Seems like almost every hunting season brings a story or two about battling bucks that manage to lock their antlers, turning a short sparring match into a long, drawn-out struggle that usually ends badly for one or both of the brawlers. The predicament naturally inspires people to intercede on the bucks’ behalf, and these folks can get pretty creative with the tools and tactics they use. We’ve seen bone saws, pole saws, and even chainsaws employed. Sometimes, though, the best solution turns out to be the same one you’d use to get your venison during the season: a well-placed bullet. It allows the rescuer to get the job done from a safe distance and when it works, it breaks off enough antler to send the foes scurrying off in different directions, with ringing ears and a headache, most likely, but alive to fight another day.

Now, a bullet is not the appropriate response to every lockup, any more than anyone with a gun is the right person for the job. It’s no accident that in these six situations where firearms proved to be the key that unlocked the tangled tines, most were carried out by state game wardens who have the training—and the authority—to take such measures. Still, it’s hard not to watch these videos and think, That’s some good shooting.

Related: Is This the Wildest Locked-Up Buck Story of All Time?

1. Shattered By a Shotgun

When a taxidermist reported a pair of locked whitetails struggling in an open field near his home in Calgary, Canada, in 2020, sergeant Scott Kallweit of the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Department took the call. Arriving to find two mature bucks on their feet and full of energy, he decided against using a tranquilizer gun to resolve the situation. “You run the risk of having one immobilized deer while the other one is still full of life,” Kallweit told Global News. Instead, he grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun loaded with slugs and crept within 20 yards of the struggling bucks. Biding his time until the deer paused momentarily to catch their breath, the officer fired a single shot that broke off a big chunk of one buck’s left beam. Kallweit kept the 4-point fragment—which has at least one tine that looks to be more than a foot long—a pretty cool souvenir of a rescue done right.

2. Creek-Bottom Crack-Up

Kansas deer season was still open on January 7, 2021, when a bowhunter encountered two locked bucks and notified conservation officers with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. As captured on body camera footage, two game wardens shadowed the bucks for several minutes as the deer thrashed and tumbled through thickets and pastures before bogging down in a muddy creek. One officer was able to throw a blanket over the bucks’ heads, then pondered his next move—which apparently involved using webbing strap to further immobilize the deer—before telling his partner that he could get a clear shot at one of the beams. “They’re going to jump as soon as it happens,” the officer warns. He lines up the shot with his sidearm, slows his breathing, and fires. As the bucks scramble madly off to opposite sides of the creek bottom, the rescuer can be heard to chuckle, “It worked out pretty good.”

3. Ice-Breaker Blast

Another pair of Kansas conservation officers, Lynn Koch and his supervisor, Lt. Brad Hageman, had a much longer chase after they received a call about a pair of locked bucks in Coffey County in December 2017. The two officers chased the bucks for over a mile in the snow, finally catching a break when the deer lost their footing on an ice-covered creek. “Should I just try to shoot the antler?” Koch can be heard asking his boss in body camera footage released by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. After getting the go-ahead, Koch unlocks the racks with one shot, cackling with glee as the deer run off unscathed. “I call it luck,” Koch told KAKE news. “That’s about all I can say. I just got lucky, and I’m glad it ended the way it did. They both went free and no harm was done to either one of them.”  

4. Big-Bull Break-Up

When a call came in to the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Elko office in 2017, it wasn’t a game warden but a fish biologist who responded to a report of two bull elk who’d been locked together for days. Jacob Stoller, whose specialty is cutthroat trout, is also a lifelong hunter, and after he and other biologists were led to the bulls by a concerned citizen, they decided their only option was to shoot off an antler to free the elk. “Safety was the biggest concern, for us and the animals,” Stoller said. “We were worried that if we tried to get in there and cut the antlers off, we’d get stepped on or gored, and it would be more stressful for the animals to see people right on top of them. The animals were in such poor condition that tranquilizers would be too much for the animal to take.” Stoller used a shotgun with slugs to shoot off most of the smaller bull’s left antler. It must not have stung too badly, because the elk couldn’t resist taking a couple of jabs at the bigger bull with his remaining antler before running off.

5. Spike Buck Unstuck

🦌 This buck recently shed an antler in a nontypical way. State Game Warden Ryan Zawada recently responded to quite the…

Posted by Pennsylvania Game Commission on Monday, March 21, 2022

It’s not always other deer that bucks get tangled up with: Sometimes man-made objects like clotheslines, swing sets, or netting can cause big problems for even the smallest racks. That was the case last March, when the Pennsylvania Game Commission posted photos on its Facebook page of State Game Ward Ryan Zawada using a shotgun to free a spike buck that got trapped by a net on private property in Berks County. “Given the deer’s state of distress upon arrival, SGW Zawada was nervous that chemical immobilization was not a safe option to remove the deer from the net,” the department reported. “He decided the best option was to shoot the caught antler off. After the shot, one antler lighter, the buck ran off unharmed.”

6. Nice Shot by The Nuge

No, Ted Nugent is not a sworn officer of the law (though he played one in a Toby Keith movie, according to Wikipedia), but he does know how to handle stuck bucks. A YouTube video from Viral Outdoors shows the Motor City Madman encountering a locked paired, one of which is already dead and half-scavenged by coyotes. “I was able to put a little pressure on the surviving buck and pull it away from the other buck and have a clear shot,” Nugent explains. His second shot busts the racks apart, and the surviving buck springs off unharmed.





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