WARNING: The second photo in the above gallery shows the dead elk involved in this collision.
SAULT STE. MARIE — An area couple escaped serious injury last weekend after they struck an elk along Highway 17, about 30 minutes east of Sault Ste. Marie.
The collision occurred shortly before 11 p.m. on Sunday, leaving St. Joseph Island residents Brian Watkins and his wife Laurie shaken up, and their pickup truck essentially totalled.
“We could have been seriously hurt; this thing was huge,” he says. “They weigh about 600 pounds while a deer is around 400 — and there were four of them.”
A former Ward 3 city councillor for Sault Ste. Marie, Watkins says they were roughly halfway between Neebish Road and Townline Road on their way to the island when they struck and killed the elk.
Speaking with an experienced wildlife hunter who lives in the area, Watkins says they believe that unlucky elk is just one of approximately 150 in a herd that is currently occupying the fields along that portion of the highway.
“Between 2010 and 2014, they were in that area — and lots of them,” he says. “You could see them way out in the field in the distance. In fact, people would spot them and take pictures in the same area right where we were.”
“But then they were gone. We hadn’t seen them out there for about seven or eight years. They might have migrated down to Iron Bridge. But they seem to have returned to the area in the last year. They’re mostly crossing Neebish Road.”
While he hasn’t heard of anyone else hitting an elk recently, Watkins says last weekend’s incident sparked his desire to spread public safety awareness for motorists driving east along Highway 17.
The St. Joseph Island resident also told SooToday he’d like to see signage posted in the area to warn motorists of this potentially large herd of elk that has returned to the area, because as he and his wife experienced Sunday, an accident can occur in an instant.
“There were trees on the infield of the four-lane highway to my left, and they were yarded up against those trees, and they just kind of sauntered up onto the road,” he explains. “My initial reaction was they were going to keep crossing the road and then I would go past them behind them where they were, but they just flat out stopped.”
“By that time, we’re jamming the brakes. If it wasn’t for that brush in the infield, I probably would have seen them. When they saw my lights, they just stepped up, and next thing I know they’re right there. I was thinking they would keep going but they stopped, and I nailed one.”
Meanwhile, recent moose-vehicle collisions at the bottom of Mile Hill up Highway 17 North are also causing concern among area residents.
Watkins says the elk situation east of the Sault should be considered just as alarming.
“A moose at the bottom of the Mile Hill is very sporadic,” he suggests. “Big consequences because of the size of the animal. But let me tell you, an elk isn’t that much further behind a small calf moose — and there’s 150 of them.”
“I’m on that highway twice a day, five days a week. I want to make sure people be careful.”
SooToday has requested comment from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, but they have yet to reply to questions about the herd of elk just east of Sault Ste. Marie.