Deer caught on St. John River ice floe


Living in Maine, we often end up with great opportunities to enjoy everything the woods and waters have to offer.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature can be cruel sometimes.

Over the weekend I began seeing a Facebook post that included a video taken by Sue Underhill Kelly of Allagash.

Sue and her husband, Maine guide Wade Kelly, live on the St. John River, near the confluence with the Allagash River. When ice starts moving on those waters, the scene can get pretty dramatic.

And the video she shot was all of that.

Here’s what she had to say about the scene that unfolded.

“On Jan. 3 I heard the ice start popping and cracking really loudly so I went to the shore and knew something was happening with the ice,” she wrote in an email.. “I looked upriver and saw this group of does out on the ice. Just then, I could see the water pushing up over the ice and the ice started breaking up and flowing downstream, these deer being taken for a ride on a frozen raft of ice.”

Kelly explained that the river had frozen solid earlier this winter, but recent warm temperatures had caused the ice to deteriorate. Around Christmas, the ice broke up and began to flow. Since Dec. 26, cold weather returned and the slushy river ice almost complete refroze.

“I grabbed my camera and we watched them float downriver. We thought they would be crushed and ground up by the ice cakes any second, but somehow they rode that ice 300 yards downstream, where the ice jammed and stopped,” she wrote. “Although painful to watch, it was a remarkable sight to witness, Mother Nature doing her thing whether we think it’s fair or not.”

Kelly said it was tough to watch the deer as they struggled for survival.

“Not a thing you could do,” she wrote. “What strikes me is that as hunters we spend hours trying to hunt these guys down in November, and then to see them in a helpless predicament you feel like risking your own life to save them if you could.”

Kelly said she’s confident that one of the deer did safely make it to shore. The others weren’t so lucky.

But she said that some who might blame other animals for the demise of those deer don’t know the whole story.

“Despite some people wanting to blame coyotes for chasing deer onto thin ice to die, that was not the case,” she wrote. “I live on the river and see deer testing the limits of ice all the time. For a creature so crafty, it seems to be fearless of thin ice. When they want to get somewhere, they go.”


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.