DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A bald eagle owes its life to the sharpshooting skills of an Iowa conservation officer.
Though the bird has yet to offer any thanks, Jason Sandholdt is getting plenty of recognition from those who saw him use a single bullet last weekend to free the bird from a branch that hung over a cliff at Lake Red Rock.
"There were accusations of sheer luck," said Brian Lange, one of the kayakers who discovered the bird Saturday and alerted authorities. He added: "It was really a heroic shot."
Sandholdt, who works for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, responded with state colleagues and county workers after the eagle was found hanging about 60 feet above the lake southeast of Des Moines.
With binoculars, they could see that the bird appeared to have caught a single talon in a knothole in the branch when it landed. Apparently, the bird tried to take off, losing its balance. It hung from the talon, upside down.
Because the eagle was hanging over a cliff and high in the air, ropes and ladders seemed unlikely rescue tools, Sandholdt said. Many in the group thought a mercy killing was the best option.
Sandholdt said he asked for a chance to free the bird with his rifle, figuring at best the bird would fall into the lake and have to be rescued for rehabilitation at a clinic.
"It's safe to say no one had any confidence that I could do that," Sandholdt said of his proposed sharpshooting. "My buddies were waiting for a poof of feathers."
Sandholdt bent a tree sapling over to use as a brace. He used the muzzleloader's scope to take aim, and the bullet traveled 60 to 70 feet, cleanly through the edge of the knothole. Sandholdt figures he hit the talon, too.
The eagle flew away. Officers waited for it to collapse. Instead, the bird kept flying, disappearing over the horizon.
"Wow, now that's what I call sharpshooting," said John Pearson, a state botanist who was with Lange when the bird was discovered.
No one is sure of the eagle's odds for survival, but it faced certain death before the rescue, Pearson said.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com
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