Alexis Vaughan, 17, slouched in the passenger seat of her dad’s Excursion, wishing fervently she were still in bed. Alexis was grounded, and the early Saturday morning wake-up callto run errands with her father, Michael, was part of the punishment. She stared glumly out the window at the Preston, Idaho, cornfields.
A seasoned hunter, Alexis let her eyes lazily scan the landscape for wildlife. Still, she was startled when a deer came into view about 200 yards in front of them, just a few feet off the road. Mule deer never appeared in plain sight ten days before hunting season. “Dad, there’s a deer there!” Alexis said, rolling down the window for a better look. It was a three-point buck—a male deer with sharp, three-pronged antlers on each side of its head.
As the car moved closer, Alexis saw that the deer’s head was bent toward the ground. Then she heard a scream. A few seconds later, she saw an arm fly up near the deer’s head. Alexis realized the buck was attacking a woman. Sue Panter, a 44-year-old mother of four, had been out for her morning run. The buck had emerged from the tall corn and begun following her. Having lived in rural Idaho for years, Sue knew that most deer got spooked by humans. But this deer edged closer, even when she pelted it with a handful of gravel.
“I knew I was in trouble,” she says.
Panter went to pick up a log to use for self-defense, and the buck charged. It hoisted her with its antlers and tossed her into the air. Sue could feel the horns puncture her thigh and blood seep down her leg. Within seconds, the deer had pushed her off the road and into the cornfield.
When the Vaughans pulled up, the buck was tossing Sue like a rag doll. Alexis looked into the woman’s terrified eyes, and before her father had even stopped the car, the five-four, 104-pound teenager bolted out of the car and down the slope toward the buck. “I was kicking and punching it to get its attention,” she says. The animal was undeterred by the pounding. Then Michael, who had followed his daughter, wrestled the buck away from the women by the antlers.
Alexis helped Sue up the slope and into the Vaughans’ car, then applied a tourniquet to Sue’s right thigh. Her neck was gashed; her legs were covered with puncture wounds. “We’re going to get you to a hospital,” Alexis said. Then she heard her father holler. Michael had been knocked to the ground, his right calf speared by the buck. Alexis grabbed a hammer from the car and ran to where Michael lay on his back in the dirt. She beat the buck’s head and neck, but the blows didn’t faze it. “I was losing faith,” she says. Standing over her father, Alexis could see that he was struggling to breathe.
“A couple more strikes, Lex,” said Michael. “You can do it.” Turning the hammer around, Alexis squeezed her eyes shut and took a whack at the deer’s neck with the claw end. When she opened her eyes, the deer was running away.
Alexis got in the driver’s seat and sped toward the hospital in Franklin, hearing her dad’s breathing grow ragged and watching the blood from his wounded leg seep through the T-shirt he’d wrapped around it. In the backseat, Sue looked hardly conscious. Still, she told the girl, “Take a deep breath. You saved us.”
After doctors treated Sue and Michael, Sue tearfully thanked her rescuers. “You expect a teenage girl to get on the phone and call for help,” she says, “not to beat up a deer.”