Rocky Mountain Elk

Elk In Aspen

Wherever found, elk are always one of the premiere attractions. Big, showy, seemingly docile in many areas and for much of the year, elk are easily one of the most photographed animals in national parks and national wildlife refuges. However, don't let appearances fool you. Elk can be dangerous, especially during the fall rut.

Elk are frequently seen from roads throughout Conboy Lake NWR and surrounding areas; if you're lucky, you might see these majestic animals from your car. But please be careful if you stop to view them, with both an eye to traffic and to your distance from the elk.

  • Elk migrated to North America over the Bering Land Bridge approximately 120,000 years ago under a period when much of the world's water was locked in glaciers.

  • There were six subspecies of elk in North America (two are extinct). The elk on Conboy Lake are Rocky Mountain elk.

  • Elk are amazingly adaptable and can live almost anywhere—forests, deserts, mountains, and plains.

  • Elk eat a wide variety of plants. Their typical diet consists of grasses (year round), woody plants (winter), and forbs (summer).

  • Prior to the 1800s, elk lived in every state and province, except Alaska and Florida. Today, their range has been reduced to 24 states and seven provinces.

  • Approximately one million elk live in North America today—10% of the population before European settlement.

  • Washington has the sixth largest state elk population, with approximately 60,000 elk (Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk).

  • Only bull (male) elk grow antlers. Grown annually to display dominance for breeding, a pair of antlers can weigh up to 40 pounds.

  • Elk mate in autumn. Calves are born 8 1/2 months later, from mid May through early June, depending on location.

  • Newborn calves weigh 35 pounds, cows typically weigh no more than 500 pounds, and bulls can reach 700 pounds and stand 5 feet at the shoulder.

  • Although newborn calves can walk with their mothers within a couple of days of birth, they usually stay hidden for the first couple of weeks of life.

  • Newborn calves have almost no scent to avoid attracting predators as they lay hidden in thick brush or tall grass.

  • White spots help to camouflage the calf by breaking up its outline and mimicking spots of light.

  • Elk are often known as "wapiti" (wäp i tee), a Shawnee Indian word meaning "white rump." Elk were/are important to many tribes for food, medicine and clothing.