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North American Elk Cervus elaphus. 6 Subspecies of North American Elk. Cervus elaphus canadensis- Eastern Elk Cervus elaphus roosevelti – Roosevelt Elk Cervus elaphus nannodes- Tule Elk Cervus elaphus nelsoni- Rocky Mt Elk Cervus elaphus merriami- Merriam Elk

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North American Elk

Cervus elaphus

6 subspecies of north american elk
6 Subspecies of North American Elk
  • Cervus elaphus canadensis- Eastern Elk
  • Cervus elaphus roosevelti – Roosevelt Elk
  • Cervus elaphus nannodes- Tule Elk
  • Cervus elaphus nelsoni- Rocky Mt Elk
  • Cervus elaphus merriami- Merriam Elk
  • Cervus elaphus manitobensis – Manitoban Elk


  • Elk are about 5-6 feet tall at the shoulder
  • Bulls (males) weigh from 700 to 1000 pounds
  • Cows (females) weigh from 500 to 600 pounds
  • The pelage ranges from reddish brown in the summer to dark brown in the winter.
  • Rump color may look white from a distance but is actually orange in color
  • Long black hairs on the neck referred to as the mane
  • Males have impressively large antlers, whereas females do not
  • Among the deer family, elk are second in size only to the moose
  • Like most Cervids, elk are true ruminants and have no gull bladder
  • They are herbivores
  • In the spring they feed on grasses and sedges
  • Broad-leaved herbaceous plants are eaten in the early summer along with twigs
  • In the late summer when the herbaceous plants dry out they then turn again to browsing for grasses
  • In the fall they eat the dry leaves that fall from the trees and continue to eat grasses until the snow falls
  • Elk will dig down through the snow to get to the leaves and grass
  • When the snow becomes to deep they eat mainly woody twigs
  • Snow cover determines their diet
  • Elk must eat 3 lbs of food per 100lbs of their body weight
  • Aside from humans (hunting) the most important predator is the wolf
  • In spite of their size and power, elk are readily killed by wolves, especially when the snow becomes deep
  • Black bears kill primarily calves
  • In some areas they kill as many as 50% of the calf population
  • Predation occurs during the first weeks of the calf’s life and ceases when they become strong enough to keep up with their mothers
  • Grizzly bears will occasionally kill adult elk
  • Elk are the most polygamous member of the deer family
  • In early September, the mating season begins
  • The bulls move in with the cow/calf pairs and harem formation begins
  • The males compete (rutting season) for females and smaller males are chased off to the fringes of the herds
  • Large bulls get control of 20-30 cows
  • The young males are often not left out of the breeding
  • They will often sneak in and breed with a female on the opposite side of where the harem master is located
  • Harem masters are also challenged frequently by other bulls for the right to the cows
  • The age at which an individual is able to reproduce depends greatly on the environmental conditions
  • Females typically reach sexual maturity at 1.5-2.5 yrs of age
  • Males reach maturity at 1 year but rarely breed due to larger bulls being present
  • The gestation period is about 8 ½ months
  • Normally 1 calf is born , but rarely (1% of births) twins do occur
  • Females are usually able to reproduce until about 14 years of age
  • Calving season is from late may to early June
  • Calves usually weigh on avg. 30lbs
  • They have spotted coats to camouflage them from predators
  • Their defense is to lay still until danger passes
  • Usually hide in shrubs or grasses
  • They can stand and walk minutes after birth
  • Once the calf can run and jump (1-3 wks) the cow and calf can rejoin the herd
  • Calves are weaned in late summer but follow their mothers until the following spring
  • They are dependent on their mother’s milk for 1 month, but sometimes suckle for up to 9 months
habitat requirements
Habitat Requirements
  • General- Woodlands and large open areas
  • Food- Grasses, sedges, broadleaved plants, leaves, woody vegetation and shrubs,
  • Summer range- high country woodlands and meadows
habitat requirements18
Habitat Requirements…
  • Winter range- dense, low-elevation woodlands; north/northeast and south/southwest-facing slopes
  • Transitional range- Douglas fir, aspen/pine and also open meadows
habitat requirements19
Habitat requirements
  • Security cover- Forest stands of varying ages, dense brush, briar thickets
  • Water- Springs, lakes, rivers, streams, vegetation and snow

Brucellosis-is a contagious bacterial disease

  • It affects cattle by causing abortion in the latter half of pregnancy
  • There are vaccines that are used on ranched elk, but capturing wild free ranging elk and vaccinating them for it is unrealistic
  • Chronic Wasting Disease
  • Causing much controversy in Elk Ranching
  • This disease attacks the CNS and the brain of cervids
  • Route of transmission not known
  • Believed to be caused by prions
  • Becomes cavities and holes in the brain
  • Current method for testing is through exam of brain of deceased animal
  • Bovine Tuberculosis
  • It affects the respiratory system
  • Much more common in domesticated elk
  • TB has occurred in 31 herds of captive elk and deer in 15 states
  • Transmitted by breath vapor


Elk Ranching

advantages to raising elk
Advantages to raising elk
  • High fertility rate and long reproductive life
  • Calve easily
  • Calm disposition
  • Tolerant of cold winters and hot summers
  • Yield high quality velvet antler, meat and by-products
  • Elk are very efficient, so they can be raised on a marginal amt of land
things elk are used for
Things Elk are used for…
  • Velvet antler
  • Breeding Stock
  • Shooter bulls
  • Nutritional value of meat
velvet antler
Velvet antler
  • Bulls produce antlers every year and prior to the antlers becoming hard, it is known as the velvet stage. This is the stage in which the antlers are removed
  • A mature bull may produce anywhere from 20-40lbs of velvet
velvet antler27
Velvet Antler…
  • The price of velvet is at around $20/lb
  • The Velvet antler is the main aspect of elk ranching at this point
what s in the velvet antler



Amino acids: glycine, alanine, proline, and glutamic acid

Protein synthesis


Promote cell repair

Alkaline Phosphatase

Promotes tissue healing and cell repair

Chondroitin sulfate

Relieves arthritis symptoms and is potent anti-inflammatory


Promotes healthy skin and hair

Essential fatty acids: C18:3-Omega-6

Reduces cholesterol

Monoamine-oxadase inhibitors



Anti-ulcer effects also reduces bloods tendency to clot, reducing stroke risk


Increases muscle performance,  reduce fatigue

Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)

Increase structural integrity of cartilage




Stimulates red blood cell production

Hormones IGF-1 and IGF-2

Anti-tumor and anti-viral effects

Minerals: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium, other trace minerals

Necessary for various bodily functions

What’s in the velvet antler?
velvet antler encourages
Velvet antler encourages…
  • Arthritis relief
  • Muscle development, increased strength and increased endurance for athletes
  • Enhanced Immune Activity
  • blood pressure stabilization and improves blood circulation

Breeding Stock

Many ranchers also make a significant amount of money on raising and selling the elk to other ranchers for breeding purposes

This also leads to the start of new elk ranches

shooter bulls
Shooter bulls
  • Many elk ranchers are now getting into fee hunting as well
  • People will pay around to $25,000 to come and shoot one of these bulls
  • Often times, ranchers will take a bull that doesn’t produce a large amt of velvet but has a large rack and sell it for a shooter bull
shooter bulls32
Shooter Bulls…
  • Some ranches guarantee a kill, some a shot and others have no guarantees
  • No state license is needed since the herd is privately owned
  • Many hunters like to take advantage of these opportunities because they think it may be easier than hunting in the wilderness
shooter bulls33
Shooter Bulls…
  • As the human population increases and the quality of wild trophy elk decreases, hunting ranches are starting to flourish

Nutrient Content- Elk meat


Protein %

Fat %

Cholesterol (mg/100g*)

Calories (Kcal/100g*)

Beef (USDA choice)





Beef (USDA standard)















Wild Boar**










Whitetail Deer





Mule Deer










elk meat
Elk meat
  • Eventually the elk being raised on ranches around the North American Continent will gain enough numbers that the animals will support the consumer demand
  • Farm-raised elk meat is in high demand right now, and can be found at restaurants and through specialty shops, but once the number of ranchers increase, it is expected to be found in grocery stores everywhere
population management
Population Management
  • Keys to controlling population
    • Population size and trend
      • K
      • Predation rates
    • Population distribution
      • Public vs. private lands
    • Sex ratio and age structure
      • Goal of elk managers is to increase the ratio of mature males: 100 females and the ratio of calves: 100 females
population size and trend
Population Size and Trend
  • Three major factors:
    • K as influenced by the forage conditions, security conditions, and severe weather.
    • Hunter harvest, harvest of adult females
    • Predation rates and predator densities
population distribution
Population Distribution

Maintain populations on public lands

-This will increase hunting and viewing opportunities for the general public

- Do this by increasing forage by burning, seeding, or feeding

-Increasing security from human presence and activities

Shift populations away from private lands

-This will decrease crop depredation

- Do this by allowing special hunts on private lands

sex ratio and age structure
Sex Ratio and Age Structure

-Two common goals:

1. Increase the ratio of males: 100 females

2. Increase the ratio of calves: 100 females

-Historically, male:female ratios were probably about 25 mature males: 100 females

-Presently, there are about 5-10 mature males: 100 females

sex ratio and age structure cont d
Sex Ratio and Age Structure (Cont’d)
  • Ratio of mature males : females
  • Mature males for public viewing and photos
  • High ratios of mature males : females may benefit population performance through early conception and birth dates
management of habitat components
Management of Habitat Components
  • Food
  • Winter range
  • Transitional range
  • Security cover
  • Interspersion and minimum habitat size
management of food
Management of Food
  • Maintain pasture and open field areas
  • Preserve and plant native species
  • Eliminate or reduce human disturbance in pastures and woodlands
management of ranges
Management of Ranges
  • Winter range
    • Preserve and maintain wooded lowlands
    • Reduce human disturbance
  • Transitional range
    • Conduct fall prescribed burns in aspen stands
  • Make available public and private land
  • Reduce grazing by cattle in good elk ranges if possible
open field management
Open Field Management
  • Burning
    • Returns nutrients to the soil
    • Maintains grasslands and open woodlands as open habitat
    • Promotes new growth of grasses, forbs, and shrubs
  • Grazing
    • Maintaining grazing areas
    • Rotationally resting pastures and fencing livestock
open field management cont d
Open Field Management (Cont’d)
  • Plantings
    • Seeding pasture and open areas with native grasses, forbs, and legumes
    • Grasses: redtop, needlegrass, bluebunch wheatgrass, meadow brome, wildrye, etc
    • Forbs and legumes: fireweed, Oregon oxalis, yellow sweet clover, alfalfa, clovers, daisies, etc
woodland management
Woodland Management
  • Burning
    • Controlled burning of aspen and pine stands
    • Underburn burning can reduce forest litter that could hinder movement
  • Selective and even-aged timber harvest
    • Can open forest canopies
    • Forest roads should be closed to human use to minimize human disturbance
wildlife and habitat management on ner
Wildlife and Habitat Management on NER
  • Habitat management
    • Seeding
    • Irrigation
    • Prescribed burns
    • Open migration routes
    • Grazing of cattle
    • Supplemental feeding
      • During winter
supplemental feeding on ner
Supplemental Feeding on NER
  • Elk are fed 2-3 inch pelletized alfalfa
    • Higher in nutrition
  • Fed 7 to 8 pounds per day
  • Usually fed about 2.5 months during average winter
  • Winter supplemental feeding not good for herds
    • Elk congregate and increase the spread of diseases
    • Eventually want to end winter supplemental feeding programs
    • Winter feeding is expensive
ner population management
NER Population Management
  • Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. Determined that a maximum of 7,500 elk is optimum for the refuge
  • Herds numbers are maintained through late fall controlled hunts on the refuge and adjacent public lands
  • The future of elk depends of cooperation between wildlife authorities, land managers, forest industries, oil and mining companies, park managers, Indian bands, and ranchers