By Evan Steinhorst
My wife and I had enjoyed watching deer wander into our backyard to scavenge seeds from the birdfeeders every winter for several years. It was a particularly snowy day in 2007 when we first noticed the skinny, disheveled, young deer limp into the yard, following far behind the other deer, as if it were an outcast. After watching for a while, it was apparent that it had been severely wounded during the recent rifle season. Its left rear leg was shattered at the knee and the bones were exposed through the loose hide. Nothing but skin and bones, this poor animal looked very near death, suffering terribly as it tried to walk through the deep snow.
It was hard to watch the animal struggle. Doubting that it would be able to survive, my wife asked me to put it out of its misery. This would have definitely been the most humane thing to do, but my imagined threat of repercussions from our Wisconsin DNR kept me from shooting it. The wounded deer that we had assumed was a doe, was nicknamed “Limpy, and it continued visiting the backyard for a short time, arriving later in the evenings and usually all alone. After an opportunity to view the deer closer with binoculars, we noticed the spots on his head where his antlers had been. His serious wound probably caused him to shed his antlers earlier than normal. Eventually, Limpy stopped coming to the yard. Spring came and we were no longer seeing him.
We believed that he had probably died of his injuries or had been killed by a coyote pack. The next fall in 2008, we hadn’t seen him or gotten pictures of him on the trail camera. That hunting season of 2008 came and went without any trace of Limpy. But, while shed-hunting in spring of 2009, I found a strange-looking shed from the right side of a rack. It had developed so that it hung down the side of the deer’s head. Another shed had been found by the person who hunts on my neighbor’s land. He described it as being a bit strange, pretty big, and that it came from the left side of a rack. After putting the two newly discovered sheds together, it was decided that they were most likely from the same deer. I wondered, could this unusual set of antlers possibly be from the injured buck that we had named ‘Limpy’, the one who hadn’t been seen for a year?
This possibility haunted me. I had read that a wounded or injured buck will develop a deformed antler on the opposite side of his body from where the wound is. Was it possible that this buck had healed to live another year?
He was a mystery as I had no pictures of this deer on my trail cameras and none of my neighbors had seen a deer with a deformed rack. He was definitely a very elusive buck. The answer to my lingering question finally came with a picture of a mature buck on my trail camera during the bow season of 2009. The buck in the picture was standing just as though he posed for his portrait to let me know that he had made it. His rack was large but weird. The right side antler had grown down alongside of his face and the left side antler was large and heavy. His left leg had mended at the knee but was frozen in place and couldn’t bend. That leg appeared grossly enlarged and quite useless. Unbelievable as it was, the random trail camera picture was that of Limpy, a mature healthy-looking buck. His impressive appearance, despite having all the odds stacked against him, totally amazed me.
I hoped that I would be lucky enough to get a shot at him during the up-coming archery season. Throughout the next few weeks there were many sightings of Limpy by neighbors as well as on the trail cameras. His fame in the neighborhood was growing as more people caught a glimpse of him and knew his story.
Early in November, I was in my tree stand. A doe came running past, obviously being chased by a buck. I took my bow off of the hanger and was ready for what was to come. Within fifteen seconds I heard a buck grunting and coming my way. Oh, my God, it was him! Yes, it was Limpy, in hot pursuit of the doe! I brought my bow to full draw. As he came past me, I stopped him by making a loud grunt noise with my mouth. Fourteen yards away, he stopped, broadside. I aimed behind his shoulder and let the arrow fly. The arrow appeared to go left of where I aimed; but I still believed that I had him. He left a heavy blood trail that had bubbles in it. I tracked him for about a third of a mile before the tracking got rough. I called my friend to come out and help me track, but we lost the blood trail in a large cornfield. I felt sick about not finding him. I kept asking myself, “ Just how did I screw this up?” Thinking back, I believe that my bowstring may have caught on my clothing and caused my arrow to go to the left. All excuses aside, I blew it! I agonized over the thought of this poor animal who had endured so much, had survived the impossible, and then I hurt him too. I walked every row of that cornfield but failed to recover him. Throughout the rest of bow season, I looked for Limpy, and never found him. Once again, Limpy became a mystery as I wasn’t seeing him and hadn’t gotten any new trail camera pictures of him. I assumed that he was dead.
Then one afternoon during the rifle season, my neighbor came racing into my driveway, “They just saw Limpy coming out of the cornfield!” A corn picker had been going through that field. Limpy was seen running towards my woods. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. We immediately set up a drive of the woods. Out he came, running wide open past one of the guys on stand. He shot and missed. Limpy disappeared off in the distance, not to be seen again for the rest of the season.
But, you can just imagine how surprised I was when Limpy showed up again late in the winter, after he had shed his antlers. He appeared to have healed completely, even though you could see where my arrow had hit him. I must have hit the very front edge of the lungs, which would explain the bubbles in the blood trail. One of my friends, who is a doctor, assured me that it would be possible for an animal to survive a hit like that. After that winter, Limpy was never to be seen again.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Limpy was an amazing survivor. I truly hope that he lived out the rest of his life to die of old age. He did leave me a present though. During the early spring of 2010, while out shed-hunting with my wife, I found both of his sheds. They were within 100 yards of my house, laying about thirty yards apart from each other in a very brushy patch of woods. He had obviously been living in that brushy patch all winter.
I felt like I had just won the lottery! These unusual sheds are personally special to me because of the way they represent a remarkable tale of survival. They are the legacy of one unforgettable and amazing whitetail buck named Limpy and a story that I will never forget.
Limpy’s sheds are now mounted on a head hanging on my wall in memory of him. He was my biggest challenge of my deer hunting career. In a way, I am glad he won. He deserved it after everything he had been through. His left side alone scores 76 3/8 inches. It is hard to believe a deer that was hurt as bad as he was could still grow an impressive rack. This goes to prove that an old, elusive, mature whitetail buck is one of the toughest animals out there to harvest. That is what makes trophy whitetail hunting so challenging and obsessive.