FULLERTON, N.D. — There are some who believe hunters are all about killing animals, thinking of them only as meat or trophies.

Jeff Day of west Fargo would tell those folks they're wrong, and then share a story to back his position up. 

Talk a few minutes with Day, a veteran hunter and fisherman, and it is clear he enjoys the experience of walking a field with his dog, or driving a country road looking at wildlife as much as the harvest itself. 

In fact Day was in his truck last Friday, scouting deer hunting locations near his retreat near the town of Fullerton in southeastern North Dakota, when an approaching pickup waved him down. Inside that truck was a teenager from Webster, Wisconsin who had been duck hunting with three buddies when they spotted a deer lying down on the ice of a frozen slough. It was clear the deer was in trouble, and Austin Smiley, Nathan Stadler, Austin Moser and Harlo Olson wanted to do everything they could to save it.    

"They had witnessed the deer for some time struggle to get its feet back underneath but as soon as it attempted, (the deer's) feet and legs just slipped on the ice," Day wrote in an account he posted on Facebook. 

Jeff gave the boys the number for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, but warned them it was unlikely they'd get any help from field agents as it was opening deer hunting season. He then went to check out the situation for himself. Day looked out on the frozen slough and could barely see the deer about 400 yards out, lying almost still and occasionally trying to raise her head. He knew if nothing was done, the coyotes would get her come nightfall. 

"I got an idea," he recalled while talking with KARE 11. "I'll go back and share it with the boys." 

Day drove back to where the young duck hunters were parked and told them he had a flat-bottom boat and some life preservers back at his hunting retreat, and if they were willing... he would help them formulate a plan to save the deer. 

The boys enthusiastically agreed, and the plan was launched: Two of the teens would kneel on the boat gunwale with one leg over the side, and they would slowly push themselves 400 yards across the thin ice to reach the deer. Jeff fashioned a "loose noose" out of rope, the kind that wouldn't tighten and choke the deer. He made sure his new friends had their life preservers not only on, but fully zipped. 

"Well, 30 minutes later they reached the doe," Jeff wrote in his Facebook post, "slipped the rope on the bleating deer and started their return trip across the ice, pushing the boat with one leg in the boat and one leg on the ice. Stopping occasionally to give themselves a rest, pulling along their new companion and giving her a rest too."

ND deer rescue 5
After the boat inched into shore the hunters pulled the doe in, gently sliding her across the icy surface.
Jeff Day

Those on shore relocated to the other side of the lake so the boys would only have to pull the deer back about 200 yards or so. When the boat reached shore Jeff and one of the teens gently picked the doe up by the legs, making sure they wouldn't get cut up by her hooves if the deer panicked and started kicking. They walked her through some sharp bull rushes and set her down on the sandy shore. "She quietly laid there resting while I soothed her from her adventure and rescue by these outstanding young outdoorsmen," Day recalled.

When they thought she was ready, Jeff and the four teens helped the doe get to her feet. "She quickly bolted, although quite unsteadily... for the nearby cattails, while four young hunters from Wisconsin and an old man from North Dakota smiled ear to ear seeing a deer run off to have a better day."

ND deer rescue 6
Austin Smiley, Nathan Stadler, Austin Moser and Harlo Olson stand beside the stranded deer they helped rescue. Shortly after this photo was taken they helped the doe back to her feet, and released her into the wild.
Jeff Day

The boys borrowed Day's boat to retrieve some ducks they had downed on the ice of the slough, and when they brought it back to his property Jeff invited them in for some pheasant sandwiches. Although he didn't ask them, they took off their boots and hunting gear before coming inside. "Trained well by their mothers," he laughed, emphasizing that their manners are just another example of what fine young men Austin, Nathan, Austin and Harlo Olson are. 

The new friends spent more than an hour swapping hunting and fishing stories over lunch, and agreed to become Facebook friends. In truth, Jeff hopes he'll see the boys again in person some day. He enjoyed mentoring and sharing his decades of experience with four young men who clearly enjoy the outdoors as much as he does. 

"I invited em' back any time," he said with conviction. "An open, lifetime invitation to come back."

The 64-year-old Day says he doesn't post all that much on Facebook, but felt he needed to share his story to dispel some myths about what kind of people most hunters really are.  

"I thank you for reaffirming my belief that there are good and caring people among us," Jeff wrote. "And that being an outdoorsman/outdoorsperson is as much giving as it is taking away."

"Yes, it was a good day today."

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