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Behind the Badge

The Job Shadow

District Game Warden Courtney Sprenger

I received a call one year in mid-December about a sick whitetail buck.

The deer was quite thin, and although it seemed able to walk normally, it was wandering aimlessly in somewhat of a large circle.

I contacted our wildlife veterinarian, who requested that I euthanize the deer and submit the head for chronic wasting disease testing.

A local high school student named Levi had requested to do a job shadow with me that day, and I wanted to take care of the deer before picking him up.

Dispatching sick or injured animals is part of a game warden’s job, but I didn’t want to take the chance that my ride along might be squeamish about that particular task.

I shot the deer, then quickly assessed the carcass for any indications about what might have happened to it.

I found no injuries on the body, but one eye was crusty and oozing pus.

A glance at my watch told me I needed to remove the head quickly if I was going to pick Levi up on time.

I have removed many deer heads over the years, and it is usually a quick and simple task.

After cutting through the hide and meat around the neck, I grabbed the antlers and twisted to remove the head, but instead I flipped the entire deer carcass over.

Normally the deer’s body weight provides enough resistance to remove the head, but this deer was so emaciated that my standard method wasn’t working.

I tried to hold the body down with my foot while twisting the antlers, but that didn’t work either.

The head seemed to be stuck.

Frustrated that I couldn’t accomplish this basic task, I finally had to give up and leave to meet Levi without having collected the sample.

After introducing myself to Levi, I quickly learned that he was an avid hunter.

I explained the situation with the deer, and he eagerly agreed to assist me with removing the head.

We returned to the location of the deer.

I placed my boot firmly on the deer’s ribcage while Levi grabbed the antlers and twisted.

For a moment nothing happened.

Levi twisted harder, and the deer head started to turn.

To this day I have no idea what made me do it, but as the deer head started to give, I tucked my face into the upturned collar of my coat.

A moment later, pus squirted from the deer, covering the entire front of my coat and spattering my sunglasses.

I leaped backwards as Levi stood up with the deer head in his hands.

He stared at me in total shock, probably wondering whether I was going to scream or vomit.

I stared in disbelief at the thick, yellow pus oozing down my coat, from collar to hem.

The smell was unbelievable, but somehow, I managed not to gag.

My first thought was thankfulness that I had ducked my face into my coat collar.

My second thought was to wonder how quickly I could get my coat off without touching the disgusting substance.

“I guess I’m going to need a clean uniform before we do anything else today,” I said.

Levi visibly relaxed when it became apparent that I wasn’t going to freak out.

We put both the deer head and my coat in the pickup box, and I scrubbed at my face and sunglasses with wet wipes.

Luckily, we weren’t far from my house, so in only a short time I was cleaned up and ready to patrol again.

The rest of the day was quite typical for December.

We checked a few ice anglers, and I returned Levi to school before the final bell, thanking him again for his help with the deer.

When the test results came back, the deer did not have CWD.

Our wildlife veterinarian informed me that there was an injury near the eye, likely from being stabbed by another buck while fighting during the rut.

The wound had caused a brain abscess and the deer was probably blind, which was why it was wandering aimlessly.

The swelling and pus from the infection had caused the difficulty in removing the head.

Several years later, I ran into Levi again while both of us were helping with a youth archery event.

He came up to me during the lunch break and asked, “Hey, do you remember me? I was job shadowing with you when that deer squirted you with pus.” I assured him that I remembered who he was, and we shared a laugh over the incident.

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