Conservation Wildlife Management

Watch: Police Officer Nearly Gored While Freeing Bull Elk from Swing

Deputies used loppers and a makeshift pole saw to cut the bull free
Katie Hill Avatar
elk tangled in rope swing
The bull was worn out from running back and forth and yanking against the tree. Pierce County Sheriff's Department / Facebook

Deputies from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Washington responded to an injured animal call on Sept. 1 to discover a young bull elk had gotten its antlers stuck in a rope swing. The bull was yanking against the knotted mess with all its might to no avail.

Body camera footage from the incident shows the deputies slowly approaching the bull. The rope swing hangs from a tree on the wooded edge of a grassy field. The bull runs back and forth near the tree, trying to free itself from the rope. The swing, a thick piece of lumber, clunks against the bull’s tines.

“Usually these can require deputies to put the injured animal down, which is not a fun thing to have to do,” PCSD writes in the caption.

The footage cuts to an up-close shot of the elk. It is panting and foaming at the mouth, and is clearly exhausted from running back and forth and fighting against the tree. The deputy stands with the tree between him and the elk as he talks gently to the bull in hopes of calming it. A few more minutes pass before he attempts to cut the rope with a fixed-blade knife, but the bull shuffles around before he can start cutting.

Another deputy arrives with long-handled pruning loppers, which the first deputy trades the knife for. He approaches the bull again and strains to reach one of the pieces of rope wrapped around the closer antler, eventually chopping the antler free. But the far antler is wrapped in another piece of rope, so the job is only half done.

“I’m trying to keep the tree between me and him,” the deputy says. “I just don’t want to get beaned by that friggin’ chunk of lumber.”

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The deputy positions himself on the other side of the tree and attempts to cut the second piece of rope, but the bull lowers its head and charges. It knocks the deputy to the ground, nearly goring him. Footage from the other deputy’s body camera offers a better look at the close call. The deputy jumps up right away, assuring the others he’s okay. But it’s clear the loppers aren’t long enough to chop the rope from a safe distance.

The deputy then grabs a different tool, a serrated knife duct-taped to the handle of a garden rake, and creates a makeshift pole saw. After a few short strokes, the knife breaks through the second piece of rope. The bull bolts into the woods, fragments of rope still tangled between its antlers.

On Tuesday, PCSD posted an update on the bull, which had shown up on a trail camera eating from a feeder. Pieces of rope were still tied around the elk’s antlers but it looked healthy otherwise. As PCSD points out in the caption, the rope will eventually fall off when the bull sheds its antlers.

Pierce County is in western Washington, encompassing Gig Harbor on the northern end and Mount Rainier National Park on the southern end. Despite concerns about human encroachment on wildlife habitat in the area, the North Rainier elk population is considered “at objective” according to the latest population study conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Washington is home to 45,000 to 50,000 elk.

“With a delay for other agencies to respond our deputies stepped up to the challenge of freeing this young bull elk,” PCSD wrote. “This is extremely dangerous and we would never want you to try this at home.”