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One woman's call leads to rescuing deer that struggled for hours in Minnesota's icy Gull River

A spike buck was trapped for hours struggling to survive Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in frigid water after breaking through the ice on the Gull River. Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Eric Sullivan rescued the buck after a resident called in the buck's predicament. Photo by Eric Sullivan

GULL RIVER, Minn. — A deer rescued from an icy Gull River Thursday was recovering Friday, with his body temperature almost back to normal at Wild and Free Rehabilitation Center in Garrison in north-central Minnesota.

Dr. Katie Baratto said the spike buck brought in by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers was showing signs of improvement since surviving his cold ordeal with the help of watchful residents and the DNR.

"One of our volunteers sat with him all afternoon with a heating blanket on and giving fluids to him, and reading to him," Baratto said.

Although the deer's body has warmed close to 102 degrees, the typical temperature of deer according to Leonard Lee Rue III's book "Whitetail Savvy," the animal has yet to stand. Baratto said they intend to run blood work and monitor the buck over the weekend.

"He's just worn out from being in the water so long," Baratto said. "We're concerned about possible neurologic damage, from being in the cold so long. ... Hopefully, once he's warm for a long period of time—it's hopeful, it just needs to keep going in that direction."

Ione Soyett watched the deer flailing in the water from her riverside home after it broke through the ice during an attempted river crossing and felt she had to do something. She first noticed the deer's plight about 8:30 a.m. and began to call agencies she thought might be able to help, including the sheriff's office and, naturally, the DNR.

"The animal is struggling," Soyett said. "It needed help. It's just a human interest thing—you've got to do something."

Soyett and husband Tom had to leave the drama unfolding before them to deliver Meals on Wheels. When she got back to the house, she saw a DNR boat going into the water and the deer still there fighting to stay alive. Then she watched, waited and prayed.

Conservation Officer Eric Sullivan was able to get a strap around the buck's shoulders and guide the deer to his boat. He lifted the deer inside the boat. Ice clung to the young deer's eyelashes, ears and neck. The deer looked dazed and confused.

Sullivan met Mike Lee, the DNR regional training officer, and together they took the buck to the Garrison Animal Hospital and its Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Program.

Wild and Free is a nonprofit wildlife program that functions entirely on donations and works to rescue, rehabilitate and release orphaned and injured wildlife.