Elk NetworkBull Elk Pulled from Abandoned Mine Hole

General | March 16, 2023

You just never know what you’ll find in the wild. Just ask Randy Kelley, elk project leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. While recently working with fellow biologists and DNR Wildlife Manager Eric Richmond, monitoring the health of the state’s elk herd, they came across a most surprising site.

“We were moving from one bait site to another trying to dart elk and all of the sudden Eric jumped out of the truck and said there was a bull down a hole,” Kelley told MetroNews. “Sure enough, a mature bull elk had stepped I guess backward into a surface fracture and had fallen completely into the hole where only his head was sticking out of the ground.”

The bull was alert but with only its head sticking out of the ground, there was no way for it to get out on its own, so Kelley developed a plan. First, he tranquilized the animal and then covered its eyes to reduce its stress level. Seven to eight staffers and volunteers then joined together to lift with all their might. They got the front legs out of the hole but could lift no more. Remember, bull elk weigh anywhere from 700 to 1,000 pounds.

The crew then looped straps around the elk’s midsection and attached them to a mounted winch on a pickup. Together the men and winch combined to lift the elk to freedom. Kelly adjusted the elk’s tracking collar, treated some abrasions, administered a reversal medication and left it with some alfalfa hay before leaving the area.

“Later that evening about 5:30, telemetry data showed he had gotten up. I went out that evening and he was up moving around,” Kelley told MetroNews. “We monitored him for a couple of weeks, and he seemed no worse for wear.”

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)