Spencer Olson harvested the struggling buck and salvaged the dead one after getting permission from a game warden

spencer olson with two whitetail deer locked up

Coyotes had eaten away at the dead carcass, which had also started rotting. Photograph courtesy of Spencer Olson

Spencer Olson wasn’t planning to notch his first archery deer tag on Dec. 16 when he set out to hunt coyotes in central North Dakota. He even left his bow at home in Maddock. But after missing a shot on a coyote and approaching the marshy area to check for blood, the 24-year-old walked up on a gruesome sight. He saw a 13-point whitetail buck dragging a dead, half-eaten 8-pointer through the cattails, their antlers completely locked up.

“I didn’t know how to react when I first saw it,” Olson tells Outdoor Life. “I just stood there in shock for about five minutes before I called anyone.”

After watching the buck struggle from only 60 yards away, Olson thought about putting it out of its mystery. But first, he called a local game warden.

spencer olson bucks locked up
Olson with his first-ever archery buck. Photograph courtesy of Spencer Olson

“I wanted to make sure what I was going to do would be legal,” Olson says. “I had my bow tag with me but didn’t have my bow, so I called up a buddy that lived nearby and he brought me his bow. I shot [the living deer], tagged it, and the game warden gave me a salvage tag for the dead one.”

When Olson approached the pair, he realized the 8-pointer had been dead for some time. The back half of the carcass had been eaten away, and its hide had started turning green. The buck’s eyes were pecked out, and the whole carcass stunk with rot.

The buck that survived the fight wasn’t in much better shape by the time Olson harvested it. Olson could tell it had grown skinny and likely hadn’t been able to eat or drink much with the carcass stuck to its head. One of the 8-point’s antlers had rubbed a hole in its skull that looked infected. The living buck had also burst most of its blood vessels while hauling the dead buck around.

hole in buck's head
The dead buck’s antler had rubbed a hole into the living buck’s skull. The wound was infected. Photograph courtesy of Spencer Olson

Olson took all the salvageable meat from the 13-pointer but had to leave some behind due to all the blood (from the exploded vessels) that had saturated the muscles. He dropped off the bucks, still locked up, with a taxidermist in the area. He plans to turn the pair into a double shoulder mount.

While the experience was a unique one, especially for Olson’s first archery buck, he also sleeps a little better at night knowing that he sought the game warden’s guidance on the situation.

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“He was initially shocked. He sounded as surprised as I was on the phone,” Olson says. “But he said ‘Either you shoot it with your bow and tag it or we come out there and try to break them apart.’ And I knew I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity … Some folks, I’ll call them ‘haters,’ said this wasn’t fair chase. But I know what shape the deer was in, and even if they would have broken him free, he probably would have died anyway. He was getting skinny and had a hole in his head, and probably had a fever from getting so worked up.”

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