Identification Biology | Damage ID | Management | Handling

Elk (Cervus canadensis) in velvet.
Photo from National Park Service, Public Domain.


The elk (Cervus canadensis), also called wapiti, is one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America. It is a member of the deer famiy, Cervidae. Four subspecies are found in North America: Roosevelt’s (C. canadensis roosevelti), Manitoban (C. candensis manitobensis), Tule (C. canadensis nannodes), and Rocky Mounty elk (C. candensis merriami).

Legal Status

Elk are protected and classified as a game animal in states and provinces where they are sufficiently abundant. Elk are completely protected in most areas with small populations.

Physical Description

The elk is a large, powerful animal with an adult weight averaging over 400 pounds (180 kg). Hair coat is light to dark reddish brown on the body, a darker brown on the neck and legs, and creamy on the large rump patch. Males bear large, impressive antlers with six or more tines branching from two heavy central beams.

Voice and Sounds

Elk communicate through sounds such as grounts, chirps, mews, screams, and barks. During the mating season, or rut, males bugle to challenge other males and attract females. Cows and calves mew, with a high-pitched sound to bond and as a signal to each other.

Tracks and Signs

By comparison, elk tracks are larger than those of a deer, and smaller than cattle tracks. Elk droppings are larger and longer than deer droppings.

Comparison of sizes of deer, elk, and cattle tracks. Image by PCWD.


Information on this species is based on the chapter in Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (Hygnstrom, Larson, Timm, ed. 1994), written by David S. Calesta (USDA Forest Service, Northeaster Forest Experiment Station) and Gary Witmer (Denver Wildlife Research Center, USDA-APHIS-ADC).