It was a Sunday, but my “Friday,” which was typically a good thing after a long week on the evening shift. I worked the 38th district, a fairly rural and quiet part of the city back then. If things went as planned, I would stop a few cars, respond on a minor disturbance, work an accident or two, and be back at the station by 10:50 p.m. By 11:05 p.m., I would be on my way home.
I hadn’t been out of the field training program and on my own for more than a month. I was a rookie in every sense of the word, but hoping not to let it show. That is, until the call came out.
“Unit 338, respond to an injured deer at 83 and Mize. The callers are standing by.”
There it was, the call I was dreading—an injured animal. I would be responsible for taking care of it, a euphemism for euthanizing the deer. Oh, and with an audience. Perfect. Let me preface this story by saying I am not a hunter. In fact, I spent the first week of firearms training with duct tape over one eye of my shooting glasses, after being labeled “right handed, but left eye dominant.” I realized how absolutely ridiculous I looked to everyone around me, especially the firearms instructor who came up with that helpful tape idea. I know duct tape can fix just about anything, but that was a stretch. I am certain he thought that would be the last of me at his gun range. I admit I was terrified when I realized that I needed to build up that eye muscle and learn to shoot without the tape. I surprised quite a few people when I mastered it and became a pretty good shot. In fact, I began to enjoy shooting as long as live critters weren’t my target.
Regardless, I always knew the day would come when I would have to shoot an animal, so I reluctantly put my car in drive and headed west towards Bambi. I hadn’t made it a mile before an officer jumped on the radio offering to handle the call for me. I am sure there were a variety of reasons for his offer, the last one being genuine concern for my psychological well-being. I figured out, early on, that my male counterparts liked to have any excuse to shoot at anything.
I politely declined his offer because I refused to let anyone else handle a call that was my responsibility. I also knew I had to prove myself as a new, female officer, but that didn’t stop me from frantically typing a message on my laptop computer to the 35 district officer. This particular officer was a seasoned cop, but I knew he wouldn’t make fun of me because he was new to my department. At least, we still had the capability of using instant messaging. I was grateful for that. It allowed me to send a covert message without anyone hearing it or, hopefully, knowing about it afterwards. My message was simple: “Hey, what’s the best way to kill a deer?”
His response was equally as simple: “A shot to the base of the neck. One, if you’re good.”
My sergeant at the time overheard the radio traffic and realized I was on my way to discharge a firearm within the city limits for the first time. He was responding with a deer tag to claim the animal for some lucky citizen. I wasn’t a big fan of the deer tag program because it ensured a crowd would be standing by anxiously awaiting my arrival. There’s nothing quite like an audience witnessing a first time of anything, much less my execution of some helpless creature.
Upon arrival, I pulled to the side of the two-lane road, and parked behind a couple of trucks and a car. I hadn’t even made it out of my vehicle before being flagged down. Little did I know, the first person to greet me would be a District Court judge—and an unpopular one at that. I also had no idea he was an animal activist of sorts, who was horrified that someone struck a deer and didn’t stop to render life-saving treatment. Remember, it was a Sunday night with frigid temps and icy roads. And there was a judge asking me what animal rescue center I would be transporting the deer to. Of course, he had to mention that he was a Lenexa resident and taxpayer, as if I should thank him for my last pay raise.
At first, I thought someone was playing a really bad joke on me. After all, did it look like I was prepared to load a deer into the back seat of my car? Moreover, did I look trained to triage Bambi until I could find someone experienced in deer rehabilitation? I am fairly confident the expression on my face said it all before I even opened my mouth. I am also sure that moment sealed my fate for future trials in that judge’s court, but that is a story for another day.
There I was, a newly trained officer, worried about taking the deer out with one good shot, and a judge demanding that I do SOMETHING immediately to save the animal. Meanwhile, my sergeant was miles from my location with that ever-popular deer tag.
To give you a better appreciation for my stress level, I had the kind of snot running down my face that freezes before you can do anything about it. All the while I’m trying to explain tactfully that a rescue mission wasn’t in order and fielding questions about whether or not Bubba could “dress” the deer right there on the side of the road. At that point, I didn’t even think I would be able to wrap my frozen finger around the trigger, and I couldn’t figure out why Bubba was using the word dress in the same sentence with deer.
It felt like time was frozen just like the surrounding landscape as I waited for permission to destroy the deer. The poor thing was trying to stand and run off, all to no avail. He slowly slid down the snow-packed embankment and onto the edge of the road.
I knew what had to be done, so I got on the radio and let my sergeant know it was time. Fortunately, the judge decided my cruel and unusual punishment of doing nothing was far too much for him to bear, so he left. Bubba and another guy were on my heels, hoping for that prized deer tag like it was the state lottery. An antsy child meant one guy couldn’t stick around any longer, so that left Bubba as the last man standing. I promised him I would hold the tag, so he could drive a mile or so down the road for his hunting truck, which I didn’t fully understand until I saw the big chain and hook attached to the bed.
I had a small window of time and needed to move quickly, before my audience returned.
As I began my approach, Bambi locked eyes with me. Her injuries were severe, but limited to her legs. That meant she was well aware something bad was about to happen. Unfortunately, I had a real problem with the persistent eye-contact. I had to formulate a plan and fast. I drew my duty weapon and kept it by my side, as if that would ease the animal’s fear of the unknown. I wasn’t able to get in position because she could turn her head darn-near all the way behind her. Like I said, I had a real problem with the whole eye-contact thing, and I didn’t have the heart to pull the trigger with those big, brown eyes staring back at me.
I began running circles around Bambi, slipping and sliding on the icy ground, trying to disorient her. Finally, I was out of breath, and she was too dizzy to find my face. She looked straight ahead, and I tip-toed up behind her. Then it was over, with one well-placed shot, just in time for Bubba’s return. I was actually pretty proud of my tactics when it was all said and done.
Afterward, I sat in my car, took a deep breath, and went back in service. A minute later, I received a follow-up message on my laptop asking how many times I had to shoot Bambi. “Just once,” I told him. His response was, “Really? I was only kidding. It usually takes me two or three shots.” My comment back to him: “Guess I am just a good shot.”
I admit, I am still not a hunter but I have put my fair share of unfortunate creatures out of their misery since that day. While I may have devised some down-right hilarious tactics to get the job done, it always ended with one good shot.
(For more by John Wills’ “Women Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line” go to www.totalrecallpress.com or www.amazon.com.)