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Deer-Termination: Three-Legged Mule Deer Thriving in Okotoks

When he was told to break a leg, the young male mule deer responded with, “Which one?”

Seeing an injured animal is heartbreaking, especially knowing that most are put down or are unlikely to survive in the wild. 

But a three-legged deer in Cimarron, Okotoks, doesn’t play by the rules. Cimarron resident Sharon Peters shared pictures of the mule deer in July 2022. 

When Peters first saw the deer in 2021, its left hind leg was dangling before eventually falling off. She believes the buck was likely involved in a vehicle collision. 

Deer are involved in about 80 percent of wildlife vehicle collisions | Oklahoma Wildlife Department
Deer are involved in about 80 percent of wildlife vehicle collisions | Oklahoma Wildlife Department

One of his antlers was also damaged. Two years later, the sturdy deer has once again appeared near the Cimarron neighbourhood, looking better than ever.

He has fattened up, and his once-deformed antlers look perfect. 

Based on the size of his antlers, Dr. Susan Lingle, a University of Winnipeg wildlife biologist and an expert on deer populations in southern Alberta, thinks the male mule deer is about three to four years old. 

It’s good to see the celebrity deer surviving and thriving, but how did the young buck beat the odds? 

Deer that sustain traumatic injuries by gunshot or highway collision, two of the leading causes of death for deer, rarely survive. 

If a deer survives the impact of a vehicle collision, it will likely die of its wounds anyway, especially if the wounds become infected. 

The RCMP contacts wildlife conservation or the humane society regarding injured animals on roads or highways. 

“If neither one of those people are available to come out, then we destroy the animal,” Constable Mike Hibbs, spokesperson for the RCMP, told Sylvan Lake News.

Even if wildlife conservation and the humane society are available, an injured animal might still be euthanized. 

For example, if an animal is extremely injured or sick, the Alberta SPCA will put the animal down to end its suffering. 

The three-legged deer in Okotoks in 2022
The three-legged deer in Okotoks in 2022 | Sharon Peters | Western Wheel

Nope, Not Today!

Deers that survive traumatic injuries, like our three-legged mule deer, usually manage fine, according to a study titled Observation On Injuries In White-Tailed Deer

“It appears that traumatic injuries due to gunshot or highway collision usually are fatal and result in very little chronic debilitation in the few deer that survive,” wrote the study. 

Deers surviving traumatic injuries but in poor physical condition accounted for less than seven percent of the 1,000 injured deer studied. 

Okotoks’ famous mule deer is missing a leg, but Lingle doesn’t think it will significantly impact his mobility. 

“They can move around reasonably well with the hind leg. When you’re missing a foreleg, it’s a lot more challenging, as I guess anyone with a three-legged dog knows,” Linge told Cochrane Eagle

Being a three-legged deer in a world full of four-legged deer isn’t without its challenges. Lingle worries that the buck might face social challenges. 

At this time of year, male mule deer form bachelor groups where bucks stay together to watch each other’s backs and alert the group to danger. 

“I doubt he’d be ostracized, but his slow movement might make it difficult for him to keep up. It’s possible his moving at a different pace would isolate him a little bit, but that’s utter speculation,” explained Lingle. 

Mule deer fend off predators by standing their ground as a group. The three-legged mule deer was spotted alone, suggesting he wasn’t part of a group. 

Since his injury, the mule deer has managed to elude Okotoks’ frequent predators including cougars and coyotes, all the while avoiding another vehicle collision. 

But living in Okotoks has perks too. 

Mother deer licking fawn | Town of Okotoks

Okotoks appetizing selection of plants makes it a hotspot for deer looking for an easy meal. 

Since 2015, the town’s deer population has grown from 66 to 139 in 2023, no thanks to the town’s abundance of food.  

Our three-legged friend may get extra food handouts from residents willing to risk a $1,000 fine to feed the vulnerable animal. 

While it’s easy to pity animals, it’s important to remember that feeding them usually causes more harm than good. 

If an animal comes to rely on human food sources, it will lose its ability to survive in the wild, which is a death sentence. 

Okotoks’ three-legged deer is a survivor; let’s not take that away from him.

A deer enjoying a free meal outside of a house in Okotoks
A deer enjoying a free meal outside of a house in Okotoks | Amir Said | Western Wheel

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