Photographers Save Swimming Deer from Drowning in Lake Erie


If you need a little end-of-week pick-me-up, this story should hit the spot. While out kayaking on Lake Erie with his friends, photographer Eric Tischler ran across a deer swimming away from shore, already almost a mile out. The trio immediately set about saving the poor creature, capturing photos and video along the way.

The day started out like any other: on Tuesday May 26th, Tischler met his paddling buddies Donn R. Nottage and Charlie Nergelovic out on Lake Erie for a beautiful day on the water.

“I noticed a large tree sticking out of the water in the distance, so we decided to paddle out and take a closer look,” says Tischler. “Once we arrived, we were close to a mile offshore, and decided to take a rest to enjoy the scenery. That’s when things got weird.”

Weird because, now almost a mile off shore, they spotted a deer in the water… swimming north, where there isn’t land for about 50 more miles.

“I typically carry my Sony RX100 VII with me while paddling. It’s great for impromptu shots, and the 200mm of zoom is handy, especially for identifying distant objects,” he tells PetaPixel. “I pulled out the camera and took a few shots, but even at full zoom, I couldn’t immediately ID the object. When I reviewed the photos on the screen, and zoomed to 1:1, I was amazed. I yelled to Donn and Charlie, holy s**t, it’s a deer!”

Photo by Eric Tischler
Photo by Eric Tischler

“We immediately started paddling in the deer’s direction, and as we got closer, we could see it was swimming north, out into the lake, where the nearest land is Canada at over 50 miles away,” says Tischler. “My first thought was, ‘please don’t let it get tired and drown.’ My kayak is long and narrow, and I doubted I’d be able to pull the deer from the water if the situation made a turn for the worse.”

Fortunately, that wasn’t fated to happen, and Tuesday turned out to be this deer’s lucky day.

“When we finally intercepted the deer, we decided to attempt to steer him back towards land. Think of the movie City Slickers, but instead of herding cattle from horseback, we were herding a deer from kayak,” he recalls. “Fortunately, the deer’s natural instinct to evade us worked towards our advantage. We were able to get him to make a 180, and head back towards the Lake Erie shoreline.”

You can see several more videos of the rescue below, all of them captured by Eric’s friend Donn R. Nottage, who himself is the former chief photographer for the City of Cleveland. Now a filmmaker and actor, Nottage captured several video clips and photos on a Panasonic Lumix TS-2 he keeps strapped to his life vest, as the group attempted to keep the young buck safe and steer him towards the shore:

“Upon realizing what we were seeing, I immediately hit record in my trusty Panasonic Lumix TS-2, which I keep mounted to my life vest for just such occasions, and started paddling like crazy,” recalls Nottage. “Every time I stopped to readjust framing, the deer would gain on us. It was astounding how fast it was moving!”

“At the rocks, I struggled to get some stills with my Google Pixel 3 and detached the Lumix because I knew I’d have to track him as he was about to climb up. Initially, he was just shivering, but then rocketed off,” he continues. “The T-S2 has great out-of-camera picture and sound quality for an older 720p camera, plus the video file sizes are small. Luckily though, I ran out of memory JUST as I finished shooting.”

You can see some of the photos that Nottage captured below:

Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage
Photo by Donn R. Nottage

The encounter obviously left a strong impression with Tischler, who describes himself as “a serious photography enthusiast, mainly interested in nature and wildlife, an avid kayaker.”

“The whole encounter lasted maybe fifteen minutes, but seemed a lot longer. Of course, we talked about it for the rest of the day. None of us could believe what just happened,” says Tischler. “Later that night, I did a bit of reading, and learned that deer are actually very good swimmers. Their coats give them a lot of buoyancy, and their strong legs enable them to swim for reasonable distances. However, in this case, if the deer kept heading out to ‘sea,’ there’s no doubt he would’ve eventually been overcome by fatigue.”

Kudos to Eric, Donn and Charlie for acting so decisively. It’s just a shame neither Eric nor Donn had their “big boy” cameras with them to capture the action. Tischler usually shoots with a D850 and 500PF lens, and Nottage uses a variety of Panasonic, Blackmagic, Canon and Sony equipment in his daily work.

That said, this is one of those cases where the old saying proves to be true: the best camera is the one you have on you.


Image credits: All photos and videos by Eric Tischler and Donn R. Nottage and used with permission.



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