Exhausted elk crashes in back yard
eagle county correspondent
VAIL ” With its furry head buried in the snow and four spindly legs pointing uphill, the bull elk looked dead Monday morning.
The elk collapsed in Bob McClain’s back yard ” which borders a steep slope of the national forest in West Vail ” and had remained crumpled there since Sunday morning when McClain woke to find the animal just a few paces away from his hot tub.
“I think something spooked him, and he took a big crash,” McClain guessed. “He obviously ran hard downhill, and it looks like he fell and pinned his head under his body with half of his antlers in the snow and the other half wrapped around his body.”
It’s a theory several Colorado Division of Wildlife officers support. As an avid backcountry skier and hunter, McClain said he knows what it looks like when an elk crashes.
He’s also aggravated by the skiing and snowboarding that goes on behind his home, an area where elk on starvation winter diets hang around. “I can’t say for sure it was a skier or snowboarder, but I have seen those guys harassing the elk,” McClain said. “He’s been pushed one too many times.”
Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said humans may have prompted the elk to run, but added it’s a coyote or dog may have chased the animal.
“People let their dogs out and think, ‘Oh, my dog is great and well-behaved.’ And the dogs get out there with the animals, and they get a little more instinct that kicks in, and they’re more aggressive,” Hampton said.
Division of Wildlife officers are allowed to shoot dogs if they’re harassing wildlife. “But we certainly don’t like to do it,” Hampton said.
With the elk too exhausted to move, McClain said he contacted a friend ” Division of Wildlife manager Bill Andree ” who came to McClain’s home at 7:30 a.m. Sunday to perform an awesome feat of elk wrangling to get the animal into a normal lying position.
“Risking life and limb to save this elk, he was the one who gave this elk a chance,” McClain said. “Bill is a hell of an elk wrangler.”
But the elk was still too tired to maintain his position, and by morning, it had flopped over again. “I don’t think he’s going to make it,” McClain said late Monday morning. “He’s just sitting here suffering.”
McClain canceled his Sunday and Monday engagements to watch over his guest, who he’s named George. He chased a neighbor’s dog away from the animals and shooed away a few magpies to had begun to peck at the elk.
McClain wondered whether it wouldn’t be more humane to put George out of his misery, but Jason Duetsch, also a manager with the Division of Wildlife disagreed.
“It seems like the animal didn’t have any injuries,” Duetsch said. “It just looked extremely weak. Usually, our policy is we really don’t want to put down animals if they don’t have any injuries. The animal deserves to have that chance to try to make it and regain that strength to make it until the snow melts a little more.”
George took his chance, and early Monday afternoon, he finally stood ” a good sign.
“These animals might stay sedentary for a number of days before they can move around, but a lot of times, they do make it,” Duetsch said.
Finally on its feet, the elk nibbled on bark and dried berries. Although George isn’t out of the woods yet, McClain was heartened by his progress. “Finally, a story with a happy ending,” McClain said.
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