Whitetail Deer
Everything Else Outdoors Mike's Meanderings

Swim, Forest (Animals)! SWIM!

Sometimes life in the wilderness is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. This particular night at my place on Roosevelt Lake in Outing, Minnesota was definitely one of those times. Never in a million years did I expect to witness this blockbuster event so up close and personal.

“I don’t know if we each have a destiny or if we’re all just floatin’
around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it’s both.”
Forrest Gump

Not even the hint of a breeze stirred as I hurried down the steep hill toward my 14 foot Alumicraft boat.  The silver piece of crap with the twice-patched bottom (that only leaks occasionally) bobbed patiently at the dock on the north end of the glassy lake. Dinner had dragged on a little longer than I had hoped, but I was still confident that there was time to toss a few casts before running out of daylight.

As the dock came into view I noticed something swimming out from shore toward the middle of the lake. What the heck was that? At first glance I assumed a dog was retrieving a stick or a ball. But as I took my first few steps out onto those old wooden boards I realized it was a large female whitetail deer in the water!

Stupid Is As Stupid Does
Watching in amazement for a few minutes, I decided that I could probably get up pretty close in my boat to snap a few photos. The trusty 9.9 HP Johnson fired right up on the first pull and soon I was motoring along in the deer’s wake. I was still about 30 feet to the left of the animal when I pulled parallel with the deer. It was then that I had my first “oh crap!” moment of the night. I realized my digital camera was on the counter in my camper, way atop the hill I had previously descended.

Due to my ineptitude with new technology and my super tight wallet strings (you can learn about my other tight-wad tendencies here if you so desire), I didn’t yet own a Smartphone. Instead, I whipped out my trusty flip phone and tried to capture the moment the best I could. All of the commotion alarmed the deer, which was now slightly farther than half way across the lake. Spooked by my presence, the deer pulled an abrupt U-turn and headed back toward the shore that held my dock.

Forest Friend swimming
That panicked whitetail was hightailing it across the water! I sure wish that flip phones had zoom lenses!

What Are You, Some Kind of Idiot?
Immediately cursing myself for scaring the animal, I prayed that the deer had the stamina to make it safely back to shore. I certainly didn’t want to feel responsible for aiding and abetting in the drowning of Bambi! So there I sat, parked in my boat, just watching in wonderment as the deer quickly retraced its swim path. When it finally reached the shoreline, it leapt from the water, crashing into the woods just off to the side of my dock. As the deer disappeared into the dense brush I began preparations to start the motor again.

I was certainly caught off guard when, just moments later, I heard the crashing of trees and brush coming from the shoreline. I was bewildered to see the same deer splashing back into the water and once again swimming in my direction. Before I could spit out the words, “What the …….” another crash followed from the same area in the woods. A moment later I saw what looked like an enormous dog standing on the shoreline and scanning its eyes back and forth across the water. Soon the canine was in the water too, in hot pursuit of the deer.

Swim Like the Wind Blows!
As the two animals swam back toward my boat bobbing in the middle of the lake, I wondered what would possess a dog to pursue a deer so relentlessly. As they drew nearer I did a double take, suddenly realizing that the trailing mutt was not a dog at all, but a timber wolf! I watched in amazement as the skinny-legged deer actually opened up a larger margin of distance between itself and the wolf.

Four stick-like appendages can really propel a panicked doe through the water. I knew a whitetail deer could outrun most mammals of the north woods on dry land, hitting speeds up to 40 MPH. I also knew they could leap like an Olympic high jumper — up to 9 feet high, even without using the legendary Dick Fosbury Flop technique from the 1968 Mexico City games. But swim at speeds up to 13 MPH? I wouldn’t know THAT fact until Google smacked me over the head with it.

One by one the pair swam past me, about 50 yards to the north. After about five minutes, the deer reached the far shore and splashed out of the water, racing into the cover of the woods. A few minutes later, the wolf scrambled out of the water, sniffed the shoreline, and then hightailed it into the trees after the deer once again. I figured the show was over now, so I pulled out my cell phone again. This time I intended to call my buddy and share this amazing tale. But as I started to dial, I watched in disbelief as the deer returned to the shoreline. Was that doe REALLY going to swim the lake for the third time tonight? I guess you could say that girl was filled with forest “Gumption”!

The poor, terrified animal had circled through the underbrush and came out about 100 yards to the south of where my boat was still floating. Without hesitation the deer plunged back into the lake and started swimming back toward the original shoreline where my dock stood. I marveled at the strength and stamina of this frightened creature as nature’s circle of life blessed my eyes. Quietly cheering inside I urged the deer on as it motored through the glassy water, hoping it would not succumb to this punishing chase.

Worthy of a Medal of Honor?
As the deer neared the halfway point of her swim, I saw the wolf reappear on the shoreline where the deer had been just minutes before. The eerie gray carnivore sniffed the air, quickly discovering the track its prey had taken. That hungry wolf splashed right back into the water, again in hot pursuit. I motored over towards the wolf in an attempt to take a picture of it swimming in the water. Using logic instead of fear, I figured I was safe from attack as long as I stayed inside the boat.

Gray wolf swimming
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf in hot pursuit? Well, both the wolf and the deer were huffing and puffing after this chase!

Since the camera on my flip phone did not take very crisp pictures AND didn’t have a zoom lens (at least not one that I knew how to use), I needed to move in tight. As I neared the wolf I swung the boat further out toward the middle of the lake, effectively blocking the animal’s path to the far shore. The frightened wolf immediately slammed on the brakes and did an about-face, doggy-paddling back to the western shore as the deer successfully completed its swim to the eastern shore of the lake. I watched with relief as this time the deer escaped into the woods without a predator on its tail. The wolf slunk back into the woods on the opposite side of the lake, most likely cursing my name and vowing revenge.

That’s a Wrap
The whole episode probably lasted about 20 to 25 minutes, and amazingly no other boats came out on the lake to interrupt the chase. I originally felt terrible that my quest to photograph a swimming deer had chased this poor thing back toward the jaws of death. But in the end, I felt vindicated that my little fishing boat cruise and a crappy flip phone camera just may have saved that doe’s life. Hmmm …. maybe I should treat myself to a box of chocolates for my efforts. (Or at least a campfire S’more!)

Side Note: When discussing this amazing event with a specialist from the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, I was told that it is rare that a wolf will hunt alone. Usually wolves hunt in packs and use a group mentality to trap/corner their prey, so they can eat without expending excessive energy. In her opinion, this particular wolf must have become separated from its pack and was very, very hungry to resort to such relentless pursuit.

Do you have a wildlife story that out-wilds this one? We’d love to hear about it in the comments box below. Or feel free to email us at ParkYourselfOutdoors@gmail.com. Those wild times are so much more satisfying when you can share them!

“My Momma always told me that miracles happen
every day. Some people don’t think so, but they do.”
Forrest Gump

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3 Comment

  1. So once you learned that this wolf had probably been separated from its pack and was, most likely, very very hungry, did you feel guilty for impeding its path to dinner?

    1. Terri Leonard, not a hint of guilt swam through my veins. I DID think about sharing that box of celebratory candy with the wolf, but you know what they say about canines and chocolate!

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