Elk (Cervus elaphus)



  • Bulls can weigh close to 450 kilograms (1000 pounds) and cows up to 270 kilograms (600 pounds).


  • Elk are generally tan in color, with dark brown over the head, neck and legs.
  • Both males and females have a prominent, cream-colored rump patch.
  • Large sweeping antlers on the dark brown head of a bull elk distinguish it from all other deer. Each antler has a single beam, with up to six tines projecting from it.
  • In Alberta, elk are found mainly in the foothills and mountains, and in Elk Island National Park and Cypress Hills Provincial Park.
  • They migrate from high summer ranges to winter ranges in lower mountain valleys and foothills.
Natural History


  • Elk prefer areas of woodland mixed with open grassland. Such habitat is found at forest edges and in mountain meadows.


  • Elk usually graze on forbs and grasses, although they will browse on aspen bark and twigs in winter when food is scarce.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • Elk are the only members of the deer family in Alberta that collect harems.
  • During the rut, elk bulls use their antlers to challenge each other for possession of cows. The rut lasts from late August through September, occasionally to mid October.
  • Spotted caIves are born the following spring.
Conservation and Management


Elk are classified as Secure in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current management


See details in the Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations. To view the guide online or to order a printed copy, visit the My Wild Alberta website at:

Why are elk called elk?

The name "elk" originated with early European settlers in the United States, who confused it with the European elk, which is a close relative of our moose. North American elk are more closely related to the European red deer. Elk are often called "wapiti," the Shawnee word for "white rump." This description refers to the prominent, cream-colored rump patch.


Page Information

Updated: Jul 20, 2018