The Rock Springs hunter who found a human skull while chasing an elk Saturday is now marveling at the odds of stumbling upon a “head” in the galactic hugeness of Wyoming’s Red Desert.
If things had happened differently in any miniscule way, the blinding-white skull near sagebrush would never have caught Marc Zancanella’s periphery, he told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
Wyoming’s Red Desert is more than 9,000 square miles. Elk hunting area 118, where Zancanella was hunting, is about 40 miles long in one direction from Wamsutter to near Rawlins.
Also, the reality of finding a human head didn’t sink in until a couple of days after Zancanella spotted it, he said.
Chasing The Elk
Zancanella was hunting with his wife, his 14-year-old daughter and his younger grandchildren Saturday when he spotted a bull elk with its cows and fired. The bull stood, while the cows fled.
When he and his wife walked toward the bull, it bolted up a hill fast enough that Zancanella struggled to keep up on foot.
The hunter mounted a hilltop and looked around. He thought the elk had vanished.
But then he looked around for the “nastiest” terrain he could find that might have drawn the elk, and he spotted a sagebrush crop clumped onto a draw. The elk lay there in the weeds.
Zancanella shot again, and the bull’s hooves flew up in the air.
Zancanella’s wife went back to get the truck and loop around to where the elk lay.
‘Froze My Ears Off’
As the hunter crept toward the animal, a flash of white snagged his attention.
“I looked down and it was a human skull,” he said. “I’m a taxidermist, so I know the difference between an animal skull and – yeah this was not an animal skull.”
He was surprised at how clean and blinding white it was, he said.
But there was still a bulk elk ahead somewhere between life and death.
Zancanella needed a marker for the skull. His only expendable clothing items were his shirt and his beanie.
The morning temperature was 40 degrees with a windchill that drove it to the freezing point. He chose to shed the beanie, not his shirt, and to lay it on the sagebrush next to the skull.
“I froze my ears off a little bit, but it marked a pretty good spot,” he said.
For the elk to go up the draw as it did was “not normal,” Zancanella said, adding that if he hadn’t taken the exact route he did creeping after it, he wouldn’t have spotted the skull.
“Something made that elk, and me, walk up there to find that head. Some higher power or something,” he said. “Just – the odds of walking by it, you know?”
Meanwhile, Zancanella’s wife arrived at the site in their truck with all the children.
He whispered to his wife and his 14-year-old daughter – careful not to let the little grandchildren hear – that he’d found “something really weird back there.”
A human skull.
Zancanella’s wife responded with something along the lines of, “Holy crap.”
They called 911 and were careful not to disturb the scene, he said.
Sweetwater County Sheriff’s deputies arrived in about an hour.
Zancanella and his family waited in the truck while deputies documented the scene. He hadn’t yet gutted the elk, but that didn’t worry him as much as it could have because the air was so cold.
Investigators found the jawbone near the skull, but no other parts of the body, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jason Mower told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.
Zancanella didn’t go hunting for any other bones.
“Screw that,” he said with a chuckle.
It Gets Weird Later
Reflecting on it Wednesday, Zancanella said he was surprised at the calm he felt Saturday.
“I don’t know if I was in shock or what, but I was just, ‘Oh it’s a skull head,’” he said. “But now the last two days I’m like, ‘Holy crap, this is real. I really did find a head.’”
He said he hopes authorities can link the skull to a case that needs resolution.
State forensics analysts are investigating the skull for leads.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.