Elk Information We Should Know

Elk range in color from light brown in winter to reddish tan in summer, and have characteristic buff colored rumps.  In winter, a dark brown, shaggy mane hangs from the neck to the chest. Bull elk have large, spreading antlers. 

Like other members of the deer family, the antlers of bull elk grow during spring and summer beneath a hairy skin covering known as velvet. In late summer the velvet dries and falls off to reveal the bonelike structure of the fully-grown antlers. Elk shed their antlers beginning in late February for the largest males, extending to late April and even early May for younger ones. New antler growth begins soon after shedding.

Washington Elk

Roosevelt Elk ( Cervus elaphus roosevelti )

Named after U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, occur in the Coast Range, the Olympic Range, and other areas west of Interstate 5. Olympic National Park in northwest Washington holds the largest number of Roosevelt elk living anywhere (about 5,000). This subspecies is the state mammal of Washington.

Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni)

Occur primarily in the mountain ranges and shrublands east of the Cascades crest. Small herds have been established, or reestablished, throughout other parts of western Washington. Rocky Mountain elk populations currently in Washington stem from elk transplanted from Yellowstone National Park in the early 1900s.

Rocky Mountain elk are slightly lighter in color than Roosevelt elk, and some experts believe they are slightly smaller in size. The antlers of Rocky Mountain elk are typically more slender, have longer tines, and are less palmated than Roosevelt elk antlers.

“Wapiti” is the name for Rocky Mountain elk in the Shawnee language and means “white rump.”

Hybrids, or genetically mixed populations of Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain elk, are common in the Cascade Range.

Preventing Conflicts

Problems associated with elk include damage to tree farms and conifer plantations, hay and alfalfa fields, orchards, and other agricultural crops. When frightened, elk damage wire fences by running through them rather than jumping them. Finally, many dangerous vehicle/elk collisions occur each year in Washington.

The likelihood of human/elk conflicts is influenced by the number of elk in the area, the availability of alternative food sources and hiding cover, and winter weather conditions. If elk are damaging your property, personnel from your local Fish and Wildlife office can help you evaluate damage-control options. Typical nonlethal damage-control techniques include but are not necessarily limited to herding, hazing, scare devices, fencing and fence repair, land purchases, purchasing or leasing crops, crop-damage payments, and winter feeding.

Elk fences and other barriers: Fencing can provide relief from elk damage in situations where plants cannot be protected individually. A well built, 8-foot high woven-wire fence will keep elk out of enclosed areas.

Source: Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife | Learn more about elk