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American Elk Facts, Trivia, Information & Photos

Dignified and majestic, the American Elk is an icon of the American west. The elk's distinctive call rises above all else, letting its presence be known to the wilderness.

American elk (Cervus canadensis) are one of the most captivating mammals in North America. These majestic big game animals are entrancing to wildlife enthusiasts because of their hefty bodies, lofty antlers, and their unique, echoing sound. American Expedition is proud to present Information, Facts & Trivia, and Photos of the American elk.

American Elk Facts, Information, Photos, and Tracking Tips from American Expedition.

  

American Elk Information

The American elk is also known as “Wapiti,” a Native American word meaning “white rump,” referring to the distinct color of the elk’s hind end. Elk vary in color from light tan in the summer to dark brown in the winter. Their shaggy mane, underbelly, and legs tend to be much darker than their back and sides. American elk are some of the largest animals in North America, weighing between 375 and 1,100 pounds. Male elk, or “bulls,” typically weigh up to two times more than females, or “cows.” The height of an average elk at its shoulders is about 4 to 5 feet. They are the second largest deer species in North America, with the moose coming in first.

American Elk Artwork: Big bull elk bugling into the wilderness.

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Elk are very social animals and form large groups, called gangs, of up to 400 individuals. Bulls advertise their status in the herd by making high pitched sounds known as bugles. The cows are attracted to the bulls that bugle the most frequent and have the loudest call. Bulls will gather females into harems of up to six cows before mating season begins in September. During mating season, bulls aggressively defend their harems from other males and will wind up getting into fights with other bulls using their antlers. In the springtime the elk cows leave the harems and give birth to one, or, in rare cases, two calves. The calves can stand up within 20 minutes of their birth, and in the first year of life, will gain over 300 pounds. The lifespan of an elk is 8 to 12 years in the wild.

Bulls shed their set of antlers every March and grow a new set every May. The new antlers are covered in velvet. Blood pumps through the veins in the velvet of the antlers, which cools before returning to the heart. This helps regulate the elk's body temperature. By late summer, which is mating season, the antlers are full grown. Mature bulls can grow a set of antlers weighing up to 40 pounds.

  

American Elk Facts & Trivia

  • The antlers of the elk are the fastest growing bone of any mammal, growing as much as 1 inch per day during the summer.
  • Elk begin breeding in the fall, or the "rut." Male elk can lose up to 200 pounds, or 20% of body weight, during the rut.
  • Before the rut, bull elk live peacefully among other bulls. During the rut, however, they become more wary and aggressive towards other bulls.
  • Bull elk will thrash against shrubs, saplings, and small trees with their antlers in order to prepare for battle. These 'practice rounds' also remove the soft velvet from their antlers, leaving them hard and ready for fighting.

Artwork of two bull elk butting horns

  • Bull elk primarily use their horns for sparring with other elk in order to establish dominance before and during the rut.
  • Dominant bull elk between the ages of 5-12 years of age are the primary bull elk that do all of the mating.
  • Elk grow coats of waterproof guard hairs in the winter which cover a dense layer of underfur.
  • In addition to bugles made by male elk, elk can also squeal, grunt, and bark.
  • Elk cows will bark to warn others of danger.
  • An elk’s top two canine teeth are known as ivories. It is believed that ivories are the remnants of tusks that the ancestors of the elk used in combat.
  • During the summer, elk will wade into streams in order to find relief from insects and heat.
  • Like other members of the deer family, elk are herbivores, and their diet includes grasses, leaves, shrubs, and trees.
  • It is estimated that there were upwards of 10 million elk in North America before European settlement. They were hunted down to less than 50,000, but through conservation efforts their numbers have rebounded to about 1 million.
  • The antlers of the elk are the fastest growing bone of any mammal, growing as much as 1 inch per day during the summer.
  • Elk begin breeding in the fall, or the "rut." Male elk can lose up to 200 pounds, or 20% of body weight, during the rut.
  • Elk have a 240 to 262 day gestation period. After birth, the mother and newborn will leave the herd for around 2-3 weeks for the calf to grow, during this time the calf will spend most of its time in hiding, with the mother returning to it for brief periods for nursing.
  • After rejoining the herd, calves can be found in "nursery herds" where they are taken care of by a single cow. This allows the cows to take turns taking care of the calves without having to care for them all of the time.
  • In the summer, blood that pumps through the veins in the velvet of the bull's antlers cools before returning to the heart, helping to regulate the elk's body temperature.
  • When elk receive a signal of danger, they raise their head up high and listen intently by rotate their ears.
  • Home range can be up to 600 square miles.
  • Approximately 30,000 elk are present in the summer and between 15,000 and 22,000 are present in the winter in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
  • Lewis and Clark’s team, The Corps of Discovery, killed a total of 374 elk while on the trip. Lewis and Clark mentioned the word “elk” 570 times in their elk skin journals.
  • Home range can be up to 600 square miles.
American Elk Artwork: An elk hoof print.

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  • Approximately 30,000 elk are present in the summer and between 15,000 and 22,000 are present in the winter in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
  • Lewis and Clark’s team, The Corps of Discovery, killed a total of 374 elk while on the trip. Lewis and Clark mentioned the word “elk” 570 times in their elk skin journals.

  

American Elk Habitat

The American elk used to live in great numbers all throughout North America, but their numbers declined rapidly when settlers arrived. Elk are now located primarily in the western United States with a very small amount in the some eastern states. It is believed that there were up to 10 million of the species before settlers came to the continent. Today, their population is approximately one million.

What Do American Elk Eat?

Elk are migrators, so their habitat consists of both low valley meadows and high mountain grazing grounds. During the early summer they move to the mountains where the females will give birth to their calves. They stay there until late summer, when breeding season is over. During the winter, the herds return to the valleys to try to find food through the snow. They also enter wooded areas for shelter. American elk are herbivores, feeding mostly on green grasses, leaves, shrubs, and trees. They typically feed in the mornings and the evenings.

  

Tips for Spotting & Hunting Elk

  • Elk like to frequent grassy areas near forests, where they can easily find cover.
  • During the early morning and late evening is the best time to find elk. They will often feed during this time.
  • Keep a look out for elk droppings.
  • Feeding habits of elk will change with the seasons. In the spring, they may be attracted to meadows and fields. In the fall, these areas may be dried up and the elk will seek other sources of nourishment.
  • Yellowstone National Park or Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge are both great places to watch elk.
  • During the fall, the bull elk are very vocal, so it is easy to locate them at this time.
  • Elk are hunted in the United States with both gun and bow.
  • There are certain seasons in which hunting is authorized. Each state has different laws. Be sure to research the times and areas in which this activity is legal.
  • Elk hunting, like any other big game hunt, requires a hunting tag and license which gives permission to hunt this animal.
  • Harvesting an elk illegally can result in a fine, suspension or loss of hunting equipment, or even jail time.

Shed Antler Hunting

  • Bucks lose their antlers every year and many outdoorsmen partake in the sport of finding them, called shed hunting.
  • This activity is a great way to spend time with your hunting buddies or family.
  • Shed hunting enables you to “take inventory” of the bucks that have survived the fall hunt so you know what is still out there for next season.
  • Search near food sources and bedding.
  • Because squirrels and chipmunks will chew up the antlers, make sure that you search for them right around the time that they usually fall in your state. There is nothing worse than finding a nice antler all chewed up.
  • When searching, walk very, very slow and look right in front of you, not off into the distance.
  • Bring a pair of binoculars to scan the area before walking it and to save some leg work for when you think you see an antler in the distance.
  • While most people just keep their collection of antlers, some people sell them.

In this video, an elk is shown calling out into the wilderness.

American Elk Photos: An American elk crossing a stream.

Elk will regularly wade into streams in order to find relief from insects and heat.

American Elk Behavior: A large herd of American Elk.

Bull elk gather females in harems before mating season. Each group has up to six cows.

American Elk Facts: A bugling American bull elk.

A bull elk makes high pitched sounds, known as bugles, to attract the female elk.

American Elk Information: A pair of American elk resting on the forest floor.

Elk antlers are the fastest growing bone of any mammal and can grow as much as 1 inch per day.

An American elk standing guard over his harem.

Mature bulls can grow a set of antlers weighing up to 40 pounds and up to almost 4 feet long.

American Elk Photos: An American bull elk resting in front of green vegetation.

American elk are herbivores, mainly grazing on grasses and shrubs.

An American bull elk sitting in the snow.

American elk are one of the quintessential symbols of the American west.

Two bull elk fighting in the snow.

Bull elk will try to avoid fights by showing off their size, but if that does not scare off their rivals, they will engage in battle with their antlers.

An American bull elk in front of a pastel sky at sunset.

Elk are migrators, so their habitat consists of both low valley meadows and high mountain grazing grounds.

American Elk Information: Two large American Elk sitting in a field.

Elk are hunted in the United States with both gun and bow.

American Elk Facts: An large American bull elk crossing a stream.

Yellowstone National Park or Wyoming’s National Elk Refuge are both great places to watch elk.

American Elk Facts, Information, and Photos
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