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Aggressive Mule Deer Dispatched by Fish and Game

On Saturday, April 7, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game dispatched a mule deer buck near the community of Whitney.

The deer was suspected of being the buck that attacked Sue Panter of Whitney, last September when she was out walking near her home.

Fish and Game received a report April 7 from David Priestley of Franklin, who was hunting marmots with his 9-year-old son, Tate, and his 9-year-old nephew, Mason Priestley, about a half mile from the location of last fall's mule deer attack.

At one point during their hike, David Priestley said he walked ahead of the boys a short distance when a mule deer buck jumped up about 30 yards away and started to run toward him. The deer circled to the man's right but still kept running toward him.

Priestley threw a rock at the deer when it got within 10 yards, hitting it on the side. The deer hopped about 15 yards away, where it stopped to rake its head on some sagebrush. Then the buck turned back toward Priestley, getting within six to eight feet before it stopped. The buck stomped once, and then began raking its head in the brush again.

"At that point, I used my cell phone to call Officer Korey Owens," David Priestley said. "When he asked me where the deer was, I told him Ôstanding eight feet in front of me.'"

Owens is a senior conservation officer with Idaho Fish and Game.

Priestley said that while they waited for Owens to arrive, the deer began circling Priestley and the boys at a 15-yard radius.

"The deer would circle one way, stop to rub its head, and circle around us in the other direction," Priestley said. "Then it finally lay down under a bush 10 yards from us."

When Owens arrived on the scene, the deer remained in its position even as he approached. Owens said the behavior, location, size and apparent age of the buck were consistent with the deer that had attacked Sue Panter last fall, and because of concerns for the deer and public safety, the animal was dispatched.

The head and neck of the deer were sent to the Wildlife Health Laboratory in Caldwell for testing to determine whether the deer's behavior could be explained by a disease or other health-related issue. It is also possible that this deer was pen-raised as a fawn, which could explain its unusual and even dangerous behavior.

Blake Phillips, regional conservation officer for Fish and Game's Southeast Region, said behavior like this is typical of deer that have been hand-raised or "tamed" by people.

"It is incidents like this that remind us why it is against the law for people to rear wildlife as pets," Phillips said. "Animals who have become accustomed or even imprinted on people do not fare well in the wild on their own, and can become nuisances and even dangerous to the public."

Unprovoked attacks by domesticated or "pet" deer, though rare, have been reported before in Idaho.

Owens said the public has been observant and aware of mule deer behavior in the Whitney area since the attack on Panter last fall. He has responded to about 10 calls from concerned residents reporting odd or abnormal deer behavior, and has even received reports of an aggressive deer chasing landowners and their farm staff as they were working around their farms.

"Sometimes I wasn't able to find the deer in question or the animals I encountered did not behave in a way that indicated they were anything other than healthy, wild mule deer," Owens said. "The encounter on Saturday was the first time when all facts and evidence were present at the right time and right place, pointing to this animal being the deer likely involved in the attack last fall."

It was September 30, 2011, when Sue Panter of Whitney, Idaho, was attacked by a young buck mule deer while on a walk near her home. Michael Vaughan and his 17-year-old daughter, Alexis Vaughan, both of Fairview, rescued Panter from the attack.

But Vaughan did not escape without his own injuries. Both Panter and Vaughan were treated for injuries sustained during the confrontation, including puncture wounds, scratches, and bruises, and were released the same day.