Hunters rescue elk tangled in rail wire
Vail, CO Colorado
TENNESSEE PASS ” For one night in September, a few hunters became one elk’s unlikely best friends.
Dave Bowen’s neighbor called him one night late last month to tell him there was an elk was tangled in copper utility wires along the railroad tracks near the Eagle-Lake County line.
The six-point buck had wrapped itself around a tree so tightly that it could only move its head about a foot, says Bowen, a mechanic and hunter who lives near Tennessee Pass between Minturn and Leadville.
He called friend and fellow hunter Darin Larson, and together with Bowen’s neighbor they set to work freeing the animal, which Larson estimates weighed 600 to 800 pounds.
“He pulled me like I was a rag doll,” 180-pound Larson says. “It was quite the ordeal, really.”
After an hour-and-a-half of trying to secure the animal and clip the wires, the elk was free.
“At first he really didn’t like us being there,” Bowen says. “I think after awhile he realized we weren’t there to hurt him.”
The incident exposes the potential threat that the wires, which are suspended from poles along the abandoned Union Pacific railway, pose to wildlife. “It’s a mess. The wire’s just hanging there,” Bowen says. “It’s a wonder there haven’t been more of them trapped in it.”
Tom Martin, Leadville’s district manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said he isn’t that worried about the threat the wires pose ” the incident was the first of its kind that he knows of in his 30 years here.
“I have many more problems than that, but I would like to see it cleared up,” Martin says.
Because the wires are on Union Pacific property, the county must work with the railroad company to remove them, says Tiger Volz, who is in charge of Lake County building inspection and code enforcement.
Volz says Union Pacific was cooperative in cleaning up an 11-mile stretch of the railroad from Highway 82 to Highway 300 after a citizen complained more than a year ago that the poles and wires were an eyesore that could injure humans and animals.
“I didn’t realize how unsightly it was,” Martin says of that stretch of railway. “Once it was gone, it just seemed like a whole new area.”
Volz expects all of the wires to be removed eventually, but it likely will take some time.
“It’s not an overnight issue,” she says. “We have a protocol that we have to follow. … We just keep progressing.”
As for the ensnared elk, he was too exhausted to flee once the hunters had freed him. Even after patting the buck’s rump and urging him to move, “He just laid there and looked at me,” Larson says.
But by the next morning, the elk was gone.
“I chased them for a month,” Larson says, referring to bow hunting season. “Then there was one tied to a tree, and I let him go.”