Every year, viral news headlines are generated as human beings and various wild animals get too close to one another, sometimes by accident and sometimes in a deliberate intrusion into an animal’s space.
Already this summer, news has come from South Dakota concerning a woman attacked by a bison as she tried to edge in closer for a photo at Custer State Park, along with three fatal bear attacks across North America. Two of those fatal bear maulings happened in Canada after black bear incidents, and one occurred in Alaska, either by a black bear or a brown bear as officials try to piece together a wild puzzle that showed DNA samples present from both species at the attack site.
While tragic and somewhat rare, incidents like those mentioned above aren’t unheard of either. But this weekend, news broke that quickly moved into unprecedented territory as headlines came from Oregon that a bowhunter had been killed as he tried to dispatch a wounded bull elk, the first known instance of such a fatal elk attack.
According to the Oregon State Police, 66-year old Mark David of Hillsboro, Ore. died on Sunday, August 30, 2020, as a result of the attack. According to the state police via its Flash Alert system news release, the bowhunter was trying to dispatch a bull elk that had been wounded a day earlier when Oregon’s Aug. 29-Sept. 27 archery elk season opened up.
The fatal incident occurred around 9:15 a.m. while David was hunting on private property near Tillamook, Ore. After being unable to locate the wounded bull before darkness fell on the Saturday season-opener, he and the landowner returned on Sunday morning to try and locate the bull.
When the elk was discovered, the state police indicate that David attempted to dispatch it with another arrow, but the wounded bull charged the archer and gored him in the neck with its 5x5 rack of antlers.
The Oregon State Police say that the landowner tried to assist the stricken hunter after the attack. Authorities from multiple agencies responded, including the Oregon State Police, the Tillamook Fire and Rescue, the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office and the Tillamook County Medical Examiner’s office. But, despite the effort, David did not survive the attack.
The Oregon State Police reported the wounded elk was killed, and the meat donated to the Tillamook County Jail following the investigation.
Happening in the heavily forested area that Oregon’s lush rainforest environment produces in coastal regions, the elk in this fatal incident came from one of two elk species inhabiting the Beaver State. While most hunters think of Rocky Mountain elk when the species is mentioned, the elk in this fatal incident was likely a Roosevelt elk even though that was not reported by state authorities detailing the attack.
According to renowned bowhunter and author Scott Haugen in a North American Elk magazine story, the species looks much the same as its Rocky Mountain elk cousins found in the eastern part of Oregon, but has some key differences, including the steep and densely timbered rainforest terrain that they live in.
"Roosevelt elk are the largest-bodied elk subspecies in North America," wrote Haugen. "Bulls can live into their teens and tip the scales to over 1,200 pounds, and mature bulls average almost 900 pounds on the hoof. They commonly run at least 200 pounds larger than a Rocky Mountain bull.
"These giant elk are named after President Theodore Roosevelt, who established what is now the Olympic National Park in Washington state for the purpose of preserving this magnificent rain-forest subspecies. Roosevelt elk live in the Coast Range and western slopes of the Cascade Range from northern California, through Oregon and Washington, and into southern British Columbia. Roosevelt elk also exist on Alaska’s Afognak and Raspberry islands, where bulls have been recorded weighing in excess of 1,300 pounds."
While bear attacks like the ones mentioned above grab a lot of headlines, particularly when they involve hunters, there have also been a surprising number of reported incidents of antlered game also attacking humans over the years. That includes several high-profile incidents in the northeastern U.S., where deer and human interaction is more frequent given the region's high population and heavy deer density.
One such incident was reported nationwide in Sept. 2017 when an Albany, New York man was attacked by a deer, including getting hit in the eye by the deer's antlers. The buck was later dispatched and proved to be rabid according to media reports by the Associated Press and others.
Last year, an elderly gentleman in New York suffered a broken hip after a three-point buck attacked him and would not let him up despite the efforts of Good Samaritans nearby. The young buck was eventually located, tranquilized, and relocated to a wildlife rehabilitator. The incident wasn't as isolated as one might think since a spokesperson for the Peconic Bay Medical Center said it was the third deer attack injury they had treated that same month.
In Texas, 61-year old Charlie Jackson Coleman of Caldwell, Tex., was gored to death in October 1990 as he looked for antique bottles along a rural roadway. An autopsy later determined that the buck—which had to be shot by a responding officer as it continued the attack just prior to the rut (the annual fall breeding season)—crushed the man's skull and left more than 100 hoof and puncture wounds inflicted by the eight-point buck's rack.
And last fall, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials indicate that 66-year old Thomas Alexander died from wounds suffered from an attack in the Ozark Mountains near Yellville, Ark. Alexander had downed the deer while on a muzzleloader hunt and was gored as he approached the deer. He later died of his wounds at a nearby hospital.
While it was noted above that the Oregon incident this past weekend may have been the first time a hunter has been gored to death by a bull elk, there have been plenty of close calls reported in various Western locations through the years.
Because of that, as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation suggests, "Never take wounded elk for granted."
With 2020 archery elk seasons starting up across the country and muzzleloader and general elk seasons waiting in the wings this fall, that’s advice well worth heeding. And as the whitetail rut approaches in late October and November, it is also valuable advice for whitetail hunters to take note of as they climb into treestands and ground blinds in the chase for America’s most popular and widely distributed big game animal.
Because as the tragic headlines from Oregon this weekend reminds us all, the great outdoors is a wild place. And unfortunately, sometimes it’s a dangerous and even deadly place, an environment that demands full respect and careful awareness from all hunters as they head afield this fall.