TOWN OF CRANMOOR, Wis. – Gil Lancour was driving home for lunch when he saw the deer struggling on the ice-covered reservoir used for growing cranberries. He just had to stop.
Lancour, a 32-year-old worker for the Elm Lake Cranberry Co. west of Wisconsin Rapids, is a lifelong hunter, angler and general outdoorsman. But he had never seen anything like this before. The doe was out on glassy, super-slippery ice that had frozen over the reservoir, which was part of another, neighboring cranberry farm. She was on her haunches, struggling to get traction on the ice.
“You’ve seen people slip and fall on the ice, but she has hooves, and she couldn’t get up,” Lancour said. “It was just hard to see her struggle out there. I couldn’t just leave her.”
What happened just a short while later on Dec. 22 propelled Lancour and his boss and friend, John Moss, into internet celebrity status. Moss ended up taking a short video of Lancour pushing the deer to safety and posting it to his Facebook account. That version of the video attracted 415 “likes” and other reactions from people, 73 comments and 581 shares. The video and the two men have been featured on radio spots and newscasts throughout the country.
All the attention caught both men by surprise.
“To be honest, we almost didn’t even post the video at all,” Moss said. “It just kind of blew up. Within 24 hours, we were on (NBC’s) Today show. That part was crazy.”
The timing of the video, just a few days before Christmas, is likely part of its allure, Moss said.
“I think it was a good time. It was right before Christmas, and it was a video showing an act of kindness that fits with that time of year, and with how 2020 has been, I think people want to see acts of kindness.”
What happened was this: After stopping the first time, Lancour noticed that his truck was clearly scaring the deer; and she started thrashing about a bit. So he drove to his home, located nearby on the cranberry farm, and got a dog leash and some ice cleats from his ice-fishing equipment box.
Lancour tried calling friends for help, but no one was answering. When he returned to the scene, he parked a distance away from the deer, and started walking on the ice, circling around so as not to scare the doe or cause her to go further out onto the ice.
While he was walking, he called Moss, who answered. Moss and his family have owned the cranberry farm for four generations, and Lancour has been working and living on the farm for 13 years.
By the time Moss got to the reservoir, Lancour was sitting next to the deer, talking to her softly to keep her calm. As Moss got closer, Lancour slowly put his hand out to calm the deer. He didn’t know what to expect.
“She just let me,” Lancour said. “She just sat there. I kept my hand on her, and I slowly pushed her to shore.”
Lancour couldn’t see much more than the deer because his hat got pushed low over his eyes. His ice gripper was slipping off his boot, because it’s sized for the larger, insulated snowboots he wears when he’s ice fishing.
When they were close to shore, they encountered a ridge in the ice.
“You’re gonna have to get over that ridge, unless you go to the side,” Moss told Lancour.
Lancour gently pushed the doe over the ridge, and she got shakily to her feet. He stood behind her and helped nudge her to the edge of the ice. She then ran across the gravel road and across a stretch of railroad tracks.
“You’re welcome,” Lancour said on the video, and he laughed.
“I don’t even remember saying that,” Lancour said. “I was concerned, because I didn’t know if she was hurt.”
She was shaky, and she laid down for a while in the woods. Then, after seeming to compose herself, she took off. And Lancour and Moss became internet celebrities.
There’s a bit of irony at play here. Lancour has a Facebook account, but doesn’t really get into it. “I tried to quit that,” he said. Most of his posts are of him on hunts, or his Labrador retriever, Drake.
Moss laughs at the idea of Lancour being part of a viral video on social media. “Gil is the last person who would put up a video and try to get people to watch it,” Moss said.
But it’s entirely in character that Lancour would drop everything and try to help a struggling animal.
“He’s a hunter, but he cares very much about animals, and … hunting in an ethical way,” Moss said. “Taking care of animals and the environment is very important to him.”
Lancour is happy that the clip is getting shared and people like it.
“People have told me that it was the perfect time for a story like this,” Lancour said. “And if it makes them happy to watch it, that’s great.”
Follow Keith Uhlig on Twitter: @UhligK.