Face to face with an angry cow elk

by | Jun 4, 2021 | Arts & Life

By Shawna Bannerman

On the final weekend of May, Luna and I went camping, just the two of us.

We spent 2 nights at the south end of Abraham Lake, where it meets the Saskatchewan River. For our third and last night I decided we’d head northwest to Jasper National Park. The trip had gone without a hitch, and I’d spent most of my time journaling, reading and exploring the woods with Luna.

On our final morning, I decided we’d take one last hike up Pyramid Mountain north of Jasper. It was 11am on a Tuesday morning and the parking lot was empty. I packed some water for us both, some snacks, my disposable camera, and a whistle. I leashed up Luna and headed up the trail. We were climbing up immediately and I was out of breath within minutes.

Only about half a kilometre up the trail, I heard rustling in the bushes. I looked to my left, and saw an Elk through the trees with its head down, munching on the grass, less than 10 feet away from me. It didn’t seem to notice me, and although startled, I kept walking along the trail, figuring it wouldn’t be bothered if I kept to myself.

Then I heard galloping behind me. I screamed, a hoarse noise coming directly from my throat, and turned to see that I was face to face with an aggressive and protective mother Elk. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she must have had a calf nearby. She ran me off the trail and I tucked myself and Luna into the brush, behind a tree on the trail’s edge.

She was tall; her snout was eye level to me, and only a couple feet away.

She snarled, on the opposite side of a sparse Douglas fir tree. I held Luna’s leash tight, keeping her behind me. She was barking and whining, though she seemed more curious of the large animal than afraid.

I was hoping the Elk would back off, but she stayed put, watching us. I kept alternating between blowing my whistle and screaming, but neither seemed to be fazing her.

Instead, she stood on her hind legs, and clapped together her two front legs, a motion I learned later was called rearing up. Her hooves were only a couple feet from my face, and I backed up to avoid them.

She repeated this motion again, this time aiming for Luna. Still, I kept Luna’s leash tight, and held her behind me.

Her front hooves hit the ground, and again she snarled, keeping her eyes on me. The Elk and I stood, staring directly at each other, separated only by the scattered branches at the base of the fir tree.

I recall putting my hand to my chest and taking a deep breath. In the moment of pure adrenaline and fear, my mind was shockingly clear. I thought through each possible escape scenario.

Climb a tree? Not an option, I’d have to leave Luna.

Run back down the trail? No, surely, she’d charge after me.

Crumple into a ball on the ground and stay small? I wasn’t about to leave myself so vulnerable.

I couldn’t see any other way out.

I remember saying aloud, but more calm than I would have expected, “I don’t know what the fuck to do.”

I took my eyes off the Elk and looked left, down the trail where we’d come from. I was hoping another hiker would miraculously appear, having heard my screams, and come to our rescue.

I looked right, about 30 feet up the trail, where a couple of red Muskoka chairs sat signalling the first viewpoint. Had our hike been peaceful, we likely would have stopped at the chairs to admire and hydrate. Of course, we hadn’t made it there.

I shouted as loudly as I could, “Is there anyone else around?”

But I knew the parking lot had been empty when I arrived, and I was alone on the trail. My stomach sank and I knew I was on my own.

I felt trapped. I felt more alone than I’d ever felt, and for the first time in my life, I genuinely feared for my safety.

I didn’t think I was going to die, but I couldn’t see how Luna and I were going to make it out unscathed.

Again, she reared up. I held my right hand high, hoping I looked somewhat threatening to her, still holding Luna’s leash with my left. I screamed again. I remember thinking my scream was almost as powerful as the whistle, and I’d never made a noise quite like that before.

This time, the Elk took a run at Luna. My dog, only about 40 pounds, saw what was coming and tried to run the opposite direction. But, tied to the leash, she could only get about a few feet before the leash was taught. The tension caused the leash to slip from my hand, but Luna couldn’t run any further, blocked by brush and fallen logs.

I watched in horror as the Elk trampled over my dog, a mere 6 feet from me.

I shouted after Luna, feeling so much guilt I hadn’t protected her. I braced myself for the damage.

The Elk circled back again, galloping past me and back onto the trail. I looked back at Luna and saw a ball of black and white limbs and paws tucked in the brush. She’d been protected by the fallen tree. I don’t know how, but I knew Luna was okay. She was quiet, but stood up again once the Elk had returned to the trail.

Again, the Elk reared. By this point I was angry. I yelled “Fuck off!” at the top of my lungs.

I was relieved to see her back off finally and gallop just into the brush on the other side of the trail. I could see she was still watching us, but her body, turned the opposite way, was less threatening.

I turned and started running through the bush down the hill, away from the Elk. I was calling Luna, coaxing her, but every 10 feet or so, she would stop and sit down, lick her leg and whine. I could see her harness was twisted around her leg, making it difficult for her to run, but I was not about to stop until I knew we were safe.

I was jumping over logs, and crouching under trees, stumbling down the hill as fast as I could. It wasn’t far to the road and when I jumped out onto the paved lane, I looked behind me to make sure Luna was following. She stumbled out of the woods and again sat and whimpered. I picked her up and ran the last 40 feet to the car, looking behind me every few seconds.

I took a breath in the safety of the parking lot, pulled out my keys to unlock my car and plopped Luna in the passenger seat. I took off her harness and she licked her leg, but made no indication of any injuries. I checked her over quickly and found just a few scratches and small splotches of blood.

Leg Cut

The brunt of the damage.

Looking down, I was surprised to see blood dripping down from a few scratches on my legs. I’d felt none of the impact from the brush running down the hill. The most impressive was a long scratch from my right hip down to my knee. Otherwise, we were both more or less unharmed.

Relieved, I got in the driver’s seat and sat in disbelief.

We’d just been attacked by a wild animal.

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