Brad Dokken: A local icon for more than 20 years, the 'Warroad Elk' is no more
Mar. 18—WARROAD, Minn. — Nobody really knows where the bull elk known in these parts as the "Warroad Elk" came from — this isn't really elk country, after all — but he was a fixture in the area for the better part of two decades.
By most accounts, the elk was already a good-sized bull when it showed up in a field north of the Marvin Windows and Doors plant about 20 years ago. It stayed in the vicinity for six or seven years before crossing the Warroad River and venturing a few miles east to an area with a mix of woods and farmland along the south shore of Lake of the Woods.
The iconic bull died last week — presumably of old age — in the same area east of Warroad where it had spent the past 13 years. Staff from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources picked up the elk Thursday night, March 9, by a farmer's hayshed, and it was taken the next day to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of Minnesota, said Scott Laudenslager, area wildlife manager for the DNR in Baudette, Minnesota.
Veterinary staff will perform a necropsy to determine how the elk died, and results should be available in a few weeks, Laudenslager said.
"There was no sign of a bullet hole or anything like that," he said. "I just know that a number of people had seen the elk around for several years, so we'll see what the (necropsy) report says.
"It was definitely an old animal."
No one, perhaps, was more familiar with the Warroad Elk than Jason Furuseth of Warroad. The bull showed up on his hunting land off Roseau County Road 12 in 2010 and had lived there and on the property of a neighboring farmer ever since, Furuseth says.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Furuseth said he collected six complete sets of antlers and two left sides from the bull since 2010. The 7x7 rack had "pretty good mass," and the bull in his prime probably would have scored in the "340ish class," Furuseth says, referring to how many inches the antlers would have measured.
"His biggest year out of all the sets I have — he peaked in 2016, and then he kind of diminished from there a little bit," Furuseth said. "It wasn't a lot, though."
The Warroad Elk was kind of a "disruptive character," Furuseth says, snapping off spruce trees planted for wildlife habitat and chasing away whitetail bucks on the hunting land while holding court over a small harem of whitetail does and fawns.
"They kind of just hang around and he stays there with them," Furuseth said. "It's really bizarre."
The bull would routinely wander several miles during the summer, only to return to Furuseth's woods in the fall.
"I don't know why he kind of (stayed) in that woods," Furuseth said. "It must be the kind of woods he prefers. And he's got plenty of food around, other than in the winter, when it's a little tougher."
The bull had been showing its age the past couple of years, and "looked pretty rough" in late December when he saw the bull while bowhunting for deer, Furuseth says.
"He was looking old, and I was thinking this might be the year," Furuseth says.
Sometime late Wednesday, March 8, or Thursday, March 9, his hunch came true. The Warroad Elk died after spending its final hours collapsed by the neighboring farmer's hay shed.
The elk was laying with its head "flat down on the ground" last Wednesday when Furuseth drove by on the way to his cabin. It looked like the bull was dead.
"I'd never seen him lay like that," Furuseth said.
Furuseth then called the farmer, who went out to check and called back a short time later to say the elk was alive, but just barely.
The bull was dead by the next day, and the DNR picked it up that night.
"He had to be in that 20- to 23-year-old range as far as I can tell — give or take," Furuseth said.
That's old by wild elk standards. Elk can live up to 16 years in the wild, but it would be an exception, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
"He had it pretty easy, you know?" Furuseth said, adding with a laugh, "He didn't have any women in his life — no stress. He didn't have to fight other bulls, and he had the best food all the time, so he's had a pretty good life."
The Warroad Elk was "kind of a pain in the butt," Furuseth says, but its death after all these years as a local icon was still emotional.
"When I saw him laying there, it really affected me more than I thought it would," he said. "It's almost like losing a dog kind of thing. I was actually shocked — I'm like, 'how can this bother me this much?'
"It was a lot of good memories."