By: Josh Krueger & Matt Van Thiel
Matt Van Thiel and I were out walleye fishing on the north shore of Lake Winnebago. We made a few passes while trolling and had some pretty good success. Having to be home by two, we started motoring back towards the boat launch at Jefferson Park. We were about a mile out from shore between Northshore Golf Course and Waverly Beach when we saw a disturbance in the water. I didn’t know what it was, but as we got closer we knew it was something struggling in the water. We immediately thought it might be a person or a dog, so we headed straight to it at a pretty good clip and were prepared to help. As we got closer, we were shocked to realize it was a deer.
The deer seemed to be doing pretty good swimming, but it was heading out to the middle of Lake Winnebago, rather than in to shore (Lake Winnebago is the largest inland lake in Wisconsin). The deer was approximately a mile out from the Northern shore in 16 feet of water. As we tried to steer the deer back to shore, it insisted on swimming out to the middle and soon the deer went under the water and came up snorting. It was now struggling to keep its head above water. Matt wanted to get up close to the deer and said he would try to “bear hug” the doe. Either this worked or we knew the doe wouldn’t survive.
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In order to get close, Matt had to lasso the doe with the bow line. Once Matt hit his target, he pulled the line into the boat while I backed the boat up to the doe (rather than dragging her through the water with tension on her neck). She was kicking a little bit and kicked the side of my boat, but she calmed down enough that Matt was able to grab her without fear of getting kicked. I started to motor the boat into shore at a speed of approximately 5 mph. Matt was able to slip the bow line off the doe and just hung on. The deer relaxed in his arms, which was just amazing to see.
Lake Winnebago is the largest inland lake in Wisconsin covering just over 137,700 acres (215 sq. miles). Josh and Matt rescued the deer about a mile off the northern shore.
We managed to get into the sand bar areas of the north shore and Matt let her go in about 3 feet of water. The deer wanted to swim back out deeper, but I kept blocking her path with my boat and turned her around. Her feet hit the ground and she must have been able to gather herself because the doe then made a bee line for shore. We followed her in until we hit 2 feet of water. She continued to head to shore by swimming in spots and jumping in others. Finally, she reached the shoreline and followed it until she found an opening in the woods and disappeared onto dry ground.
Matt said his arms were tired and sore from holding her in a moving boat, but knew we had no choice in the matter. He said the doe was very calm in his arms, but the force of the water and the awkward position he was in was really taxing on his arms and back. I don’t think he felt it at the time, but once the adrenaline was gone, he certainly did. I don’t really remember what prompted me to grab my phone and start recording, besides the thought that this was too unbelievable of a situation to be put in. Our wives would have never believed us (as we ended up being late), so it certainly saved us there, but it ended up being a great story to share with all of the negativity that is out there in the world.