August 31, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
For apparently the first time in Beaver State history — and possibly even the nation’s history — an Oregon bowhunter has died from wounds suffered from the antlers of a charging bull elk.
According to the Oregon State Police, 66-year-old Mark David of Hillsboro, Ore. died on Sunday, August 30, 2020 when the bowhunter was trying to dispatch a bull elk that had been wounded a day earlier. Oregon’s archery elk season opened up Saturday.
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.
Police said 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 unfortunately, despite the effort, David did not survive the attack.
The wounded elk was killed, and the meat was donated to the Tillamook County Jail following the investigation into the fatal incident.Known for its dairy farming and food production as well as its rugged setting that goes from the Pacific Ocean coastline to mountain tops surpassing 3,000 feet in elevation, the rural county lies approximately 70 miles away from Portland and had some 25,250 residents as of the 2010 U.S. Census.
A heavily forested area in the lush rainforest setting that coastal Oregon is known for, the elk in this fatal incident came from one of two elk species that inhabit the 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 heavily rain forested 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.”
Despite the huge size of such bull elk and the big antlers that they carry each fall across the American West, such incidents are exceedingly rare. While tourists who press in to close to elk herds in places like Yellowstone National Park are occasionally injured, attacks on hunters are exceedingly rare. In fact, after an internet search, it’s even possible that the deadly incident in Oregon this past weekend is the first such fatal goring of a hunter by a bull elk.
Other serious, and even fatal attacks, from wildlife/human interactions are not as rare however, as human fatalities have been reported by wolves, mountain lions and bears. In fact, while still not common, attacks by dangerous bears do occasionally happen as humans enjoy the outdoors where brown bears and grizzlies roam in Alaska and grizzlies live in the northern Rocky Mountain states. And with black bears occupying a wide swath across North America, fatal incidents occasionally happen with that species of bears, too.
Already in 2020, a total of three fatal bear attacks have been reported in North America with two black bear mauling’s in Canada and a brown bear mauling in Alaska.
In such rugged environments across North America, attacks by bears on humans — with a few proving to be fatal — certainly happen from time to time. While none of the attacks so far this year were on hunters out in the field, as hunting seasons open up and hunters head into bear country, the opportunity for a hunter/bear interaction is certainly there each autumn season.
One such incident was the one that claimed the life of Wyoming guide Martin Uptain of Martin Outfitters in the fall of 2018. Uptain was killed in September of that year as he and bowhunting client Corey Chubon were retrieving a bull elk taken in the Teton Wilderness not far from Jackson, Wyo. and Yellowstone National Park. While Chubon was injured, he survived the attack by a sow grizzly as her adult cub reportedly stood nearby, but the 37-year-old guide did not.
While bear attacks grab a lot of headlines, particularly when they involve hunters, there have been a surprising number of reported incidents of antlered game also attacking humans including 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 the man and would not let him up despite the efforts of Good Samaritans passing by. 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 the Lone Star State, 61-year-old Charlie Jackson Coleman of Caldwell, Texas 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 — 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 down through the years.
Because of that, as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation suggests to "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 as hunters head into the high country, especially considering this weekend’s tragic news from Oregon.