My first thought was that the stag was badly injured. He trotted across the rural Wyoming highway wrong, dipping with every third step. Clipped by a car, maybe, I thought, mentally cringing at the internal damage that would have done. I pulled over on the shoulder, but by the time I got out of the car he had vanished.
The land was only moderately hilly, so I could see for a good distance, and the grass was waist-high on me: not nearly tall enough to hide an adult deer. I had taken my eyes off the stag for just a moment and now he was gone. All I could see was a flock of small birds swirling in agitation over the ditch at the side of the road.
As I approached, I saw that the ditch held the end of a large pipe that ran under the road. Still I could see nothing but grass. Then, unmistakably, I heard the hollow sound of light hoofbeats on metal.
The stag came out of the pipe.
He clearly wasn’t expecting me to be lurking just outside his hide-out, and gazed at me for a long moment before trotting up out of the ditch. One of his antlers was much shorter than the other, which is not normal.
He still had that hitch in his gait that I had noticed before, but this close it was obvious that he was healthy. He broke into a slow run, bounding easily over the grass, and I saw what gave him his unusual pace.
Look at that hind leg. That’s not a trick of perspective…
His left hind leg ended in a stump, much too high up to reach the ground. It was long-healed and I think must have been a birth defect, especially given his asymmetrical antlers. (I did notice a skeletal deer hind leg on the ground in the pipe ditch, but this was just a very weird coincidence, because there was too much of the leg there to have come from the stag I saw.)
I saw many more exciting species in Wyoming than this deer, but no individual animals as interesting. If anyone sees him again in the coming years, he will be easy to identify. Maybe his odd antler will protect him from trophy hunters and he’ll grow to be a magnificent ten-pointer—on one side, anyway. I hope so.