Elk Facts


As one of the largest mammals in North America, elk are noticeably larger than deer. Female elk, called cows, weigh around 500 pounds; males can weigh over 700 pounds. Males generally lose weight during the intense breeding season, weighing less in the winter than during other times of the year.

The Shawnee name for elk is Wapiti, meaning "white rump" because of the characteristic patch of lighter beige hair on an otherwise copper brown colored body. Their legs and neck are often darker than the rest of their body.

Male elk, or bulls, are the only ones that have antlers. They begin growing in the spring and fall off, or shed, each winter. While growing, the antlers are covered with a soft layer of skin called "velvet," which is shed in the summer. Bull elk can sometimes be seen lowering their heads and knocking antlers, an activity that allows them to compete for the attentions of cows and build strength. This behavior usually occurs during the mating season, or rut, which takes place in the fall. During the rut, bulls experience a dramatic increase in testosterone, making the more aggressive and likely to exhibit dominant behavior. Visit our elk antler photo gallery for spectacular pictures of bulls' head gear!

Cows generally give birth to one calf, though they may upon rare occasions produce twins. Calves are born between May and June each year after a gestation period of roughly 8.5 months. Calves average 35 pounds and birth and stay with their mother until the following spring, when the next cycles of calves are born. They are born both spotted and scentless in order to protect them from predators.

Learn more facts about elk from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's web link.