It promised to be one of the most beautiful Thanksgiving Days possible.
There had been an early, heavy snowfall followed by a cold snap, preserving the snow and freezing local ponds in crystal clear glass ice free of snow. A holiday skater's dream!
The Colorado contingent of our family had congregated at my sister Cathy’s home up on the hill in north Boulder, where all the young doctors and lawyers of the region resided. A nearby pond on neighborhood open space had frozen perfectly smoothly and was our target for pre-Thanksgiving gorging fun and games.
My brother-in-law, John, a school teacher from Louisville, Colorado, and I were setting up makeshift goals for some pick-up hockey games when several neighborhood dogs ran a young doe out onto the ice. The doe had fallen on the exceptionally smooth ice and was floundering to get back on her feet with the dogs still harassing her. John and I rushed over to chase the dogs off and help the deer over to the edge of the pond and back on her feet. Once we had gotten rid of the dogs, we saw that the doe had suffered a serious compound fracture in a foreleg, with the bone shattered and sticking through the skin. She had to be put down.
We sent word back with a curious onlooker to keep the gathering families and children back on the other side of the pond while we dragged the doe over into tall cattails to hide our gruesome deed. We wanted to be sure that nobody would have to watch the deer’s bloody death throws.
It had only been a few weeks earlier that I had hit a doe on Highway 34 through the Big Thompson Canyon below Estes Park. I had seen other deer get slammed really hard by vehicles and still manage to get up and run away and (hopefully) survive, and I had hoped this one would also recover. But when I got out to look, it was apparent that this one wouldn’t survive. The side of her head was crushed in, with the lower jaw fractured through the skin. I had unfolded my razor-sharp pocket knife to slit her throat when she suddenly came to life and started scrambling to her feet. I instinctively went to tackle her back down before she got away but was amazed by her adrenaline-powered strength. I basically had to ride her down into the dirt before I could pull her mussel back and slice her throat to spew blood everywhere. I looked over to see two carloads of tourists on their way home from a weekend in Estes Park who had also pulled over to make sure the little Bambi was alright. The appalled shock and repulsion in the gape-mouthed faces of mothers and children was beyond description as both cars peeled away as though from a gruesome murder scene. I was certain that was the worst I could ever horrify innocent onlookers with such a scene. I was wrong.
All good cowboys always carry a razor-sharp knife. I have saved more lives, horses and humans, by being able to quickly slice through tangled ropes and reins than the lives I have ever taken by use of a sharp knife. With two of us holding the doe, who appeared to be almost unconscious with shock, this seemed like a simple task. But as soon as I plunged and pulled my knife, the deer came to life, wrenching out of John’s grip and spinning around to cover his face and brand-new LL Bean goose-down filled coat with blood. I had managed to cut a jugular vein and the trachea so that she aspirated her own blood and spewed it out like pressurized spray paint as she ran up out of the cattails and through the backyards of several wealthy wildlife lovers, jumping fences and hedges on three legs while painting a broad bloody trail in her wake.
This was well before the days of cell phones, so as soon as we had changed back into our snow boots from our ice skates while answering interrogations from onlookers, I sent John back to Sister Cathy’s house to call the Division of Wildlife to report the incident and try to get a ‘road kill’ tag, or whatever other category this situation might fit so that we could butcher the doe and make use of her. Meanwhile, I went back to drag the doe back down to the cattails. But before he could get past the stunned families of ice-skaters and gathering crowd of outraged nearby homeowners, he was accosted by the Boulder City Police, the Boulder County Sheriff Deputies, Boulder Animal Control, and finally, the Colorado State Division of Wildlife.
I finished dragging the doe down to the edge of the pond and went over to join the growing crowd of animal advocates gathering to see justice served. There seemed to be a bit of conflict over jurisdiction, with all law officials wanting the pleasure of arresting the guilty parties. John had initially been detained from returning to Cathy’s house to wash off the gruesome evidence he wore from his face to his feet but was now being escorted in that direction by two sheriff deputies while they interrogated him. The officials apparently wanted to be sure we couldn’t communicate even through body language until they had the opportunity to question us separately before we could conjure up a cover story.
It was reluctantly conceded that the Division of Wildlife had jurisdiction over this offense, and they began intense questioning as they carefully escorted me over the slick ice to the scene of the crime, followed by a small group of eyewitnesses. The senior wildlife officer initially seemed very skeptical of the notion that the deer could have broken her leg that badly merely falling down, suggesting that John and/or I had somehow, intentionally or unintentionally, broken her leg while dragging, or more likely, after dragging her into the cattails.
There was, however, blood on the ice where the deer had fallen and scrape marks consistent with the sharp end of a broken bone surrounded by claw marks of marauding dogs. A solid line of blood across the ice to the cattails where I had slit her throat further substantiated my story, backed by John’s version and also supported by a lack of bite marks on the doe or any other potential source of blood other than her cut throat. The eyewitnesses also had to admit that they had seen no action by either accused party that might have resulted in a broken leg. The conversation began to turn toward the identity of the dogs and their owners as the guilty parties.
Before long, I was issued a ‘road kill’ permit for the deer and was allowed to fetch a sled to drag her back to my sister’s house. In view of the circumstances, I opted against gutting her in the shelter of the cattails as I might otherwise have done and instead took her back to my sister’s garage, where the butchering was conducted behind closed doors. Thinly sliced tenderloin fried in bacon grease was added to our Thanksgiving Day menu.
Our efforts to help a wounded deer became a dramatic and bloody ordeal. There's a sense of the extraordinary in everyday life. This theme is explored in DANCES WITH DONKEYS: The Memoir Of A Half-assed Cowboy. The book is filled with stories that are humorous, heartfelt, and distinctly off the beaten path. Join me in these adventures and discover a life beyond the ordinary.