updated 1/10/2007 2:25:03 PM ET 2007-01-10T19:25:03

DES MOINES, Iowa — A bald eagle owes its freedom to the sharpshooting skills of an Iowa conservation officer.

Jason Sandholdt used a single bullet last weekend to free the bird from a branch that hung over a cliff at Lake Red Rock.

Sandholdt, who works for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, was among those who responded Saturday after a kayaker spotted the eagle hanging about 60 feet above the lake southeast of Des Moines.

With binoculars, state and county officials saw that the bird appeared to have caught a single talon in a knothole in the branch when it landed.

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.

'Poof of feathers'
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."

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 and disappeared over the horizon

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