Andrew Stout, enforcement officer with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife, keeps a safe distance from Bruiser, Whidbey Island’s lone elk, while trying to shoo him away from a North Whidbey beach and back into the woods in February. Bruiser had hung around the beach for 10 days after getting tangled up in a rope swing on Super Bowl Sunday. He was tranquilized while the debris was removed but still didn’t want to leave from the beach area. Photo courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Whidbey’s lone elk recovering after lengthy ordeal

Oh, Bruiser.

The troubles you continue to encounter.

Whidbey Island’s lone elk is recovering well from an odd ordeal that left him in his biggest tangle since he took up residence on North Whidbey nearly five years ago.

The five-point elk got a heavy rope swing caught up in his antlers in early February, leading State Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers on a near two-week odyssey that involved tranquilizing him to free him of the debris, monitoring his well-being and ultimately shooing him off a beach back into the woods.

Ralph Downes, a state fish and wildlife enforcement officer who’s monitored the elk since his arrival, said the predicament started with a report on Super Bowl Sunday of the elk tangled up with the swing.

The swing was made of thick rope and a round mooring buoy used for a seat.

Before Downes could get there, he said a resident cut the line, causing the elk nicknamed Bruiser to run away in a panic with the buoy and about 20 feet of rope still attached.

“He had it wrapped around his antlers like some sort of Tibetan headdress,” Downes said.

The ordeal was only beginning.

Enforcement officers responded three days later to reports of Bruiser holed up at a nearby beach with the line and buoy still entangled in his antlers.

Noticing the elk was fatigued and stressed yet not interested in going anywhere, state enforcement and biological personnel made the decision to tranquilize him so they could safely remove the debris.

The decision didn’t come without risks, Downes said, noting that sedation could have killed the 800-pound animal.

“We really felt that if we didn’t do anything, he probably would die there,” he said.

The plan was a success in that it allowed the rope and buoy to be removed and the elk was able to wake up, but there was still one big problem.

Bruiser still didn’t want to budge.

“We put him to bed and left him. The next day he was still there,” Downes said.

Bruiser was monitored at the beach for days. Then, concerned about the elk’s hydration and general well-being, state personnel attempted to shoo him back into the woods.

“He was beat up, worn out and I think still confused,” Downes said.

After one failed attempt to move him, they were successful on the second. That was Feb. 16 — 11 days after the whole ordeal started.

Bruiser is presently doing well, looking healthier and growing new antlers, said Downes, who gets regular reports from Strawberry Point residents who’ve grown protective of him and have been mostly forgiving of his occasional antics.

Past incidents have included tangles with 5-gallon buckets, plastic tarps and bicycles that have gotten caught in his antlers.

Downes theorizes that Bruiser swam across Skagit Bay in the fall of 2012 to break free of the herd there, adding that bulls often do split from a larger group. Normally, a few cows accompany them.

Bruiser is the only known elk living on Whidbey.

Downes said that transporting Bruiser back to Skagit County was not considered while he was sedated because of his weakened state and concern over whether he’d survive.

“Truth be told, we were lucky to get the outcome we did,” he said.

(This story was originally published Friday, April 28, 2017)

Bruiser’s biggest tangle since his first sighting on Whidbey nearly five years ago — a heavy rope swing in his antlers. Photo provided by Washington State Fish and Wildlife

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