When Justin Wyman drove past Flagstaff Lake in Eustis on Sunday, he noticed a brown lump in the water more than 300 yards from shore, but gave it little thought.

“There was a log out there last week, and I thought that might have been what it was,” the Stratton man said.

Then he turned around and went back to the spot where he’d been, and he changed his mind. This was no log.

“I came back and it was in a different spot,” he said.

It was a deer, which had fallen through the thin ice of the lake. As Wyman turned into the boat launch area to get a better look, Maine Game Warden Pat Egan also was arriving, having received a call about the deer.

“[Egan] got out his binoculars, and sure enough, it was a six-point buck out there,” Wyman said. “Pat said that they had a small boat coming — it was just a 14-foot aluminum boat. The ice was probably one to two inches thick in places, so I offered him my bigger boat, a 19-footer.”

There was only one problem — Wyman, who only lives a few tenths of a mile from the boat launch, had already winterized his boat.

He scrambled into action.

“It probably took 10 minutes,” Wyman said. “My cousin was in the dooryard and he gave me a hand. We uncovered it, threw the battery in, fired it up and made sure the battery was good.”

It was, and Wyman headed back to launch his boat.

“One of the biggest challenges was getting it in [the water],” he said. “The ice was pretty thick right there at the landing, but we pretty much broke our way through with axes and 2x4s and stuff like that.”

He also broke the tail light of his boat trailer as it rammed up against the ice, and broke one drain plug for the boat itself — he luckily had another on hand.

“Nothing major,” he said.

Then, joined by Warden Scott Stevens, the men headed out to try to help the deer, bashing their way through the ice all the way out. It took 20 minutes or a half-hour to reach the deer, according to Wyman.

And the buck wasn’t very excited to meet his rescuers.

“He started to swim away from us. He still had some pep in his step. He was aggravated,” Wyman said. “He was roaring and letting out a bunch of noises, grunting. But after a few tries we got some rope around his antlers and I backed all the way back to the boat landing.”

Wyman headed back the way he’d come, through the narrow channel they’d made in the ice. And the deer quickly decided to participate in the rescue effort.

“He swam the rest of the way,” Wyman said. “We didn’t drag him. He was actually swimming behind the boat. We went nice and slow.”

Back at the ramp, Stevens instructed people standing on shore to clear the area in order to give the deer a spot to scramble onto dry land. The deer didn’t understand that part of the plan, however, and after what may have been two hours in the water, he needed a bit of help.

“[The deer] fell a couple of times. He laid there [in the shallow water],” Wyman said. “Then we got the boat turned around and kind of nosed in toward him to try to coax him up onto dry land. He must have stood there for 20 minutes or a half-hour, drying off.”

Stevens tried to put a blanket on the deer, but the animal wasn’t in the mood for that kind of nonsense.

“He wanted nothing to do with that,” Wyman said. “Any time you’d get near him, he’d drop his head [and look to fight]. We took some long 2x4s and just kind of poked him with them to get him up the banking and into the trees, where he could dry off a little bit.”

Wyman said it was very windy and cold, and the deer finally made it to the woods and lay down. Wyman took his boat back home to the garage, gathered his four daughters, and took them down to get a peek at the deer. It was still lying down, recovering. It was still resting when the Wymans left the scene.

“About an hour later Scott called me and said they went up there and [the deer] was sleeping, and he had dried off pretty much completely,” Wyman said. “When they went up over the banking, [the deer] woke up and jumped right up and took off, ran into the woods a little further and was standing there looking at ‘em.”

Wyman, who describes himself as an avid deer hunter, said things might have turned out differently if he had encountered the buck a day earlier, when he was in the woods pursuing deer. But he’s glad he was able to help.

“If an animal’s got a fighting chance and there’s something I can do to help make that chance a little bit better, I’m all for it,” Wyman said. “Had it been a day earlier and had he been walking in the woods, he’d have been a good candidate. But you kind of have to have that kind of respect for the creature we chase along through the woods.”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...