3:06pm: Hotline with Dave Weekley

A “lame” elk is holding her own on the Tomblin WMA

HOLDEN, W.Va. — My last words to Randy Kelley when he got out of the truck and climbed into the blind were, “Don’t miss.”

“Oh, it’s certainly a possibility,” he laughed.

Kelley is the leader of the Division of Natural Resources Elk Project and allowed me to tag along on one of his team’s trips onto the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area recently to observe the health check on a West Virginia elk. The state’s young herd is now into its fourth year of development. The animals were transferred here starting in December 2016 from the Land Between the Lakes federal recreation area in Kentucky and subsequently from the state of Arizona. Today, they continue to multiply.

“We need to put new collars on them since the batteries are starting to wear out. Some of the new calves need to be tagged and collared. We also take a DNA sample,” Kelley explained as we bounced along a haul road to a blind set up exclusively to draw the elk in close to be darted and tranquilized.

Kelley was after one particular elk on this day. It was the second calf of an elk cow brought to Logan County from Land Between the Lakes with a rather unique story.

A group from the DNR works fast to get all of the proper testing, tagging, and sampling done as darkness falls on the Tomblin WMA.

“When we were down there rounding them up, she had a limp. They really didn’t want to send her like that, but I told them, ‘She can limp in West Virginia as easy as she can limp in Kentucky.'” Kelly explained.

Kelly’s reasoning wore down the U.S. Forest Service officials who finally relented. The apparently lame elk was fitted with a satellite tracking collar, ear tags, and a microchip like all the others and shipped to Logan County. When she arrived, Kelly explained she had ideas of her own.

“She didn’t stick around with the rest of them. She moved over to what we call the South Mine Property across U.S. 119 and she stayed there by herself,” he said.

Despite her apparent ailment and her isolation complex, nature still took its course. The lame cow had her first calf–a heifer– in 2019. Biologists were able to locate the calf and fit her with a collar last year. This year, they were after the limpy elk’s second calf born in the spring of 2020.

“It’s a neat story she’s actually starting her own little herd over here on this side,” he said.

Kelly suggested the cell cameras had shown the trio coming into the bait site right about dark each night. He was left at the blind while Wildlife Manager Logan Klingler, Elk Project Assistant Jake Wimmer, and the rest of us waited at a staging area about a mile away. The team was close to giving up on Kelly until shortly before dark when his voice crackled through the the radio “DART IN.”

A fast and bumpy mile ride later, the team caught up with Kelly who had already located the calf, put a blind on her eyes, and held her head to keep her from suffocating while he waited for the crew. Kelly, Klingler, and Wimmer quickly went through the work up and were pleased to learn the second calf from the lame elk was also a heifer.

“She’s so big, I would have sworn it was bull,” Klingler said, clearly elated by the gender reveal. “The bulls have been dominating us this year, so this will help.”

When trying to build a population, the females are the most important multiplier. Kelly and his team had several more animals they hoped to work up as the spring comes on, but they were excited to have all three of the south mine elk collared to track in the months ahead.

The cow which almost never made it to West Virginia is doing her part to help the process along.

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