Shortly before smashing through the front window of a Germantown supermarket yesterday, the deer checked out mattresses and a couple of fast-food places.
About 9 a.m., witnesses said, the adult buck spent a few minutes roaming unsteadily around the stores at Germantown Commons Shopping Center, in the 13000 block of Middlebrook Road, smashing its head against several windows and leaving a streak of blood on the front window at Domino's Pizza.
Startling a small crowd, the animal leapt over a bench and shattered a large window at the Giant Food Store.
"He went from zero to 60 in like two seconds," said Kevin McCarthy Jr., an assistant manager at EB Games, who was on the phone with 911 when the deer tore into the Giant. "I was like, 'Don't impale me.' "
Injured and perplexed, the animal dashed between registers 3 and 4, swung by a leftover Halloween display and then dashed toward the pharmacy through aisle 13.
"He was so disoriented; he was running all over the place with no direction," said an employee at the Giant. "It's a very slippery floor for someone with hooves."
The employee asked not to be identified because corporate officials asked store staff members to refer all media inquiries to the public affairs office.
Two Montgomery County police officers arrived minutes after the break-in.
"An employee had gained control of the deer and was holding its rear legs," said Officer Derek Baliles, a police spokesman. "Another customer was holding the front portion of the deer."
An officer asked the store employees to back off, pulled out his gun and shot the deer in the head. "We are trained to shoot in the head," Baliles said. "It's the quickest and most humane way."
Baliles said the officer killed the animal because it appeared to be seriously injured. "It's something we take no pleasure in doing," Baliles said.
Police said they believed that the deer was the first to wander into a Montgomery grocery store in recent memory.
But they warned that such encounters are likely to become more common as residential areas sprawl into uninhabited parts of the county. Police said there have been about 2,000 automobile accidents involving deer in the county during the past five years. Officers typically euthanize 250 to 300 seriously injured deer each year.
"Because of increased urbanization, there's less space for them," Baliles said. "And at this time, they have no predators, and they continue to reproduce."
Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said deer often act erratically during the fall mating season.
"It's not an uncommon thing to happen this time of year," she said, noting that bucks often mistake their reflection in a window for a rival male. "The bucks get overstimulated with changes in their hormones."
Last week, a young buck ambled into the Diesel and Ralph Lauren shops in Georgetown, but that story had a happier ending. Animal control officers tranquillized the deer and said they would release it in Rock Creek Park.