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Supplement to “Tracking Kentucky’s Elk”

A little elk education
One of the most widespread members of the deer family in North America, elk ranged from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from central Canada to northern Mexico. When the first European settlers arrived, biologists estimated that there were 3 million elk in North America. All states in the U.S. had elk except for Florida and Alaska. (Another name for elk is wapiti—Shawnee for “white rump.”) Now there are approximately 1 million elk in North America in 24 states.

An elk’s color varies from deep copper brown to light tan, with dark brown legs and neck and a light beige patch on their rump. Calves typically weigh about 35 pounds when born, adult cows average 500 pounds, and bulls 700 to 1000 pounds, easily stretching to 8 feet long from nose to rump. Their massive, branch-like antlers weigh in at 40 pounds for the pair and can be 4 feet wide. Males grow antlers annually to display dominance and occasionally for defense.

During the rut, cows and calves form small groups called “harems” with one or two mature bulls. Yearling bulls may form bachelor groups or stay near harems. They vocalize by squealing, barking, and the most impressive sound, the bugle, which is the sound most often heard in the fall.

Elk-watching tips
Taken from the official Web site of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,, and reprinted with their permission.

1. Leave pets at home.

2. Always observe from a distance. Use binoculars and spotting scopes.

3. Talk in whispers and minimize sharp sounds such as clicking cameras.

4. Never come between a cow and calf.

5. Stay clear of bulls during rutting season; never come between a bull and a group of cows, or two bulls challenging each other.

6. If an animal is aware of you and remains calm, don’t hide—stay in full view and move casually. Quick or furtive movements signal a threat to most wildlife.

7. If an elk becomes alert or nervous, and begins to move away, you are too close—back off.

Behave like a guest in their wild home—try not to bother them.

To read the Kentucky Living September 2005 feature that goes along with this supplement, click here: Tracking Kentucky’s Elk

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