A bull elk gored a sheepherder on the La Sal Mountains, puncturing one of the man’s lungs, knocking him unconscious and forcing him to walk several miles for help.
Hugo Macha, 31, was attacked by the elk on Taylor Flat, Tuesday, Sept. 3. He was recovering in the hospital after the rare attack, said Polly Hill, co-owner of the 1,000 sheep Macha tends.
“He was already worrying about his sheep,” Hill told a reporter at the Salt Lake Tribune. “The doctor said he was lucky because the way the lung was punctured it kept it from collapsing. He might be able to come home Sunday. We will take care of him until he is back on his feet.”
He said he was sitting in some brush in the shade when he heard some noise. He turned to see a bull elk walking uncomfortably close to him.
Macha abruptly stood up and ran. The elk gave chase and knocked him down, goring him three times before running off.
When he came to, the elk was nowhere to be found.
Macha told officials he waited in hopes that he’d be found by hunters, and tried to call for help on his cellphone but wasn’t getting service. Early the next day, he started a long walk to find a fellow shepherd about five miles away.
“This guy was a complete stud,” said conservation officer Jay Shirley, who was at the scene. “He was in a lot of pain. He couldn’t even sit down because it hurt so much, and yet he walked that far. He hadn’t had food or water and no sleep. He was amazing.”
The next morning Macha’s friend, also a sheepherder, found Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officers and biologists.
Wildlife officials said they were loading crates used to relocate wild goats when a sheepherder approached and started speaking to them frantically in Spanish.
With help from an officer who spoke the language, they learned the story and were able to find Macha.
“He walked up to meet us, and his shirt was soaked in blood, and it was down his one pant leg,” said DWR officer Dennis Shumway. “He lifted up his shirt and there was fatty tissue hanging out of this wound on his upper right back.”
Ben Wolford, another one of the DWR officers, was an advanced Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and was able to provide some medical attention.
Within minutes the DWR officers assessed and stabilized Macha. They bandaged his wounds and gave him oxygen and a saline IV.
The officers called for a medical helicopter to airlift Macha from the mountains.
Macha was flown to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo. He suffered puncture wounds in the chest, back and thigh. His lung had collapsed, and the officers said it appeared his shoulder was dislocated.
The attack may have something to do with the start of the elk mating season, known as the rut, when male elk become aggressive and occasionally fight to the death with other bulls as they jockey for and protect females.
The rut begins in early September and continues until mid October with the peak of the rut typically occurring in mid to late September.
“Obviously, this doesn’t happen normally,” Shirley said. “With the start of the rut, maybe the bull had him mistaken for another bull.”