A man from rural Grand Forks, B.C. led a daring river rescue that saved a young deer from drowning Monday afternoon, Feb. 28.
Martin “Marty” Thomas, 63, said he sprang into action at around 4 p.m., when a friend phoned to say a deer had fallen into the ice on the Kettle River near the Atwood Bridge, a short distance from his and wife Marlene’s home on Starchuk Road.
Thomas grabbed a sturdy rope and drove to the scene with Marlene and their 12-year-old grandson Seth Lowey.
Grand Forks’ Corey Rotnam had tried paddling a canoe to the stricken deer, but had to turn back when things got dicey. Thomas said he then walked about 50 metres onto the river ice in an unsuccessful attempt to rope the deer.
“I could see holes in the ice in front of me and I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be safe, so I headed back for the shore, where I met up with Corey,” he said.
The men decided it would be safer for Thomas to go back out with the canoe in tow in case the ice gave way.
“About half way over there, I felt the ice break under me. It broke so fast, I wasn’t able to jump into the canoe before I wound up waist deep in the river.”
A hunting guide by trade, Thomas said he knew he had to keep going, despite the risk of drowning in the freezing water.
“I’ve made my livelihood off wildlife, so it was the natural thing to do,” he told The Gazette, his voice breaking.
“Even after I got wet, I didn’t even think about it. I just carried on.”
With Marlene screaming from the river bank, Thomas said he managed to get into the canoe, battling the ice for around 10 minutes before he made it to the deer not 40 metres upstream.
“The deer had been out there for an hour before I got to him,” Thomas said, adding that he cinched his rope around the deer’s neck and then towed him to a rescue party gathered at the river’s edge.
The Thomases and young Lowey joined Rotnamin lifting the hypothermic deer into the canoe, which they dragged onto shore. Freshly budding antlers showed the animal to be a young buck.
Marty drove the buck home, where the gang carried him into a warm cabin. It was hours before Marty said the buck was able to stand on his legs.
When he was ready, Marty led the buck to a waiting pile of hay on the cabin’s porch. The revived buck had set off on his own by the time Marty came back at 4 a.m. Tuesday, March 1.
“His tracks showed that he was a bit wobbly starting out,” Marty said. But the trail showed the buck steadily righted himself before jumping a metre-high fence at the edge of the Thomases’ property.
Hoof prints showed he made a firm landing on the other side and then carried onto to nearby woods.
The Thomases’ grandson had pitched in every step of the way, along with Angela Waterous and Amy Alan, Marty said.