January 21, 2003

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Bugling Elk
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Quick Facts about Elk

Kinds of Deer

Where are elk found and why?

What makes an elk an elk?



Calving and Breeding

Winter Feeding

Elk in History

What Elk were used for

Classroom Activities

Links for more Elk information


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Elk TrackWhat weighs 700 pounds, is 5 feet tall and bugles? What has something on its head called "velvet", lives in herds, and migrates? It's time to make"tracks" as we journey through the world of Elk.

The Shawnee name for elk is WAPITI, which means "white rump".

Kinds of Deer In North America
Elk are members of the deer family called Cervidae which is part of a larger group of mammals called ungulates (mammals with hooves).
In North America there are 5 species of deer:
          Elk,              Moose,              Caribou,
          White-tailed Deer,               Mule Deer.

We can find all five species in Idaho!

trackWhere are elk found and why?
      Elk are found mostly in the western part of the United States. Only Colorado and Montana have more elk than Idaho. Elk need a healthy habitat and are affected by how many people live in and around that habitat.
      Elk need food, water, shelter and space to survive. Elk live all across Idaho but especially near large meadows to find their food and forested areas where they can hide. On average an elk must eat about three pounds of food per day for every 100 pounds it weighs. This can add up to more than 15 pounds of food! Elk need plenty of space, too. They need to be able to reach their food, water, and shelter easily without human interference.

TrackWhat makes an Elk an Elk?
, Size, Antlers , and Behavior are just a few things to consider...

Color: Elk are light brown with a cream colored rump. Their necks are usually darker than the rest of their bodies. Bulls (males) tend to be lighter colored than cows (females).
Size: Bulls and Cows are different sizes. Bull elk can weigh about 700 pounds. A cow elk can weigh more than 500 pounds.Elk at dusk
Antlers: read about antlers below
Behavior: Elk gather in herds. Living in a herd helps them stay safe from predators.
During the spring, elk migrate to higher elevations in search of new plants often following their old routes. Migration is a seasonal movement of an animal. Elk spend their summers in the mountains where food is abundant and the temperature is cool. In the fall, snow in the high country give elk the signal to head to lower elevations.
The fall is elk mating season, Bull elk will fight each other to gain control of what is known as a harem . Calves are born eight and a half months after mating.

     Elk have special adaptations that help them to survive in their habitat. Some of the adaptations exist because they are herbivores, animals that eat plants.

1. A special four-part stomach that can digest grasses, shrubs, tree limbs, and bark.

2. Teeth for biting off plants and teeth for mashing plants,

3. A long neck to be able to stretch to food.

4. A coat to protect them from predators and cold.

5. Speed to run from danger.

Antlers are a fascinating adaptation of the deer family. The males of the Male white-tail deer with antlersCervidae family grow antlers. The caribou females also grow antlers.
     Each spring, male deer and bull elk begin growing antlers from bony bumps on their heads. They grow for six or seven months before they fall off in early spring.Antlers have three purposes for elk. First of all, they act as a cooling system during the summer. Warm blood circulating in the antlers is cooled by the outside air. Second, antlers protect elk when they jostle with other elk during the rut. Third, the size of the Find out about velvet, spikes, and tines when you click here.

Calving and Breeding Calf
     Bulls and cows breed during the fall rut. Cow elk are pregnant for about eight and half months. The calves are born from mid May through early July. One calf, weighing about 35 pounds is born. During its first few weeks, a calf may gain up to two pounds a day.

Winter Feeding
     Rocky Mountain elk are one big game species that may be fed during a difficult winter. Winter feeding is a term biologists use to describe when people supply food to animals during the winter. Whether or not we should do this has become a yearly dilemma in Idaho. There are many issues to think about. Biologists know that whether they are fed or not, some elk won't survive until spring. When considering winter feeding, the goal is always protection of the herd rather than the individual animal.

      The Idaho Department of Fish and Game's policy on winterfeeding is to only feed in emergency situations. We may step in to feed in winters where abnormally high death rates are expected due to extreme winter conditions. Citizen committees have been formed to help determine when feeding is appropriate. Each committee tracks snow depth, temperature, animal condition, depredation and other factors to determine whether winterfeeding is needed. We all enjoy seeing the elk in our state and want to do what is best for them.

Elk in History
     Elk and people have lived in the same habitat for thousands of years. Prehistoric sites have given us clues as to how ancient people coexisted with elk. Elk are painted on rocks throughout archeological sites in the western United States. These pictographs many have been a form of communication among the people. Some pictographs, however, appear to be decorative. Native people worked hard to hunt elk. They took only what they needed and used as much of the elk as possible. Elk provided them with meat, weapons and tools, toys and blankets. There is evidence that elk may have played a spiritual role in some tribes across the United States.

Elk Uses
North American Indians found many uses for elk. Listed below are a few:

meat, jerky


ropes, tipi covers, clothing, blankets, mats, boats, sandals


spear points, digging tools, hooks, chisels, spoons, rattles


digging sticks, needles, arrow points, club handles


jewelry, gambling counters, decoration

tongue, kidneys, brain, eyes, heart, liver, lungs, intestines



broth, stew


bow strings, thread, snares

tail hair

embroidery, ornamentation

dew claws




stomach, bladder



food, salve

bone marrow

food, grease

    We are truly lucky to have many elk and other deer species in Idaho. You can find out more by visiting the links page. As you become an expert keep looking for elk as you explore our beautiful state!
Many thanks to Idaho Fish and Game and Project WILD for all of their help in this project. Information for this site was developed from "WILD ABOUT ELK," and is copyrighted by Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Project WILD. Permission has been obtained and granted to use this material for educational purposes. Photographic images were provided by the Department of Fish and Game and various other sources.
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