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Home / Hunting / Field Guide


Hoofed Mammals
Cervus elaphus


Elk have large antlers, skinny legs, and a thick neck. They are either brown or tan on the upper half of their body, and the lower half of their body is much darker. Their tail and rump are also brown with a tint of yellow, and bucks have dark manes around the throat area.

Bucks have multi-tined antlers, reaching six on each side during full maturity. The main beam can reach up to five feet in length.

Juveniles have spots until they are about three or four months old.

Elk are between 4' 6" to 5' tall, are 6' 7" to 9' 9" long, and weigh anywhere between 600 to 1,089 pounds (male) or 450 to 650 pounds (female) when first born.


Elk breed in late August through November, reaching a peak in October and November. One or two young are born after a gestation period of 9 months or so, and they weigh approximately twenty-five to fourty pounds.


Elk habitat varies throughout the year. In the summer elk are found in higher elevation mountain pastures, and in the winter, elk prefer lower elevations on wooded slopes in densly populated forests.


Elk range from Eastern British Columbia, Central Alberta, Central Saskatchewan, and Southern Manitoba, south to Central New Mexico and Arizona. A large population of elk live in the following U.S. states:

  • Washington
  • Montana
  • Wyoming
  • Colorado
  • Coastline from Vancouver Island to Northern California

More isolated populations are found in the following U.S. states:

  • California
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Michigan

Smaller populations can be found in a few Eastern U.S. states, such as Pennsylvania.

Additional Information

  • Elk are primarily nocturnal, but are especially active at dusk and dawn.
  • Elk often move through the forest quickly. For a large animal, they are surprisingly quiet as well.
  • Bull elk can run up to 35 MPH (55 KM/h).
  • Elk are strong swimmers.
  • Elk mark their territory by stripping bark from seedlings.
  • Elk are considered grazers, eating woody vegetation and lichen.
  • Elk vocalize differently depending on their age. Young elk squeal, adults snort and grunt, and cows neigh to their calves.
  • Alarmed elk emit a sharp, barking snort.
  • A bull elk's "bugle" is a challenge to other bulls and a call of domination to cow elk. The bugle starts as a bellow, changes quickly to a high-pitched whistle (which carries the greatest distance), and ends with a series of grunts.
  • The size of the herd varies depending on the amount of resources, terrain, and cover. Herds can be composed of three hundred to four hundred elk.
  • Larger elk herds are usually found in open areas, while smaller herds prefer wooded areas. Although bulls herd separately, they still remain near cow-dominated herds.
  • During the rut, adult bulls join the cow and calf herd. It's during this time that the bull bugles, urinates on vegetation (which he tosses on his back using his antlers), and rolls around in stagnant water.
  • Bulls fight using their antlers. These clashes seldom cause much harm, but could lead to minor injury or death.
  • Mountain lion and bear are the main predators of elk.
  • Although "elk" is the British name for the moose, it was mistakenly given to the "Wapiti" by early settlers. Wapiti actually comes from the Shawnee Indian language and means "white (or pale) deer," and referred to the pale sides and flanks of the Rocky Mountain subspecies (C. e. nelsoni).
  • The Roosevelt subspecies (C. e. roosevelti) is found in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Elk populations that once ranged throughout most of North America dwindled as farms and settlements took over their habitats, while hunting also played a role. Fortunately today's elk herds appear to be very stable.


Elk Track

Cloven hearts, much larger and rounder than those of White-tailed Deer or Mule Deer; somewhat smaller and rounder than those of Moose; 44 1/2" (100115 mm) long. When walking, hindprints slightly ahead of and partly overlapping foreprints; stride 3060" (7501,500 mm). When running and bounding, foreprints and hindprints are separate; stride up to 14' (4.25 m). In snow or mud, dewclaws often print behind lobed main prints.


During the rut, thrashed saplings and large shrubs; "rubs" on saplings and small trees made as the male polishes his antlers.

Wallows: Depressions dug in ground by hooves and antlers, where copious urine and feces give a strong, musky odor.

Scat: When feeding in lush pastures in summer and early fall, flattened chips similar to dung of domestic cattle; in winter, when chief foods are dried grasses and browse, dark pellets similar to deer scat but larger, sometimes more than 1" (25 mm) long.



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