By Steve Hubrecht 
[email protected]

Santa’s reindeer are up at the north pole getting ready for their big night of work on Dec. 24, but in Invermere, an altogether different type of deer — one of the district’s resident urban mule deer — was quite literally wrapped up in the Christmas spirit, after its antlers got tangled in a string of Christmas lights, which the buck took with it around town wherever it trotted for a few days. Yes, that’s right: an honest-to-goodness Rudolph right here in Invermere. Sure, the lightbulbs were on his antlers, not his nose. And they were a warm white hue (these weren’t coloured Christmas lights) instead of red. But c’mon, how much closer to a real-life Rudolph are you going to get?

The incident occurred early last week and had the genuine potential to be quite serious — as does any incident involving a deer becoming tangled in unnatural material — but fortunately local conservation officers were able to unwrap the lights from the deer before any harm occurred.

“We do sometimes have deer that get wrapped up in tomato growing wires or fencing wire, but Christmas lights on antlers, I haven’t heard of that before,” local conservation officer Matt Hall told the Pioneer. 

Hall first got a report about the deer entangled in Christmas lights on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 28, when he was working in the backcountry, out of cell service. Once in cell range, he reached out to the person reporting the incident, and learned that although the deer had the lights in its antlers and trailing behind it, the buck was still mobile and did not appear to be in great distress. The next morning Hall searched Invermere for the deer but was unable to locate it.

“Deer have patterns as to where they go, and I checked all the hot spots, and then just checked all over town, but I couldn’t find it,” said Hall. In the afternoon and evening work took Hall up to Golden. Another report from a resident about the Christmas light deer came in, but Hall wasn’t able to leave Golden. He began work early on Monday, Nov. 30, determined to find Rudolph and rescue the creature from his lightbulb ordeal.

Not long after the sun was up on Monday morning, Hall was sitting in traffic waiting for the light to change at the construction on the Athalmer bridge, when another report came that the Christmas light deer was by the Station Pub. Hall finally had a bead on Rudolph, and he wasted no time. He and a student co-op coworker raced to the scene and found the deer: a three by four point (i.e. three tines on one antler and four tines on the other antler) mature and healthy buck, big but not huge, probably weighing in at just under 100 kilograms (220 pounds).

“He was following a few does and some fawns. The Christmas lights were indeed still wrapped all around his antlers. They were the white, energy efficient kind with big bulbs. The string (of lights) was probably six to eight feet long, so they were partially drooping down in front of them, and he was kind of trailing them as he walked,” said Hall. “It wasn’t critical for him. They weren’t restricting his mobility or stopping him from feeding. But it was clearly a pretty big inconvenience for him, and it could maybe have made it tricky for him to defend himself or escape if he felt he needed to, so we had to get them off.”

The co-op student followed Rudolph to keep tabs on him, while Hall mixed up the drug cocktail he would use to dart and tranquilize the deer. Hall caught up with Rudolph in the open grassy spaces at the bottom of the hill immediately to the south of the intersection of 10th Avenue and 13th Street (a common ‘hangout’ spot for Invermere’s urban deer), just in time for a group of kids walking to school to take in the unfolding spectacle.

“I got close to the deer. He seemed to know what was going on, that I was trying to get him,” said Hall. “He sure didn’t make it easy, but eventually, I was able to sneak up behind him.”

Hall darted Rudolph, who wandered a bit, then lay down and, within eight minutes, appeared to be totally unconscious. After waiting a few minutes more to make sure the buck was well and truly asleep, Hall approached, placed his jacket over Rudolph’s face and eyes (to prevent light and noise disturbances that in some circumstance can bring deer out of their tranquilizer-induced sleep).

“Then I unwrapped the Christmas lights. It took a bit, they were wrapped up pretty well around his antlers,” said Hall.

The conservation officer put an ear tag on Rudolph, allowing conservation officers to more effective identify and track him in the future, and gave the buck a reversal drug that helped him wake up earlier than just waiting for the initial tranquilizer drug to wear off. A few minutes later, Rudolph lifted his head. Another 10 minutes and the buck was back on his feet. Hall followed Rudolph for a fair while after that to ensure the deer was totally mobile and able to defend itself. Rudolph, whose favoured territory seems to stretch across the south side of town between the Station Pub and J.A. Laird Elementary School, appeared in great shape, so eventually, Hall left him to roam.

But how on earth did Rudolph pick up his festive Christmas adornments in the first place?

“That’s a good question. The only thing I can think of is that they were on a tree or a bush, or maybe even a fence, and he was trying to rub his antlers or scratch his head on that tree or bush, or somehow walk past the fence, and he just kind of got caught up in them that way,” said Hall.

Hall was grateful and extended thanks to all those who called in reports of the Christmas light deer on the Report All Poacher and Polluters (RAPP) hotline.

“Those calls really help a lot, in this case and in others,” said Hall.

To report an incident on the RAPP hotline, call toll free 1 877 952 7277 (RAPP) or, on the Telus network, dial #7277.