When I began elk hunting in earnest back in the 1970s, I wanted to know everything there was to know about elk. The purpose was two-fold. I wanted to be able to use any and all knowledge to help me plan and execute hunting strategies. But also, I just wanted to know more about the elk themselves, and why they fascinated people so much.
I began my quest by joining the then upstart Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — my membership number is 438 — a place where you can learn a whole heckuva lot about elk, and elk hunting.
Here are 10 elk facts and some just might surprise you.
There are 6 recognized subspecies of elk in North America: Rocky Mountain (Rocky Mountain West); Roosevelt’s (Pacific Coast); Tule (Central California); Manitoban (northern Great Plains); Merriam’s (Southwest and Mexico, now extinct); and Eastern (east of the Mississippi, now extinct).
Scientifically speaking, elk belong to the Mammalian Order, in the family Cervidae. Other members of Cervidae include moose and the various deer species.
3) Springtime Newborns
A newborn calf weighs approximately 35 pounds. Calves are usually born late May through early June, are born spotted and scentless, and spend their first few weeks hiding motionless while their mothers feed.
4) Typical Elk Weight
When fully grown, a Rocky Mountain elk cow will weigh about 500 pounds and stand 4 ½ feet at the shoulder. A mature bull will weigh about 700 pounds and stand 5 feet tall at the shoulder. Tule and Roosevelt elk bulls and cows weigh an average of 400 lbs. and 900 lbs., and 300 lbs. and 600 lbs., respectively.
5) An Elk Stomach Has Chambers
An elk’s stomach has four chambers; the first stores food, and the other three digest it.
6) Elk Velvet Is a Coolant
The blood that pumps through the veins in the velvet on a bull’s developing antlers cools before it returns to the heart to help cool the animal.
7) Antler Facts and Weight
Elk antlers harden by late summer and the velvet peels away by September, when the antlers are solid bone. A set of antlers on a mature bull can weigh up to 40 pounds.
An elk’s top two canine teeth are called “ivories”. Scientists believe ivories are remnants of saber-like tusks that ancestral species of elk used in combat. Along with the antlers, successful hunters often save ivories part of their trophy.
9) The “Old Cow”
All elk herds are controlled not by a mature bull, but by an old, experienced cow that tells them where to move, eat and bed down for the day. These “lead” or “herd” cows can make sneaking within shooting distance extremely difficult!
10) Elk Population
Prior to European settlement, more than 10 million elk roamed nearly all of the United States and parts of Canada. Today, a little more than one million elk live in the western United States, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, and from Ontario west in Canada.
Featured photo: iStock