A mature bull elk in Elk County got into a fight with woven fencing Wednesday — and lost. Luckily for the elk, Pa. Game Wardens and a Game Commission Elk Biologist responded and the elk went free.
On Wednesday morning, the Game Commission received several calls about an elk tangled in a fence outside Benezette. Game Wardens Kolton Mueller and Jason Wagner, along with Elk Biologist Aide Avery Corondi came to the elk’s rescue, sedating the animal and freeing it from the roughly 20 feet of woven wire fencing that had captured it. Both antlers were caught up in the fencing and it had twisted around a nearby tree.
“We deal with 1 to 2 (cases) a year, and it is always during the rut like this. It is always in September and October,” explained Game Commission Elk Biologist Jeremy Banfield when contacted by The Era Thursday. “Typically it is the younger bulls; they can’t maintain a harem so they get their butts kicked by an older bull. These incidents are usually related to increases in testosterone without much sexual engagement. The bulls then attack inanimate objects.”
The 6x5 bull elk, which was determined to be more than three years old based on its teeth, was found to be in excellent health, other than dealing with exhaustion as a result of its fight with the fence and tree.
“We classify elk as 1-2 or 3+, and this bull was 3+ — a mature bull, but we can’t say definitively how old he was. We can determine age up to three years based on teeth replacement — the same way children and people replace baby teeth in a patternistic way,” Banfield said. “After three years, it is based on wear. For example, we would find a really old animal to have really worn down teeth.”
The process of sedation and freeing the elk drew quite an audience, although all onlookers remained at a safe distance away, along Winslow Hill Road.
According to Banfield, the process to free an elk is very dangerous without the proper training and sedation of the animal and should never be attempted by concerned citizens.
“If people notice that type of thing, it is important to call the Game Commission and not take action on their own,” Banfield said. “If someone tried to untangle the bull on their own, it could lead to injury. Thankfully, that did not happen in this case.”
Game Commission officials advise property owners in elk country — those who live there year-round and those with camps — to remove old fencing and make sure to secure loose hanging objects, including rope swings, extension cords, outdoor Christmas and other decorative lighting and swing sets that could entangle an elk.
In addition to the fact the elk is healthy and has returned to the wild, another positive note is the potential data that can be gathered from tracking the animal’s movements.
“We maintain about 5 to 7% of population with GPS collars,” Banfield said. “This is just an additional animal in about 40 that have radio collars on right now. We typically do not dart and tag animals this time of year, because we are getting close to hunting season. However, since this male had to be darted anyway, we took the opportunity to put a collar on.”
Banfield explained that tracking elk has three main benefits: it helps collect data on the elk survival rates as the GPS collar has a mortality switch and notifies the Game Commission when the elk has not moved for more than 12 hours; it sends a latitude and longitude for the elk’s location to a satellite which can be accessed to study habitat selection, including sites for foraging and bedding down. The collar also can help with the annual population estimates, as elk typically travel in groups and the group with the tagged elk can be found and counted.
The latitude and longitude is intentionally set to send every 13 hours, so that over a 14-day period, the elk’s location at any hour can be determined.