The 1993 Maine deer hunting season had been a long one. I was a deputy game warden for district game warden Pat Devlin of Carmel. I had previously worked for warden David Priest Jr. but he had retired earlier in the year and I was assigned to Pat.
Pat and I had spent countless hours working together, mostly at night, since Sept. 1. We had made numerous apprehensions that fall for significant violations such as night hunting, illuminating wildlife and illegal possession of deer. However, the long days, longer nights, lack of sleep and poor eating habits had taken their toll. That had been made painfully obvious to me recently, when I nearly rear-ended an 18-wheeler loaded with Christmas trees on Route 2 in Hermon on my way home one morning. I jumped on the brakes and to my surprise, there was, in fact, no truck in front of me. Then it happened again. Twice in the span of three or four minutes. I was so sleep deprived I was hallucinating. I made it home but I am not sure how.
Now it was the final week of the regular firearms season on deer. Pat and I were surveilling a field for night hunting activity when he got a radio call from the state police barracks in Orono. This was before game wardens were issued or had access to any sort of cellphones. The brief message was clear enough: Proceed to Bangor International Airport as there was a deer inside a vehicle near the terminal.
Pat and I looked at each other in disbelief. Pat, who was generally good-natured, began to grumble, “It couldn’t be? Could it?” We arrived within a half hour and found the vehicle. It was a small pickup. Both doors were closed and the windows were rolled up. There was no operator with the parked truck, but there, sitting on the front seat like the family dog, was one very live white-tailed deer.
We approached the truck and the previously docile doe deer began to kick and stomp inside the cab. We backed off. Pat said, “You stay here. I am going inside to find this guy.”
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It was customary in those days for wardens to wear red wool field jackets in the fall. As Pat marched toward the terminal entrance, a woman, believing Pat to be a valet parker, asked him if it was OK to park right there. Pat made it quite clear he didn’t care where she parked.
Within a few minutes Pat returned. He had his man. I could hear him say to the fellow that you should never put a live deer in a vehicle. The sheepish man relayed his story. He was on the way to the airport to pick up his girlfriend when the car in front of him struck the deer and knocked it down in the road. The man stopped to drag the deer out of the road. As he did so, he saw that it was still breathing. He decided to take it home to rehabilitate it. However, he was fearful that if he put it in the bed of his truck, it might wake up and jump out, further injuring itself.
Naturally, he placed the deer inside the truck to prevent this from happening. Everything was OK until he met his girlfriend’s flight, returned to the truck and found the deer still alive and very much awake.
Pat explained in no uncertain terms that this was a problem, as we couldn’t let the deer go in front of the airport terminal. Pat then directed the man to drive the truck and follow us away from the airport to a field where we would let the deer go. The man agreed. He motioned for his friend to join him. Pat interrupted. “No, she’s not going. You and the deer follow us. You can pick her up later.”
That was a great decision as it could have likely been harmful to his girlfriend’s health to travel with the deer right next to her. I admit my face was pressed against the rear window of the old Dodge warden truck as we left the airport grounds.
To my surprise, the scene inside the truck was anything but chaotic. The deer had slid over against the passenger door and the man was driving with his left hand and keeping her at bay with his right. He followed us this way for about 2 miles or so.
We turned on to Davis Road from Union Street. In those days there was a large field on the north side of the road. Nowadays it is all overgrown with pine trees. We drove out into the middle of the field. A light came on inside the farmhouse at the end of the field. Seconds later, the state police radioed to advise us of “night hunting” activity in progress in a field on the north side of Davis Road, just east of Union Street. Pat advised the State Police that he was aware of the situation.
We opened both doors to the small pick up, but the deer wouldn’t get out. Instead, it positioned itself in the middle of the bench seat. Pat’s patience was gone. He looked at me and said, “Go in there and get that deer!”
I took a deep breath and crawled in. I was able to get my arms around the deer, slide her across the seat and place her on the ground. She stood on her own, but didn’t move. I surmised she may have had internal injuries, so I began a quick assessment. One or two pokes and prods was all it took. That deer jumped clear and bounded across the field, tail up and apparently none the worse for the wear. That is exactly the way it happened.
Now, more than 25 years later, Pat’s words of wisdom still ring true: “Never put a live deer in a vehicle!”