‘Commander, Missouri has Elk!’

Tom Draper, Dave Hasenbeck, Clint Dalbom

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series about Missouri’s efforts to bring elk back to the state.) 

January 14

We had a slight mix-up with the Virginia Crew (my fault) and one of our crews ended up pulling a double shift on the trap site. 

Our briefing went well this morning. Dan Crank of Kentucky Fish & Wildlife was present, and Tina Brunjes of Kentucky Fish & Wildlife was on speakerphone. 

We ironed out catch procedures and created a contact priority list. Keys to all gates were handed out. D&D folks were present as well, and after a discussion of problems with the trigger on trap #2 they made a site visit and corrected the problem. Time will tell! 

D&D were given measurements for gates to be used instead of the bull excluders, and said they could fashion them with materials on hand. 

We are also trying to work out details with the electronic switch for trap #1. Materials are expected to be delivered today, but two hours from here. I plan to send a runner, if necessary.

There are three Kentucky crews here as well, and they feel as we do that today is the day. All here have “game faces on.” Stay tuned…

This is how it is as of High Noon, January 14th, 2011. 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time – Pineville, Kentucky. Phone conversation:

– Dave Hasenbeck: “Clint… we have seven elk in trap #2… there are two more heading toward the gate… do you want us to shoot?” 

– Clint Dalbom: “How many other elk are around?” 

– David: “30 or so. Two just came out, the other two have turned away.” 

– Clint: “Is there a chance anymore are heading in?” 

-David: “No.” 

-Clint: “SHOOT.” 

-David: “Clint… Missouri has elk!”   

CRASH, the phone goes silent. In the excitement, the phone was dropped to the floorboard of the truck as members of the trapping crew raced across several hundred yards of hillside covered with 1 foot of new snow to secure the elk trap #2 gate.

Elk were loaded into a livestock trailer and moved to the holding pen, processed, and released into the holding pen. 

Later Monday afternoon we traveled to the elk trap sites and were familiarized with them. One trap is equipped with an electronic switch to close the gate and the other has a trip wire to release the gate and close the pen.


This powerful moment in Missouri Conservation history was a group effort by many, many dedicated MDC employees. 

But the lucky ones who were on-site at that moment were: David Hasenbeck – counting cows; Ryan Dirnberger – watching the gate; and Mark McLain – the one who pulled the trigger.

After the initial excitement, traps were re-baited and crew members manned the bait sites. 

At midnight, while trap #2 was surrounded by an estimated 93 elk, a cow inside the trap somehow tripped the release mechanism, trapping herself. 

This was not discovered for 30 to 45 minutes due to the dark. She was loaded, moved, processed, and placed with the other elk in the holding pen.

Trap #1 was disarmed with bull excluders removed, baited heavy and left unmanned the entire night to allow elk to have full access and lose any fear of the site.

January 15

Midnight to 6:00 a.m. – dark, dark night and elk everywhere!

Briefing 8:00 a.m. – Pine Mountain Lodge. Priorities for today:

1. Pick up and install electric switch for trap #1.

2. Construct and install new bull excluders for trap #2.

3. Construct and install new bull excluders for trap #1.

Any work with the elk in the working shoot will involve Clint Dalbom or Scott McWilliams. 

Night vision equipment in the works.

Bad weather coming in – fuel all trucks – keep food, water and warm clothes in the vehicles – may have to spend the night in the vehicle on the mountain due to road conditions.

Randal Roy to check for elk sign at trap #1 when he visits to take measurements for bull excluder gate.

D&D folks on their way to Hazard, KY, to pick up electric switch for trap #1.Our on-site Kentucky contact is Earl Brown for today and tomorrow. He is there to help us with whatever we need him for.

Get sleep – exciting times – but 27-hr shifts take their toll. Eat, rest and take care of yourselves.

Director Bob Ziehmer via speaker on cell phone conveyed words of encouragement to our crew and expressed his sincere support of our efforts. (Nothing like that to maintain the spirit! Except, of course, successful elk trapping).

• 9:30 a.m. — Phone call from Ron Dent with details of a flight expected into Middlesboro, KY, airport with night vision equipment. This flight was met, and equipment delivered to the trap sites #1 and #2.

“Commander, Missouri has Elk!”

• 3:00 p.m. — Randal Roy reports 8 cow elk “blasting” out of the pen upon his arrival to trap #1. Allowing this trap to remain inactive for a few hours has apparently paid off.

New bull excluder and electric switch installed at trap #1. Construction began on bull excluder for trap #2.

Our Squad 3 of D&D and Forestry folks has been super; undivided attention has been paid to all our needs and requests. We owe a big thanks to John Rhea and Kevin Welsh.

Trapping crew #2 was split into three squads as shown below.

Squad #1 – has both trap sites from midnight to noon.

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Squad #3 – site equipment maintenance and upgrades.

Incident Command Structure

Effective 12:01 a.m., 1-16-2011


• SQUAD 1 – BOSS David Hasenbeck, Cordell, Dimderger, Mclain, Rowald.

• SQUAD 2 – BOSS Scott McWilliams, Bleisch, Ward, Gailey, Roy.

• SQUAD 3 – D&D FORESTRY, Welch, Ray.

• 7:00 p.m. — Dalbom receives a phone call from McWilliams that they had just pulled the trigger on a pen of 8 elk up on trap #1. 

Gailey was on-site with the elk while McWilliams headed down the mountain to get the tractor with the gooseneck stock trailer. 

Road steep and very slick, tractor struggles to the top. Elk are loaded. McWilliams starts toward the holding pen with the tractor. 

Gailey and Dalbom escort the tractor, one in front and one behind, with emergency flashers going the 9 miles of mine roads to the holding pen. 

Elk are processed and released into the pen. Trap is re-baited, and equipment is back in place.

• 11:30 p.m. — Call is received from Randal Roy that the trigger has been pulled on trap #2 on a pen of 12 elk. 

The pen gate releases and hits “the south end” of a cow, delays gate closure enough that eight run out of the pen. 

Gate closes on 4 head of elk; 3 are cows and one spike bull. They are loaded, cows in front and bull in the back of the trailer, and moved to the holding pen. 

The bull is unloaded and put in a separate pen in the working end of the corral, and the cows are unloaded and placed with the existing herd of trapped elk. 

The bull is worked through the chute. With most hands on deck, due to the closeness of the shift break, and Dalbom manning the head gate, the animal is moved through the system of tub and chute gates. 

Unloading elk at the holding pen

The bull then moved into the squeeze chute, with a swiftness that far exceeded Dalbom’s reflexes. 

So… with a replay of the first couple lines of this paragraph, the bull was caught, horns sawed in a manner that would have made a caveman proud, then released into the pen with other captured elk.

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