The Bull's "Thank You"
by Shopper Publisher Dave Bunting, Oct. 7, 2002
Last Friday my dogs went out when I got up and soon were barking continuously but it wasn't close or loud so I paid little attention. Half an hour later as I went to refill my coffee, they were still barking so I stepped outside.
They were barking and running around a corner of scotch broom and brush on the far side of my yard. I grabbed some shoes and went to look. Only halfway there I saw that my dog runway cable, which had been strung from a large tall stump to an outbuilding, now stretched from the stump 30 feet into that brush.
Laying in that brush I found a magnificent three-point bull elk, with about 25 feet of the cable wrapped around and through his horns, tethering him securely from moving any farther away from the stump, and periodically straining and lunging very strenuously to pull loose of it and get away.
Getting my dogs into the house took several minutes as they were so excited by this big creature tethered in their yard. I called for the state wildlife agent, hoping he might come and tranquilize the animal so we could untangle the cable. The dispatcher said she'd have a wildlife agent call me as soon as one came on duty; it was still before 8:00 a.m. With a cordless phone and camera, I went back out to the animal, which was now lying on its side, breathing very heavily, obviously seriously exhausted from its exertions.
Beginning 50 feet away where it could see me clearly, I walked slowly toward it, talking to it softly, and stopped about five feet from it. I knew I was taking a risk being so close to this very upset 700 pound animal with its yard-plus-wide rack. I took a few photos of it as I waited there quite a while for the wildlife agent's call.
One loop of the cable through his horns was looped also around his left front hoof, holding it closely next to his jaw. In his periodic attempts to stand up and struggle free, either his jaw was held to the ground next to the hoof, or the hoof was held up in the air, hobbling him on only one front leg.
I wouldn't leave this animal tied in this way, vulnerable to dogs or other bulls, or more probably to kill itself from exhaustion. I knew that the game agents are busy and probably at least 50 miles away, so they probably couldn't get there before I'd have to leave for work within an hour or two. I expected they might very well want me to simply cut him loose, hoping that he could untangle the cable by himself. So I decided to cut him loose. I went back to the house for my lineman's pliers and approached again slowly, speaking softly, to the same place five feet from him. With difficulty I cut the tough cable three feet from his head.
Soon he again struggled to his feet, but, though my cutting the cable had somehow allowed about two feet more slack between his head and his hoof, he was still seriously hobbled by the cable around his hoof, and laid back down, but now with his head up.
Again I waited many minutes for the wildlife call. I have a new, heavy-duty pole pruner, the kind with the small hook jaw and rope, and I wondered if he would let me hook and pull, or perhaps cut the cable from around his hoof. I went and got the pruner and approached him carefully again. After extending and clamping the pruner about half extended, I slowly pushed it to his hoof, and hooked the cable. Incredibly he let me pull the cable against his hoof, it came a little way but seemed caught behind or between the cloves, so I hooked it on the other side of his hoof, pulled again, again it came partway, and back and forth, each time gaining more, until finally with several quite hard tugs, the cable came free. Though now free of his tether and enabled on all four feet, he continued laying there with his head up, looking at me from no more than six feet away.
Well, I thought, I've been successful so far, now would he let me cut at least one stretch of the cable between his horns, to make it easier to get free of it later. I extended the pruner again, hooked the topmost cable between his horns, and started to pull the rope to make the cut. Feeling the pull on his horns, he jumped up to his feet and pulled back several steps shaking his rack, almost pulling the pruner from my hands, and entangling the pruner in the cables! But he stood still again, which allowed me to untangle all but one strand of cable, which he kept pulling taught so it couldn't drop free.
So, I stepped to him until I could lift the cable between his horns with my hand, and freed the pruner.
I turned to move away from him, but as I turned, from the corner of my eye, I saw him lower his head and charge. I no more than got turned when he delivered his "Thank You" to the middle of my back.
I was thrown forward to the ground on my face. I jumped up, glancing back to see that he wasn't going to charge me again, and ran 20 feet or so behind some scotch broom. I felt like I'd been hit pretty hard, but I checked my body parts, incredibly finding all still attached and working, and I could feel no holes in my back. A little blood on my forehead was only a scratch from hitting a rock when I hit the ground. Other than having the breath knocked partly out of me, I was unhurt.
Thinking back, I think I escaped injury because he charged from only five feet away, making more of just a lunge than a full charge, and what came against my back must've been the cables between his horns, which prevented his antler points from punching me.
I circled around behind him and stopped about 50 feet away where I could reach an outbuilding if he came at me again, and waited to get a picture of him when he left. He'd lain back down in the same place with his head up, apparently still gathering his energy after his exhaustion, and with an eye on me.
Finally a call came from the wildlife regional office. After listening incredulously to my tale, the agent laughed and said, "Usually everyone's out trying to hunt elk and joking about tying one up in his yard, but you've gone to all this trouble to set one free in your yard."
I replied, "Yes, when we're hunting we'll kill them if we get a chance, but the rest of the time we love them."
Then as I still waited to get a picture, another call came from an agent who was more local but still 100 miles away. He told me that if they darted an elk excited and exhausted like this one, the tranquilizer would probably be fatal. Before I finished giving him directions, I was glad to watch and describe to him the elk getting up, backing into the brush (so I couldn't get a picture, darn it), and running vigorously away through the woods. He was apparently now back to normal except for the cable decoration in his antlers.