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Remembering a long-ago buck rescue

Still in his early 20s, Dan Edman stands by the whitetail buck he and his two brothers rescued from the ice of a small lake near Bagley, Minn., during the fall of 1973. Edman's brother, Richard, took the photos, and the three brothers all were attending Bemidji State University at the time. (Photo/ Richard Edman)1 / 4
Back on solid ground, the whitetail buck remained where brothers Paul, Richard and Dan Edman placed it after rescuing the deer from a small lake near Bagley, Minn., in the fall of 1973. The buck had fallen on the ice and was unable to stand up. Richard Edman took this photo of the buck resting in the grass. (Photo/ Richard Edman)2 / 4
Dan Edman (left) and his brother, Paul, used a pole to help guide a deer that had fallen on the ice of a small lake near Bagley, Minn., in the fall of 1973 and was unable to get back on its feet. Their brother, Richard Edman, photographed the rescue for the final project of his basic photography class at Bemidji State University. (Photo/ Richard Edman)3 / 4
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This isn't a deer hunting story, as such, but as memorable buck encounters go, it ranks right up there for Paul Edman, Richard Edman and Dan Edman—three brothers who grew up in Warren, Minn., and were attending Bemidji State University at the time.

Dan Edman, who teaches construction electricity at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and still lives in Warren, reached out to share the story of the day back in the early '70s when he and his two older brothers rescued a buck in distress.

Without their help, the deer likely would have perished.

"Always when you can help wildlife, you feel good about it," Dan Edman, 67, said. "I think he probably would have been coyote bait after awhile."

It was the fall of 1973, a week or so before deer season, and Paul Edman had called his two brothers one night with news of a whitetail buck he'd seen from a distance stranded on the ice on the far side of a small lake southeast of Bagley, Minn.

Paul lived in Bagley at the time, and his two brothers were roommates living off-campus in Bemidji, Dan Edman recalls.

"He'd seen the deer on the lake," Dan Edman said. "Paul had good eyes and binoculars. He could just see a little itty bitty thing on the other side of the lake.

"The ice had just formed and he needed help to rescue it."

It was dark by the time they got the call, Dan Edman said, but the brothers made plans to meet up the next morning to see if they could rescue the deer.

"So off on an adventure we went," he said.

Still stranded

The next morning, the buck still was sprawled on the ice on the north side of the lake where Paul had seen it the previous evening.

"We had to find a way to get onto the lake on that side," Dan Edman said. "It was farmed land up in there, but we had to find a way to get close enough to the lake from that side."

They found a spot to get on the ice, he says, and the going wasn't too bad initially as they worked their way through thick reeds that lined the lake near shore.

Past the reeds, the ice was like glass, and that's where the buck was spread-eagled and unable to stand up.

"The ice wasn't very thick. Normally, we probably wouldn't have been walking out there, but it was enough," Dan Edman said, adding with a chuckle:

"We didn't weigh as much then, I don't think."

Initially, the brothers—Richard, 68, today lives in Warren and Paul, 70, in Warroad, Minn.—thought about pulling the buck to shore by its antlers, but the deer wasn't particularly receptive to that idea.

"He was still pretty feisty," Dan Edman said. "He wasn't too bad of a size of deer, either. His horns weren't real perfect, I remember."

The brothers had cut willows for poles before venturing onto the ice, and once the buck calmed down, they decided to slide a pole under the buck's belly and pull him along that way.

Richard, who was taking a photography class at BSU, documented the rescue as part of his final project, while Dan and Paul each took one end of the pole and started sliding the deer toward shore.

That actually worked quite well, Dan Edman recalls.

"It was so slippery out there," he said. "We just kind of scooted him along, and he kind of rode on his front feet. We got him positioned and headed him toward shore until the reeds got thicker.

"He looked pretty good other than having been out on the ice. I can't imagine how cold he must have been. He was just flat out on the ice."

Back to shore

They managed to get the deer to shore, but the buck was so exhausted it couldn't move its legs out of the spread-eagle position in which it had spent the past several hours.

"We had to tuck his legs underneath him because he was so used to being spread out, I suppose," Dan Edman said. "He just stayed there. He didn't make an attempt to get up or run or nothing.

"He seemed pretty content with the rescue."

And that's the way they left him. What happened to the buck after that, the brothers never found out, but at least the deer had a better chance of surviving than it would have sprawled on thin ice unable to move.

"It was kind of a neat thing because we're all hunters," Dan Edman said. "We've all shot deer, and we probably shot deer that year, but we kind of felt like, poor guy, he needed a break."

Thanks to the efforts of three brothers, the buck got one that day.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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