Information On Elk


Elk Information

In the winter, herds of elk feed in mountains and valleys throughout parts of western North America.

Elk are both grazers and browsers. They can paw through snow 2 feet deep to find grass, their favorite food.

Palatability studies in northern Idaho revealed that the "key forage species" on the summer range are willow, maple, broom grass, rye grass and elks edge. Serviceberry, mountain ash and bitter cherry also were heavily eaten species.

If you are familiar with the geography of Virginia, you may have wondered how towns like Elk Creek, Elk Garden, Elkton, and Elkhorn got their names. At one time these areas were hangouts for native Eastern elk, one of six subspecies of elk roaming North America when the nation was settled.Elk once roamed most of North America. Over the years hunters have killed many of the animals. Although their senses of sight and hearing are well developed, it seems that elk depend largely upon the sense of smell to detect danger.

Life span in the wild is from 8 to 12 years.

Farming has contributed to the demise of living space for the elk. Today the largest herds of elk are found in Wyoming- on the National Elk Refuge and in Yellowstone National Park.

Another kind of elk is found in Central Asia.

Elk are members of the deer family. The American Indian call them wapiti (wop-ut-ee) meaning light-colored deer.

Elks are larger than most other deer. A full grown elk, called bulls, weigh as much as 1,100 pounds and measure 5 feet tall at the shoulder. Female elk, called cows, weigh less and are shorter than bulls.


Only bulls have antlers. These large, heavy, bony growths develop from the top of an elk's head. They may measure four feet from base to tip. Every March bulls shed their antlers. New sets begin to grow in May. Rounded bumps start to swell on the bull's heads, pushing up about half an inch each day. The antlers are covered with soft skin called velvet. Each year new antlers develop. The average set weighs about 30 pounds.

As the weather becomes warm, elk start to lose their long winter coats. Sleek, reddish coats replace their heavy gray-brown ones.

Soon the elk begin to migrate from the lower slopes to high mountain meadows. Some travel as much as 40 miles. Cows and their offspring travel together while the bulls travel separately.


At their summer feeding grounds, cows give birth to young. A cow usually bears a single calf. The gestation period last from eight to nine months. Within several weeks the calf follows its mother and joins the herd of cows.

The mating season begins in late August and goes into November. As the snow begins to fall the elk move to their pastures in the valleys.

The Future of the Elk

Elk migrated to North America about 100,000 years ago. They crossed the Bering land bridge from what is now Russia. The continent's population has been estimated at 10 million animals by the time European settlers arrived. Now, two of the six known subspecies, Eastern and Merriam's elk, are extinct. The remaining species -- Rocky Mountain, Manitoban, Roosevelt's, and Tule, have a total estimated population of 960,000.

At one time elk populations were threatened by farming and hunting. Today the elk population is on the rise, despite hunting of the animal on federal park lands. Many hunting ranches are utilized by the hunter. Some ranchers farm elk for the hunting populations.



Barking Dog Driving You Nuts?!?
Learn the easy solution here!

Wildlife Links

Wildlife Index

Endangered Species

Animal Alert!

Wildlife for Kids

Animal Careers

Wildlife Organizations

Teachers Help

Eco Travel

Wildlife Software

Did You Know?

Other Links,  All Rights Reserved