The elk, which is one of the biggest species of deer, is one of the most noticeable animals you might see in North America. They eat grasses, plants, leaves, and bark, so you can find them roaming the forests where there is a lot of food for them to eat. With different subspecies seen in the wild, some people may wonder exactly how big is an elk.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the sizes of these massive mammals, as well as the different subspecies you might encounter in North America.
How big is an elk?
Elks vary in size based on sex and age, but they typically reach an average height of about 4 to 5 feet at the shoulder. Male elks can weigh from 400 up to 1100 pounds, whereas female elks, called cows, typically weigh between 375 and 650 pounds. The males also have striking antlers spanning up to 4 feet long, displaying multiple points.
- Elks are smaller than moose.
- The average height of these animals ranges from 2 to 4 feet.
- They can grow antlers with seven to eight points, reaching a length of up to four feet.
How big is a full-size elk?
The elk, also referred to as wapiti which means “white rump” in Shawnee, is the second largest animal in the deer family, just after the moose. The average height of this species at the shoulder ranges from 2 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 11 inches.
Elks have a length that spans from 5 feet 3 inches to 8 feet 10 inches, measuring from their nose to the tip of their tail. Keep in mind that certain subspecies might have differences in average length.
On average, male elks weigh between 392 and 1,096 pounds, whereas females tend to be lighter, weighing in at 377 to 644 pounds. However, diverse factors, including genetics, habitat quality, and food availability, contribute to the variation in their weight.
For instance, when they reside in a habitat with a sufficient amount of food, they can grow heavier compared to those dwelling in an unfavorable environment with limited availability of food.
As an adaptation for competition, display, and mating success, male elks display antlers that grow 0.98 inches per day. The antlers of these creatures have the ability to develop into seven or eight points each, with a length and spread that can reach up to four feet. Additionally, each antler can weigh up to 20 pounds.
North American subspecies
Elk have six known subspecies in North America, but only four of these particular animals are surviving until today. Listed below are the various species and the sizes at which you can expect to encounter them in the forests of North America.
1. Roosevelt’s elk
Scientific name: Cervus canadensis roosevelti
The Roosevelt elk, one of the four surviving subspecies in North America, is the largest among them. These creatures display a massive size, with mature bulls weighing anywhere from 700 to 1200 lbs, and sometimes going above these weight limits.
The height of this particular subspecies can range from 2.5 to 5.6 feet, while its length extends from 6 to 10 feet. They inhabit the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, including northern California, and are named after a relative of Theodore Roosevelt.
2. Tule elk
Scientific name: Cervus canadensis nannodes
The tule elk lives exclusively in California and thrives from the marshes of the Central Valley to the hills along the coast. As the smallest subspecies of North American elk, you may observe that they have a small size, with males weighing between 450 to 550 pounds and females around 375 to 425 pounds. Despite being small in size, there are differences in nutrition and habitat among them, and certain individuals can weigh up to 900 pounds.
3. Rocky Mountain elk
Scientific name: Cervus canadensis nelsoni
The Rocky Mountain elk subspecies can grow to be between 6.5 and 8.5 feet in length, and their shoulder height is between 4 and 5 feet. They have a weight range of about 400 to 1100 pounds, and as their name suggests, you can find them living in the Rocky Mountains and the ranges that are adjacent to them in Western North America.
4. Manitoban elk
Scientific name: Cervus canadensis manitobensis
You’ll see the Manitoban elk subspecies in the Midwestern United States and the southern Canadian Prairies, specifically in the regions of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and north-central Alberta. Compared to the Rocky Mountain elk, they possess a larger body size while exhibiting smaller antlers. The weight of this subspecies also ranges from 777 to 1053 lbs.
Male vs. Female
Bulls and cows, which are male and female elks, respectively, display differences in their physical characteristics. Bulls commonly have antlers with multiple points, which they use to compete and attract potential mates.
On the other hand, cows completely lack them and are much smaller in size compared to bulls. Bulls reach a height of 5 feet at the shoulder and can weigh up to 1,096 pounds, while cows tend to have an average height of 4.5 feet and weigh up to 644 pounds only.
How big is an elk compared to a person?
In terms of height, humans can be as tall as elks, which averages around 5 ft. However, if we add the antlers of these species, which can grow up to 4 ft, the difference will become much bigger.
And if we talk about comparing weight and length, the elk is much heavier and larger than a human. Elks, on average, can weigh anywhere from 644 to 1100 pounds, whereas humans only weigh between 125 to 180 pounds.
How big is the largest elk antler?
On Monroe Mountain in central Utah, the Boone and Crockett (B&C) Club documented the largest elk antler ever found. The Spider bull, as they called it, broke the 1994 record for the largest bull by having final measurements of 478 5/8.
Elk vs. moose
Elks and moose are North American mammals known for their impressive sizes. If you ever have the opportunity to observe them in their natural habitat, you can easily distinguish between the two species based on their contrasting sizes. Moose, with an average height of 6.5 feet, surpass elks in size, as they stand at a height ranging from 4 to 5 feet.
Moose also weigh between 800 to 1,500 pounds, making them heavier than elks, which weigh only 644 to 1100 pounds. When it comes to antlers, male moose have wider ones that are up to 6 feet long, while male elks’ antlers tend to have more points.
- “UT bull elk confirmed as world record”, B. Prettyman, The Spokeman-Review, January 11, 2009, spokesman.com
- “Eight points about antlers”, M. Clark, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, fws.gov