You just never know what you’re going to run into when you shove off from shore and venture out into the brine. That’s certainly a lesson a quartet of heroic fishermen learned on June 11, 2016, when they started heading home after some fruitless angling for sharks in Long Island Sound.
Some six miles offshore, Rob Kurdy of Woodbury, Connecticut and his three companions noticed something a bit odd on the skyline: perhaps a floating log with an upraised branch. Steering closer, they noticed the object in question was no hunk of dead wood: It was a deer.
Specifically, it was a six-point whitetail buck, dog-paddling (deer-paddling?) desperately out in the open Sound: a long way from home, to say the least. The men noticed the deer was shivering, too—not all that surprising given the chilly 58- or 60-degree waters.
Certain the buck wasn’t going to have the energy to keep its head above water much longer, Kurdy and his partners decided to attempt a rescue. This called for some on-the-water improvisation: The men eased as close as they could, lassoed the deer’s velvety antlers with a line, and secured it to a cleat. Then—carefully monitoring their live and helpless cargo so it wasn’t injured—they motored toward shore at a gentle clip.
So far, so good—except that once they neared a beach in the hamlet of Madison, Connecticut, they realized the exhausted and chilled buck wasn’t going to be able to swim even the final leg of the journey through the nearshore shallows. So Kurdy donned a lifejacket, slipped into the water, and gently tugged the deer to the sand, where he and others were able, with the help of some cardboard, to pull him safely onto the beach.
The weak buck was still shivering violently, so some kind Madison residents brought it some blankets and helped Kurdy warm the animal. It wasn’t until several hours later that the deer recovered enough to get to its feet and stroll away—apparently none the worse for wear, though probably a bit shell-shocked from the whole affair.
How did the buck end up so far offshore? There’s no telling exactly, but it is true that white-tailed deer—plentiful along the shores of Long Island Sound, as basically everywhere in the East—are not averse to saltwater: They’ll readily swim from the mainland to barrier islands, for example. But six miles from dry land and weakly treading water in circles suggests an animal in way over its head, so to speak. Perhaps a rip tide hauled the deer out to sea (a good reminder to two-legged swimmers that those currents can be very dangerous).
Whatever the circumstances that brought it to its unusual location, we can only assume that the whitetail’s chances would have been pretty slim had those shark fishermen not chanced upon it in the empty gray chop of Long Island Sound. It likely would have drowned, though the hapless buck can also be thankful that none of the great white sharks increasingly seen in New England’s coastal waters—including the Sound—found it first. (A great white might have welcomed a bit of hoofed mammal for dinner in order to spice up its usual diet of grey seal—although, admittedly, a seal’s more blubbery than a white-tailed deer.)
Kurdy and his fishing companions deserve all the commendations they’ve received over social media since their deer rescue: One species helping another makes for some refreshingly heartwarming news. Check out the video here!