Dan Hartley was hoping to bag a 10-point buck. Instead, the Wisconsin hunter had a close encounter with an overly friendly deer that nudged, jousted and merely wanted to play with him.
“It all seemed like a dream,” said Hartley, 60, of Janesville. But the video he captured says it wasn’t.
Weeks earlier, Hartley was bow hunting from a deer stand on private land that he rents near Hillsboro when he spotted a “nice” eight-point buck from his stand. But he couldn’t get a shot off. With other deer nearby, he feared any movement would startle them and cause him to miss his shot at the buck.
So on the dawn of Wisconsin’s gun opener Nov. 18, Hartley moved to an area in a gully nestled between corn and bean fields that he hadn’t hunted yet. He put a couple of foam pads on the ground and sat still in the thicket as daylight broke. A little after 7 a.m., he heard a noise to his left. A young eight-point buck stood about 20 feet away.
The young buck wasn’t what Hartley was after. “I wanted a wall mounter,” he said. “I wasn’t going to put that little one on the wall.”
So he tried scaring the little buck from the thicket, making noise as he clicked off his gun safety. The buck jumped about a foot, then walked within two feet of Hartley — so close that he wouldn’t have had to aim to shoot his dinner.
“I thought maybe he couldn’t see me because I wasn’t moving and I was quiet,” Hartley said. “I thought I was in stealth (mode).”
Hartley was wearing camouflage pants but the rest of his outfit — an orange hat, big orange mittens and an orange jacket — screamed “I’m here.”
The friendly buck moved behind Hartley and sniffed him up and down, leaving the hunter wondering what the attraction was. Hartley wasn’t wearing doe urine scent that would have attracted a buck.
“I thought, ‘This is crazy,’ ” he said. He watched for signs that the buck might kick and become aggressive.
Suddenly, the buck’s nose pushed into the middle of Hartley’s back “and gave me a shove,” lifting him a bit off the ground.
“I figured I wasn’t too stealth anymore,” Hartley said with a laugh. With his gun barrel in his left hand, Hartley swung around and put up his forearm between him and the deer.
With the buck using its antlers to push on his arm, Hartley led the buck back in front. It’s unlikely anyone would believe a story that he was nearly nose-to-nose with a buck, so Hartley grabbed his smartphone from his pocket, punched in his pass code and turned on the video with one hand while fending off the deer with the other.
Eventually, the pushing match moved to Hartley’s foot and the deer’s head.
“He wasn’t doing anything aggressive,” he said. “He was just tussling like he would do with another buck.”
With the video capturing the moment, Hartley chuckled at his predicament. “How am I supposed to hunt with you around here,” he says out loud to the deer.
“It was pretty cool at first,” Hartley said this week. “Then it got old.”
That’s when he told the deer, “Shoo. Shoo. Get out of here.”
The buck seemed to take the hint, moving to a nearby sapling to rub his antlers for a time. Then he was gone.
“What a fight,” Hartley is heard saying as the deer wandered away. “He was really kicking my butt for awhile.”
After seeing a bit of the video, Kevin Wallenfang, deer and elk ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said it’s obvious the buck wasn’t behaving like a wild deer should.
“My suspicion is that animal knows people quite well,” he said. “He was basically playing.”
Looking closely, Wallenfang said a slit in the deer’s ear may indicate the buck had been tagged at one time. “I suspect it was someone’s illegal pet or was a game-farm animal that got away,” he said.
Blaming the unusual behavior on a disease would have required that the buck be killed and tested.
For now, an explanation is elusive. “We’ll never know,” Wallenfang said. “It’s a mystery.”