Shawn Dowling watches a floundering deer that he and lobsterman Ren Dorr spotted five miles off the coast of Harrington on Monday. The crew hauled the young buck aboard, motored a half an hour back to shore, and released him safely on the mainland. Credit: Photo by Jared Thaxter

Ren Dorr had just set a triple — three lobster traps attached by a single line — and was headed to his next buoy on Monday morning when he saw something that he didn’t expect.

There, five miles off the mainland town of Harrington, was a young deer. And it was in trouble.

“I’m sure he [had been] going from island to island or shore to an island and he couldn’t see or got caught in the current,” the 31-year-old Harrington lobsterman said. “He was just kind of going with the flow. He wasn’t trying to fight it or swim with it. He was just kind of floating along.”

To be clear, the buck was floating away from land, toward the open ocean. And due to the tide, Dorr knew that the deer had likely been in the water for at least six hours already.

Credit: Photo by Jared Thaxter

“There’s no way he made it that far on one tide,” Dorr said.

And while Dorr and his crewmates, sternman Shawn Dowling of Addison and Jared Thaxter of Columbia Falls, are used to hauling things aboard the fishing vessel Ryss & Stace, the situation presented a new challenge. Dorr decided to haul the buck into the boat.

“He was pretty beat out. I told my guys, ‘We gotta grab him,’” Dorr said. “I didn’t really figure it out. [I just said], ‘Throw him in the boat and we’re gonna take him to land.’ They kind of looked at me like I had 10 heads.”

Dowling and Thaxter quickly realized that Dorr was serious, and got to work. Initial attempts to get a rope around the buck failed, so Dorr used his gaff — a metal hook on the end of a handle — to get a grip on an antler. Then he and the crew grabbed onto the hair on the deer’s back and hoisted him into the boat. Dorr said the deer weighed about 100 pounds.

Pulling a wild animal onto a fishing boat in somewhat choppy seas might not seem like a great idea, but the deer didn’t put up much of a fight, Dorr said.

“He laid right down like a dog. He was beat out, shaking, shivering. I’m sure he was froze,” Dorr said.

Credit: Photo by Jared Thaxter

While the deer lay on the deck to rest, Dorr set course for Harrington and arrived about a half hour later.

“I pulled up as close as I could, probably 40 or 50 yards [from shore], I picked him up and set him over the side,” Dorr said. “I dropped him in, and he was kind of dazed there for a second. Then he turned and saw that land was right there, and he smoked it for land.”

Once ashore, the deer lay down for a few seconds before clambering up to the treeline and beginning to feed.

Dorr said he has seen deer in the water before, but they’re mostly spotted near a local river when hunting pressure or coyotes have driven them there. This was different, and he said he was happy to be able to help.

“He was gonna die, 100 percent. There’s no ifs, ands or buts — he was a goner,” Dorr said. “I couldn’t have that on my conscience, obviously. That’s not the guy that I am, so I figured I’d bring him in.”

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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...