Be Aware › Elk
In 1971, the Rocky Mountain elk was voted Utah’s state mammal, in recognition of its recreational, economic and intrinsic value to the people of Utah.
Rocky Mountain elk can be found throughout Utah in mountainous habitat. During the hot summer months, they live fairly high in the mountains, usually between 6,000 and 10,000 feet. In late fall, most of them migrate down the mountain slopes to areas of lower elevation and less snowfall.
During the winter, they congregate in valley bottoms and forage on south-facing slopes where the sun melts snow more quickly and winds prevent deep snow from accumulating. These conditions provide access to more food sources.
Winter habitat for elk is referred to as winter range. The availability of winter range is critical to the survival of all big game species. Adult bulls (i.e., males) are 700 lbs. — 5 feet at the shoulder. Cows (i.e., females) are 500 pounds — 4½ feet at the shoulder.
Mature bulls have large sets of antlers, usually with six points, called tines, on each side. Cows do not grow antlers. Young bulls are sometimes called “Spikes” because of their straight antlers.
Both males and females have a light-brown body, dark brown head, neck and legs and characteristic cream-colored rump.
- Elk droppings are bigger and longer than deer droppings.
- Bulls will often, but not always, leave their droppings in a pile. Cows often spread them while walking.
- A mature bull elk track is larger, and wider.
- Cow tracks are more slender and pointed than a big bull’s.
- Tracks are about 4½ to 5 inches long.
- Elk will also scrape or strip bark off of trees.
- Elk are most active at dusk and dawn.
- Cows, calves and yearlings live in loose herds or groups. Females typically give birth to one, (sometimes two) calves in the late spring.
- During most of the year, bulls live in bachelor groups or alone.
The mating season, called the rut, begins in early September. During the rut, cows and calves form harems with one or two mature bulls. During this time, males emit loud vocalizations, called bugles. Males can be more aggressive during the rut. Calves are born in the months of May and June.
Keep Your Distance
If you encounter an elk, stay calm.
- Give the elk a lot of space.
- Agitated elk hold their heads high, lay their ears back and flare their nostrils, and sometimes even stomp their front hooves.
- Do not feed elk.
If you find an elk calf
- If you find an elk calf, the best thing to do is keep your distance and leave the animal right where you found it.
- Because a calf doesn’t have a scent and it’s camouflaged so well, hiding the calf for its first few weeks of life is the best way he mother can protect it from predators.
- The calf’s mother will usually move away from the calf to feed and rest, but she will still remain close by.
- Do not approach! If you get too close, the scent you leave could draw a predator to the animal.1
- Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Wildlife Notebook Series No. 12