Roosevelt Elk

Cervus canadensis rooseveltii
PROFILE Elk by Linda Tanner 520x289

The numinous, bugling call of a bull elk floats across the coastal meadows and lowlands, haunting and primeval. Carrying for miles through the crisp autumnal air, it is both an advertisement to receptive females and a territorial rebuke to rival bulls. It is a call to arms for rutting males, a clarion call to females in estrus, an unequivocal call of the wild to all sentient life.

Roosevelt Elk take their appellation from President Theodore Roosevelt, who created Washington state's Mount Olympus National Monument (now Olympic National Park) on March 2, 1909, in large part as an elk preserve. Indeed, early suggestions for the monument's name included Elk National Park—such was their salience to the conservation-inclined president. 

Some estimates put the pre-European settlement population of North American elk at almost 10 million; this number had dwindled to less than 100,000 by 1907. But the elk's adaptability allowed it to endure such straits, and concentrated wildlife management efforts have even allowed it to flourish in places. Currently almost a million of these ungulates roam across the United States and Canada; more than 90,000 of these are Roosevelt Elk.

Of the four remaining subspecies of North American elk, Roosevelt are the largest. They also sport the darkest coat, which contrasts against their shining beacon of a rump. Wapiti, a common name for elk species worldwide, is a Shawnee and Cree word meaning "white rump".

Each year in September, the rut—or reproduction period—begins in earnest, lasting 4-6 weeks. Bulls tussle and lock antlers, perfume themselves with urine, bugle boastfully, and otherwise compete for breeding rights. Groups of cows, called harems, are amassed by the most successful bulls. Calves are born in June, and the herds will split into smaller, sex-specific groups (stag parties; cows with calves) to graze throughout the summer.

Like most deer species, Roosevelt Elk migrate seasonally in search of food, following melting snows into the mountains every spring and returning to lowlands in winter. This is the best time to see elk on the Oregon coast. Sometimes herds will wander into pastureland and feed alongside domestic cows and horses, making for a somewhat disconcerting sight while driving along Highway 101. For both your safety and theirs, enjoy from a distance: These are wild animals, cow-like ruminations notwithstanding.

For a chance to see elk year-round on the coast, go to Reedsport's Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, a BLM recreation site in Coos County.

Facts About Roosevelt Elk

-Adults stand between three and five feet at the shoulder, weighing between 500 to 1,000 pounds. Bulls larger than cows

-Live 12-15 years in the wild; up to 25 in captivity

-Only bulls sport antlers, which grow in spring and are shed each winter. The largest Roosevelt Elk antlers measured almost four feet long and together weighed 40 pounds

-In summer months elk eat almost constantly, taking in up to 15 pounds of roughage daily