Elk are a member of the deer family along with Moose, Caribou, Mule deer, & White-tailed deer in North America.
Lets start with the basics. An elks body varies from deep copper brown to light tan year round with a lighter tan or beige on the rump and generally darker on the legs and neck. Elk grow winter coats consisting of long, thick, waterproof guard hairs covering a dense woolly underfur. An elk’s summer coat consists of short, stiff, relatively sparse hairs.
An adult male elk is called a bull and sits right around 700 pounds (315 kg), is about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall at the shoulder, and on average about 8 feet (2.4 m) long from nose to tail. Only male elk have antlers and they regrow them every year. New antlers are covered in a fuzzy skin called velvet that peels off by late summer as the antlers harden. By the end of September the antlers are solid bone and can weigh upwards of 40lbs! A less mature yearling bull is called a spike and generally only has a main beam or ‘spike’ for antlers. Bulls live in bachelor groups or alone other than during the rut when they will claim a group of cows and their calves.
An adult female is called a cow and is about 500 pounds (225 kg), 4 1/2 feet (1.3 m) tall, and 6 1/2 feet (2 m) long. A baby elk is called a calf and newborns usually come in around 35-40lbs. The calves are born spotted and odorless.Typically the calving is in late May through early June, but they tend to spend their first few weeks hiding motionless when their mothers are out feeding. The calves and cows live in herds together until the young bulls are old enough to be cast out on their own. These groups are led by an experienced elk, usually called the lead cow, who defends the heard and guides them between seasonal ranges.
Elk mating season is referred to as the rut and it lasts throughout the fall. The bulls gather the herds of cows and calves into groups called harems that they guard ferociously. Bulls will even wage violent battles for a harem and have been known to fight to the death. The bulls call, or bugle, to the cows and to attract them and claim their territory. Bulls will also wallow in mud to coat themselves with “perfume” to attract cows as well as rub trees, shrubs and the ground with their antlers to attract cows and intimidate other bulls in the area.
Elk live on a diet of mostly grass, however in the winter they will branch out into shrubs, tree bark and twigs. Elk may supplement their diet at licks, when available, where they take in minerals that may help them grow healthy coats and produce nutritious milk. Elk live in a variety of habitats all over the world from rain forests to dry desert valleys and hardwood forests. Before European settlement of North America it was believed to be home to nearly 10 million elk, by the end of 1900 there where less than 100,000 elk from cost to cost. Thanks to great wild life management the elk herds numbers are closer to one million. The elk has a very similar set up to the common cow as far as its digestive track. An elk’s stomach has four chambers: the first stores food, and the other three digest it. The elk only have two teeth on top called “ivories”, these are believed to be remnants of tusks in their ancestors.
This is only scratching the surface on this great animal. Look back for more information!