Gord Mackintosh has ordered a review into what happened last Saturday at the Windy Bay Colony in the province's southwest.
The white-tailed deer named Bambi was shot on a street in the colony as some members gathered outside or watched from windows of their nearby homes. One woman said it was traumatizing to see the animal thrashing around before he died.
"Like the colony, I'm mainly concerned — not why — but more how the deer was euthanized," Mackintosh said Wednesday. "It may well have been insensitive to the colony.
"I think the department, indeed all of us, should show empathy for the living world."
He said he has also ordered conservation officials to consider making some policy changes.
In a case like this one, when the animal does not present an immediate danger, officers should ask a supervisor for approval to put it down, he said.
It also needs to be made clear to staff that destroying an animal is a last resort. "And when it has to occur, that it's done in a way that considers all the humane options," Mackintosh said.
The church minister at the colony refused to comment Wednesday, adding that members want to put the whole thing behind them. Still, conservation officials are trying to arrange a meeting with them to talk about the shooting.
Colony members found Bambi in a ditch a year ago, shortly after it was born. They hand-fed him fresh-baked bread and beef jerky. They gave him milk and sweet tea. And he often played with their children and pet dogs.
One colony member became concerned when the young buck started growing antlers and called the wildlife department. Two officers were sent to the property near Pilot Mound.
Colony members had hoped the officers would take the deer to a sanctuary or release him back into the wild.
But Jack Harrigan, a conservation manager, said the two officers determined the deer had become too habituated to survive on its own in a forest. And there was no where else Bambi could go. There are no deer sanctuaries in the province and the Winnipeg zoo won't take more deer.
He said some men at the colony refused to help the officers capture Bambi. One did try to help tie the deer's feet together but the animal ran off.
The two officers then left, but minutes later someone from the colony called them again to say Bambi was back. They returned and decided the animal had to be killed before he ran off again, said Harrigan.
He said the officers had advised colony members to keep their children away and for everyone to go indoors.
It's typically not policy to kill an animal on site, said Harrigan, and he wishes the officers had taken the deer away and killed it.
"It was the least bad choice ... They thought they were doing the right thing."
He said the public needs to learn that it's illegal and dangerous to keep a wild animal.
The department tried to get the same message out last year when an orphaned bear cub named Makoon made headlines.
Construction worker Rene Dubois rescued the cub from the side of a road near St. Malo, south of Winnipeg. Dubois called wildlife officers for help but was told the cub would be destroyed.
He tried raising Makoon himself but when the cub became a local celebrity, officers seized the animal, sparking a public outcry. Makoon and another rescued cub were eventually flown to a remote location and released.
Last month, the B.C. government decided to let a Vancouver Island woman keep a deer she has kept as a pet for the past 10 years. The deer, named Bimbo, sleeps in a bed with the woman and her dog.
"I know deer fawns are adorable," said Harrigan. "It's hard to not want to pick them up or rescue them."
But he said he has heard more stories about people being attacked by domesticated deer and it's simply not safe to keep them.
"The public needs to understand that taking wildlife in is most often a death sentence, one way or the other, for the animal."
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton