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The Buck is Back: Stolen stag sculpture returned to downtown business

Bill Batchelder ties a yellow ribbon around the Bemidji Woolen Mills metal statue of Rudolph, or as he is also known, Busby, which was stolen in March and returned this week thanks to Mike Zothman and his two-year-old son, Tanner, who found the sculpture in the Nary area. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The stag statue that stood at the westerly edge of Bemidji’s downtown district for the past fiveyears has returned.

This spring, the statue nicknamed “Busby the Buck” was stolen from the site where he was bolted to a pedestal. He was properly reinstated at the corner of Third Street Northwest and Irvine Avenue outside Bemidji Woolen Mills on Monday.

The statue was discovered Friday morning south of Nary in Hubbard County. Mike Zothman said he found the deer off 474th Street near Bungashing Creek.

“It was just laying in the ditch,” said Zothman’s son, Tanner. The 2-year-old, who will excitedly tell you he’s “almost three” was with his father when they found the sculpture. The Zothmans spotted the powder-coated metal rod sculpture while riding a 4-wheeler and laying bales in the field.

“I thought it was a piece of wicker furniture at first,” Zothman said. Once he got closer, Zothman knew he’d found a sculpture that had been reported stolen earlier in the year. He called law enforcement to report his find.

The Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office transferred the call to Hubbard County, which dispatched a sheriff’s deputy. Zothman and the deputy loaded the deer into a pickup truck and the sculpture was on its way home. “Busby” was remounted in Bemidji on Monday afternoon.

The theft case was transferred back to the Bemidji Police Department, which took the original report.

When the statue went missing in March, a $500 reward was offered for the arrest, conviction and safe return of the sculpture. Bemidji Police Investigator Dan Seaberg said there are no solid suspects at this time. Although a captor has yet to be apprehended, its rescuers will still be rewarded.

“We’re going to write a check for $500 to be used for Tanner’s education fund,” said Bemidji Woolen Mills owner Bill Batchelder.

Zothman was not aware of the reward when he made a good faith effort to return the statue. Likewise, Batchelder is relying on the good in people to prevent a future theft or vandalism.

“I believe in the faith of the public to protect a public investment,” Batchelder said. “We’re just so grateful it’s back. It completes the corner.”

Batchelder purchased the statue from artist and veterinarian Dr. James Busby to adorn the exterior of his business. Batchelder said the sculpture has been called a variety of names on social media sites. Busby the Buck, Busby’s Big Buck and Hunter’s Dream are a few. Busby, the artist, titled the sculpture “Rudolph.”

“Every day, people stop by to take pictures,” Batchelder said. “At Christmastime we put a red nose on him that lights up.”

Tuesday afternoon, a large yellow ribbon was tied around Rudolph’s neck as he once again was perched on his plateau amidst faux wilderness downtown. Batchelder said he chose yellow because it represents a safe homecoming.

“There wasn’t a scratch on him,” Batchelder said.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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