to be safe and [have] the right backdrop,’’ Goetten said.

That’s because they already had decided the best option was to shoot an antler off to free them.

‘‘We didn’t even think of putting them down,’’ Del Rio said.

In other cases, bucks can be freed by sawing off antlers if they are physically worn-out or one is dead.

Frankly, putting them down would have been easier. Using a tranquilizer is rarely an immediate option. In this case, Del Rio said that stress would have killed them.

So the officers worked to corner them. But the bucks were so full of piss and vinegar that they ran 300 yards while thrashing around.

Because of their familiarity with each other, the lead officer changed as conditions dictated.

Finally, the bucks wore down and were on the ground. Del Rio — who was in the lead, with Povalish and Goetten flanking — was able to get within 15 yards.

‘‘The first shot, you could see it made a hole [in the antlers],’’ he said. ‘‘The second and third shots, the same.’’

The fourth shot busted off a pair of tines on the eight-point, with the 180-grain bullet still embedded.

The bucks shook free of each other, then bolted. One was groggy, but you could see it regain its equilibrium and its white tail go up.

Povalish walked the property
the next day to make sure neither had died.

‘‘The odds of coming upon that [are astronomical],’’ Del Rio said. ‘‘Most hunters never even see it in their lives. I still can’t believe it.’’

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