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Panhandle Passages with Justin Haag – Looking an Elk in the Eyes

Elk Collaring in Cherry County
Todd Nordeen, at left, and Micah Ellstrom place the radio collar on the elk. (NGPC Photo/Justin Haag)

The opportunity to get up close with Nebraska’s wildlife is a key incentive that attracted me to this job. Ordinarily, for me, bringing the wildlife closer is a feat aided by the use of a long telephoto lens. Last week, however, I got close enough to the live version of Nebraska’s largest big game animal that I didn’t need any magnification to get a good look.

Todd Nordeen of Alliance, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission district wildlife manager, invited me to tag along Friday on a trip to Cherry County to give a cow elk some new bling – a radio collar and ear tag. The commission uses radio collars to monitor movement of wildlife in real-time and enhance management strategies. This elk, which has been a common sight near Sparks, Neb., since December, gave the biologists a prime opportunity to get some much desired data on the species in the Niobrara valley area.

I’ve had the opportunity to cover some pretty neat subjects in my journalism career, but few of them have captured my attention like a wild elk waking from its slumber and staring me down from just a few yards away. Despite the animal’s docile condition – the result of a well-placed dart in the rear — it’s difficult at such a moment to not have visions of yourself and your camera gear getting trampled. If you’re so inclined, you can download this video to witness the moment that I started questioning my sprinting ability: WMV Video: To charge or not to charge?

Of course, I knew I was safe and the animal, too, was in good hands. Nordeen and his assistants– NGPC biologists Micah Ellstrom of Alliance and Tom Krolikowski of Valentine — went to great lengths to move things along and make sure the elk was not exposed to any undue distress during the hour-long process.

I’ve always considered myself a print journalist, but have done my best to summon my inner Walter Cronkite and provide something for the commission’s “news reel.” You can watch the results below.

I apologize for some of the clips being a little shaky. I’m still working on my technique for simultaneously capturing video footage and still shots. We’ll blame it on that … and not the visions of a charging elk.


About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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