What Is An Elk? What are Its Characteristics?

Do you want to hunt down an animal effectively? Then it is important to know clearly about that animal, its characteristics and how to use the most proper hunting tactics against it. The statement above also applies to elk and elk hunting. When you decide to go for elk hunting, besides the hunting weapon, you should have an intensive knowledge about this animal. This way, you can deal with them most effectively. So let’s go through the most common questions including “ what is an elk ?”  and “what are its characteristics” to learn more about this popular animal.

What is an elk ?

Many people think that elk and deer are the same but in fact, this is not true. Elk belongs to the deer family. It is among the largest members of the family. It is also one of the largest land animals found in North America and Eastern Asia as well. The scientific name of the elk is Cervus Canadiens. It is also commonly called Wapati, which means light colored deer in Native American.

An elk is an herbivorous animal, eating mostly grass, leaves and barks, with the average lifespan in the wild from 8 to 12 years.

It is light brown with large rump patches. Male elk have antlers while female elk don’t have any. These antlers are shed every winter and will grow back in the next spring. A soft of layer called “velvet” covers the antlers to protect them. This layer will shed in the summer once the antlers are fully grown.

An adult elk can reach the height at the shoulder of 4 to 5 feet. When you count the height from the shoulder up to the antler, some elks can have the height of 8 to 5 feet. An average elk weights 300 to 1100 lbs.

The main difference between an elk and a moose is that an adult moose has flat antlers and adult elk has pointed antlers.

Elk goes in the group. But female and male elk will not form the same group for most of the time. A group of female elk also contains small calves.

The main predators of elk are wolf, coyote or cougar as well as bear.

The main predators of elk are wolf, coyote or cougar as well as bear.

Image source: Coyotes-Wolves-Cougars – blogger

The conservation status of elk is Least Concern.

What are its characteristics?


Elk will move up to a higher altitude when the weather starts to get warmer. In contrast, they will move down when it becomes colder in the late fall.


Elk mate in the late summer. Their mating period is also known as the “rut.”

Adult males get into a big fight to determine who can mate with the females. Normally, older bigger elk will win the battle. They also take part in other ritualized mating behaviors such as posturing and bugling.


In the late May and early June, elk will move upper the valley to the higher mountains to give birth. Each elk will give birth to a calf at one time. After around 20 to 30 minutes, the small calf can stand on its own.

When the calf is about two weeks old, it would be able to join the gang. It is then fully weaned when it reaches the age of 2-month-old. After that, the calf stays with its mother for the next breeding season.


Elk is a ruminant- meaning that the stomach of an elk will have four separate chambers. The first chamber is responsible for storing food while the other three chambers are responsible for digesting food. It often goes browsing or grazing for food in the early mornings and evenings. After that, it will find shelters.

The most common types of food for an elk are grass for all year round. It consumes tree bark and twigs in the winter and tree sprouts in the summer.

During the winter

Before the winter comes, elk will develop their coat of hair to provide extra insulation for their body. This coat will shed in the next spring. They even scrub themselves on the trees to shed this coat off.

They move down the valley- males and females separating from others. During this time, they browse on grass and seek shelter in the area which is clear of layers of snow. They also prefer to stay in wooded areas with a potential for the source of tree barks.

During the winter

Image source: goHUNT

Social Organization

Elk often moves in a large group, called “gang.” After the breeding season, female elk and young calves stay together while the male elk live alone or form their bachelor group.

During the mating season, one or two male elk will form a harem consisting of various female elk and their calves. The male elks will then protectively and aggressively guard their harem against another elk. In some cases, they even fight to the death. The harem will separate after the mating season.

Where can you find them?

Elk is native to North America, Canada, and Eastern Asia. These are places where you can commonly see this animal. However, they are driven to more remote areas now such as mountainous areas in the Yellow National Park and Wyoming’s National Elk Site. You can also find them in some states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.

Elk is also introduced to other places namely Argentina and New Zealand. They are quick to adapt to the new environment as well.

It lives in the forest or on the edge of a forest. It also lives in a wide range of habitats as well including desert and alpine meadows.


When you learn more about What Is An Elk and know about its characteristics as well as its natural habitat, I am sure that you would be able to plan properly and bring home a great prize from your elk hunting trip. I hope this article would be able to provide you helpful and intensive information about this animal.