Wandering Elk


I was recently checking on some information on elk in Joseph Knue’s Big Game in North Dakota when I came across his description of the wanderings of two elk from Theodore Roosevelt National Park back in 1987. I seem to recall also reading about this little episode in North Dakota Outdoors about that time as well. It seems that two bull elk in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one of which was radio collared, decided to head out for bigger and better things.

They somehow managed to find a hole in the perimeter fence or perhaps jumped it, at any rate the two bull elk were observed near New England in Hettinger County on August 21, 1987. As one would expect, an elk with a light colored radio collar tends to catch people’s attention and in this case identified it as an apparent escapee from the park.

Six days later, on August 27 they were seen on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation near the South Dakota State line in the vicinity of Morristown, SD which lies on highway 12 about half way between Lemmon and McIntosh. They then decided to head south, perhaps for warmer weather, showing up near Glad Valley, SD in Dewey County on September 1.

Now it is going to get real interesting. These two elk, with perhaps some wanderlust in their veins, or maybe just lust, as this excursion is occurring in and around the rut, apparently decided to put a few more miles between them and the park. They somehow managed to find a way across the Missouri River and finally showed up along the Sheyenne River in West Fargo on September 28. I don’t know if the Red River Valley wasn’t to their liking or what, but a little over a week later, October 6, they were back in South Dakota near Conde which is somewhere around 30 miles southeast of Aberdeen.


That is the last time they were seen alive. After somewhere in the neighborhood of a 650 mile cross country escapade they seemed to simply disappear. But this story isn’t quite over. In January of 1988 a graduate student working on radio collared elk in the park happened on an elk carcass with the radio collar. After all that gallivanting around at least one of the elk apparently decided that his real home was in the North Dakota badlands.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.





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