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Hunter survives close brush with stampeding elk

A local hunter broke his collarbone trying to escape a herd of nine mature bull elk running straight toward him on Owsley Canyon Road last week.

Doug Smith and his son-in-law Randy McNeeley, both of La Grande, were out hunting elk at 7:15 a.m. Dec. 20 when they spotted a herd of elk on property bordering Owsley Canyon Road.

Smith had a muzzleloader cow tag, but he couldn’t tell if there was a cow in the herd or not. Since he didn’t have his binoculars with him, he told McNeeley to drive a bit farther and let him out.

“I told Randy that when we get to the brush between us and the elk, I will get out so they couldn’t see me, and he should drive down the road a little farther,” said Smith.

When they reached the brush area, Smith got out of the vehicle and hid in the ditch, where there was about a 10-foot gap between the brush and the edge of the gravel road.

From this vantage point, he hoped to see whether or not there was a cow in the herd.

The elk were slowly coming out of the field to cross the road at a clearing not far from where Smith was crouching.

“They were only about 100 yards away then,” said Smith. “They had all stopped because someone in a car had stopped on the road to look at them. That’s when I noticed they were all nice big bulls. I’d never seen all bulls in a herd before and one was a six-pointer. When the car stopped, though, it spooked the herd, and they began to run right at me.”

Smith knew then he had to act quickly and get out of the way of the stampeding herd of elk.

“I wiggled back down into the ditch and started running for the culvert. I made it about six feet when I slipped on a frosty rock,” said Smith. “I kept my gun up, but fell on a rock and fractured my collarbone. It hurt right off the bat. I also jammed some fingers on my left hand. One of them turned purple down to the second knuckle.”

Smith believes that the elk saw his head as he was running, and they veered about 30 feet from him, leaping over the fence instead of going through the clearing.

“The elk must have hit the fence with their feet because I heard it go ‘twang’ as they jumped over,” said Smith. “After they jumped they just walked away.”

Injured, Smith knew that was the end of his hunting that morning. McNeeley came back for Smith at this point, and together they watched the majestic bulls walk away.

Then McNeeley took Smith home.

“I got home and my wife Lori said my collarbone was broken,” said Smith. “So we went to the walk-in clinic where I was referred to the hospital for an X-ray. That showed my collarbone was broken in one spot.”

Despite his narrow escape and his subsequent injury, Smith isn’t deterred from hunting elk again. His collarbone is feeling better each day, he said, and his tag is good until the end of January. But he does reflect on his close call that day with the stampeding herd of bull elk.

“If I had stayed there in the ditch, I would have been trampled, so I was getting out of there,” said Smith. “I sure did get to see a lot of bull up close and personal, though.”


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