Last week, officers from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources were called to rescue two deer that had become locked together by their antlers. Astonishing video footage of the rescue (seen above) shows an Illinois officer shooting at the antlers in an attempt to separate the two animals.
While the method used to free the entangled deer may appear harmful, Illinois DNR spokesman Chris McCloud assures the officers saved the deer using the safest method possible.
"We have to assess the risk involved in any given situation," McCloud told The Huffington Post.
In this particular case, after tracking the bucks for 300 yards, conservation officers determined that it was too great of a risk to approach the animals, which were still fighting against each other to break apart.
Instead, a sharpshooter was tasked to unlock the deer's antlers. (Bucks typically shed their antlers by mid-February and grow new ones in the spring.)
In the video clip, the officer in view, using a handgun, takes four calculated shots, springing the deer free with the last round. The two bucks immediately race off; however, one appears to trip as it's running away -- an indication that it may have been injured during the rescue.
As the video cuts out, one officer mentions the possibility of having to put that deer down. However, McCloud told HuffPost that both deer are believed to have survived the ordeal.
While other news outlets have pointed to negative comments from concerned animals rights activists on the Illinois DNR conservation police's Facebook page -- the post has since been taken down -- PETA stands behind the officers' decision.
"We commend the officer for his compassion, quick-thinking and fancy shooting," Martin Mersereau, director of the organization's cruelty investigations department, told HuffPost. "Thanks to him, these animals made it out of a bad spot."
Though tranquilizers may also be used in some cases, Mersereau warned of the adverse effects, adding that many deer don't survive the process.
The Illinois officers are not the only conservation police to use gunfire to separate entangled deer -- two Minnesota officers used a shotgun to break apart two bucks in late 2011 -- but gunfire is hardly the only way to separate two entangled deer.
During a similar incident in January, the Illinois conservation police were called in to save a white-tailed deer entangled in another's antlers, who had already died from the scuffle. But, instead of using a handgun, the officers cut the living deer free using a saw attached to a long pole.
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