Elk or Wapiti (Cervus Canadensis)

Elk Hunting Canada. Discover where to hunt Wapiti (Cervus Canadensis). Also, learn to identify it and study its' physical description, Range, Habitat, Diet, Food Strategy, Breeding Habits, and Status. 

Provinces with Elk Hunting

Yukon Resident and Non-Resident
British Columbia Resident and Non-Resident
Alberta Resident and Non-Resident
Saskatchewan Residen and Non-Resident
Manitoba Resident Only
Ontario Resident Only
Quebec Resident and Non-Resident

 Selecting a Calibre for Elk

Vital Shot Placement for Elk

Vital Shot Placement for Elk

Photo By: Pixabay-

Modified by Canada-Hunts.ca

The Elk is a large animal with "some" bulls tipping 1,000 lbs but most are under. The range that you will be hunting can vary according to the terrain and that too makes selection a tough choice.

In reading Elk forms the suggestion is for a caliber that is .270 or greater and a 150-grain bullet seems to have most votes.

The next factors in all forms were stressed. Shot Placement and comfort level that you have with your firearm. I am not an Elk hunter and I don't see myself on such a hunt in any near future. However, these are a few things that I do note.

I have what some consider to be a good selection of firearms and I would not run out and purchase a new firearm for such a hunt. Out of the box my 30-06 is beyond a doubt the most consistent shooting firearm that I own. I purchase high quality ammunition and I know where and how it shoots every time. I am comfortable in knowing my shot placement capabilities with that rifle and with different ammunition. The comfort level on that firearm is extremely high even for long shots and I would use it over my 7 mil Mag. any day.

In a nutshell, I want my first shot to be ethical, and deadly. Wounding an animal is a sickening feeling, the stress and anxiety in tracking takes its toll. A clean shot with a good blood trail and quickly finding your downed game is exhilarating.

Learn where to place your shot and practice shooting with the hunting round(s) that you use. 

Elk Tracks

Like other members of the deer family the track on top is that of the rear hoof.

The hoof has a hard outer edge and the inside of the hoove is concave.

Elk Track


  • 3.0" - 4.875" (7.6 - 12.4 cm) long
  • 2.625" - 4.625 (6.7 - 11.7 cm) Wide


  • "2.5 - 4.5" (6.4 - 11.4 cm) long
  • 2.375" - 4.0" (6 - 10.2 cm) wide

Trail Width

  • 6.375" - 13" (17.1 - 33.0 cm)

Elk Track - USFWS Mountain-Prairie - Flickr




Elk Scat

Elk Scat

Elk Scat - by - Ed Austin/Herb Jones; 1987 -https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/mammals/elk/Images/11954.jpg



Description of Elk or Wapiti (Cervus Canadensis) 

Elk Identification

Bull Photo BY MONGO (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Cow Photo By: Pixabay

Modified By: Canada-Hunts.ca

Next, to the moose, the Elk is the second largest member of the deer family. The Elk mainly occupies western Canada, however (and not shown on the range map) there are very small populations in Quebec and Ontario is working on a reintroduction program.

Elk are twice the weight of mule deer and have a more reddish hue to their hair coloring, as well as large, buff colored rump patches and smaller tails. 

Adult elk usually gather in groups of bachelors and does (Single-sex herds) for most of the year. During the mating period known as the rut, mature bulls compete for cows that are coming into heat and will try to defend females in their harem. 

Elk Bulls Cows
Life Span 10 - 13 years
Shoulder Height 1.5 m (4.9 ft) 1.3 m (4.3 ft)
Overall Length 2.45 m (8.0 ft)  2.1 m (6.9 ft)
Weight  320 to 331 kg (705 to 730 lb) 225 to 241 kg (496 to 531 lb)
Weight at Birth 15 and 16 kilograms (33 and 35 lb)
Antlers Bull Elk have distinctively large antlers that are shed annually None
Hearing The elk like other members of the deer family has directional hearing. Its hears is about the same as a humans but because the ears are directional. It focuses this sense to the direction that it is pointing. Thus, the myth that it has exceptional hearing. (Only when pointed your way.)
Eyes Elk have a periphial vision of 340 to a full 360 degrees. 

And like the Deer they have better nighttime vision, but less accurate daytime and color vision. They see yellow and blue but have problems with reds and greens. Deer can detect slight predator movement up to 600 meters away, but they are not very good at detecting motionless forms.

Dental Formula  I 0/3, C 1/1, Pm 3/3, M 3/3 X 2 = 34
Body Temperature  
Feet Ungulate
Can Travel 45 miles per hr. 
Diet Herbivore
Sexual Maturity 2 Years
Breeding Time The peak of the elk rut occurs around the middle two weeks of September
Gestation N/A 240 - 262 days
Birthing N/A late May through early June
# in Litter N/A 1 or 2 Calves
Weaning 2 Months

Elk are among the noisiest ungulates, communicating danger quickly and identifying each other by sound.

High-pitched squeal: Newborn to its mother, who recognizes her calf by its voice.

Bark: Warning of danger.

Chirps, mews and miscellaneous squeals: General conversation among the group.

Bugling (bellow escalating to squealing whistle ending with grunt): Bull advertising his fitness to cows, warning other bulls to stay away, or announcing his readiness to fight.

Elk also use body language. For example, an elk displays dominance by raising its head high.


Range - Distribution and Habitat of Elk in Canada

Elk Range Map of Canada

Elk Range Map of Canada
  • Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Modified By: Canada-Hunts.ca

About one million wild elk are found in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent ranges of Western North America. The elks preferred winter range consists of open forests and floodplain marshes at lower elevations. In the summer it migrates to the subalpine forests and alpine basins.

The present population of elk in Canada is about 72,000. About 40,000 individuals reside in British Columbia, mostly in the Kootenays and in the Peace-Omineca Region, but with a small population of Rosevelt Elk on Vancouver Island. Alberta has about 20,000 elk that roam mainly in the RockyMountain foothills and the mountain national parks of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton. Small dispersed populations exist in the parklands across central Alberta, where the boreal, or northernmost, forest meets the grassland and the creation of ElkNational Park in 1906 has made a notable contribution to the survival of elk in Canada by protecting a small band of remaining elk. At the present time, Elk Island provides elk for reintroduction programs and also serves as a research facility for the study of elk.  

A herd of about 7,000 individuals exists in Manitoba in RidingMountainNational Park.

15,000 elk reside in Saskatchewan, they are located mostly in the southern fringe of the boreal forest north of Prince Albert and in the Moose Mountain, Cypress Hills, and Duck Mountain areas in the south of the province. 

Diet and Foraging Strategy of Elk

Two Adult Bulls Facing Off

Bull Elk Sparing
Photo By: Pixabay


Elk are plant eaters and consume an average of 9.1 kilograms (20 lb) of various vegetation daily frequenting forest and forest-edge habitats.

You will find them in the mornings and evenings feeding on grasses, plants, leaves and bark. While in during mid day they seek sheltered areas in order to digest their food.

In the winter they eat grasses when available. However, when the snow becomes deep, they will readily eat the twigs of shrubs and trees, even the conifers like Douglas fir. In spring, grasses and sedges are their favorite foods. As the new growth of broad-leaved herbaceous plants like hosta, mint, most ferns, and grasses spring up in early summer, This new growth provides a source of a high protein for their diet, high protein that is especially needed by cow elk to produce milk for their nursing calves. 

As summer passes, the herbaceous plants begin to die off and elk return consuming grasses, twigs, and shoots. When autumn arrives and leaves begin to fall off the trees, Elk will consume dry leaves in their diet right up till the time when the leaves are buried by snow. In the winter, Elk attempt to expose dry grasses and leaves by digging craters in loose snow, but when the snow becomes too deep or too hard they will shift their feeding largely to woody twigs. In the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia elk where the deep snow cover can get deep. They will look for areas where the snow cover is shallow or absent. In areas where deep snow seldom occurs, they may frequent high or low-elevation ranges all year long.

Breeding and Reproduction of Elk

A doe and its near adult fawn

Elk - Cow and Calf
Photo By: NOAA - Flickr

It is January, the New Year has come in and the elk are traveling in small herds of bachelors or does. Bulls will be annually shedding their antlers soon (March to April). For those of you who hunt trophy bulls, this is the time to search for those sheds and plan where you will place your trail cameras in order to scout for your next monster bull elk.

Late May and early June sees pregnant cows birthing their calves. A female elk will give birth to 1 calf and rarely 2. Calving usually occurs in areas that the cow is very familiar with seeking the same area as last year in which to calve. Other cows will give birth to their calves wherever they happen to be in their home range when the time comes. The cows split off from other elk and seek seclusion and cover a few days before giving birth.

At birth, Calves come into the world spotted and weigh only 15 to 16 kilograms (33 to 35 lbs). For a period of about 10 days, the cow will hide its calf while it forages for food. The calf will gradually begin to follow its mother and at about 2 weeks of age, the pair will join the herd. Calves are nursed several times a day until they are 8 weeks old, after which they begin to add vegetation to their diet. Like other members of the deer family, newborn calves remain quiet and concealed as part of their defense mechanism against predators. Later, mother and offspring join others in cow/calf bands on the summer range. The quiet summer life of the elk comes to an end with the start of the rut, or breeding season in august.

The bulls over the summer are developing their antlers in velvet. The antlers are made of bone which can grow at a rate of 2.5 centimeters (0.98 in) per day. Large antlers known as racks may get to a length of 1.2 meters (3.9 ft) and weigh as much as 18 kilograms (40 lb). 

The antler growth is regulated by hormones which are controlled by the photoperiod or length of day.  The primary hormones responsible for this antler growth are testosterone and IGF (insulin-like growth factor). Antler growth is regulated by testosterone and IGF (an insulin-like growth factor) that is produced in the liver. Ultimately the length of day light is what controls this growth process. Hardening of the antler is initiated by a rise of testosterone and the shedding of antler velvet. On the other hand, a drop in testosterone will trigger the shedding or casting of the antlers. 

Dominant bulls follow groups of cows during the rut from August into the early winter and the bulls have already shed the velvet from their antlers. A bull will defend harems of 20 cows or more from competing bulls and predators. Only mature bulls have large harems and breeding success for the bull peaks at about eight years of age. Bulls between two to four years old and those bulls over 11 years of age rarely have harems. The peak of the rut occurs during the middle two weeks of September. During the rut, bulls put on a show of, posturing, antler wrestling (sparring), and bugling, a loud series of vocalizations which establishes dominance over other males and attracts females. The Bulls are trying to collect harems of Cows. The strategy is to breed cows by way of territorial Fighting. This sparring determines a dominance between the bulls as they attempt to copulate with as many females as possible. During this period they will lose physical condition because they rarely eat or rest during the rut. 

The cows will be in heat for a period of a day or two and copulation occurs a dozen or more times during those days. Most breeding cows are in their second year or older, females are pregnant for 6 and 1/2 months. 

Following the turmoil of the rut, the bull elk leave the females and move to good foraging areas to recoup their losses in weight and condition before winter. Some elk will ascend the mountain ridges in order to spend a few more weeks on the nutritious pastures before snow forces them back down the slopes. Elk usually, but not always, wait for the coming of snow to moving down into the valleys. Here, the winter ranges of bulls and cows are shared. As bulls are larger and more powerful they can travel and dig through deep snow more readily than the cows, and by doing so they are able to have foraging areas to themselves.

Status of Elk in Canada

The principal limiting factor on the number of elk in Canada has been a loss of habitat to agriculture. Fortunately, extensive areas do remain for the elk to live in. Where hunting is permitted this practice keeps elk populations in check. Where hunting is not allowed the capture, transportation, and release of surplus animals is used to reduces elk numbers.

Aside from humankind, the most important predator of elk is the wolf. In spite of the size and power of the elk, it is no match for a pack of wolves. In Canada, there is an overlap of territories between wolves and elk. So much so that elk herds are thinned out through wolf predation. Black bears also kill considerable numbers of elk of any size and may take as much as 50 percent of the elk calves in a given year. Predation of elk calves is at its peak during the first two or three weeks of the calf’s life. Once the calf is strong enough to keep up with its mother, the mother and calf will rejoin the rest of the herd, most bear predation ceases. However, grizzly bears may kill an occasional adult elk. Coyotes will kill some calves but cougars that share an elk’s range will take an elk of any ages.

Where predation and hunting do not keep elk populations in check, elk numbers will usually increase until they are limited by lack of food. As population levels increase, elk can have a detrimental impact on their range and on their food source by over-grazing, over-browsing, and trampling down vegetation. This then leads to starvation and disease of significant numbers of elk. In order to limit the number of die-offs of elk that are not within the confines of a park, managers of Canadian elk populations try to keep their numbers well below the maximum dictated by food resources.

Elk are highly esteemed by hunters and are one of North America’s major big game species with licensed hunters taking approximately 4,000 elk each year. The hunt generates local economic activity estimated at about $14 million per year. In addition, aboriginal hunters take an unknown number. In parks where elk are not hunted, they gradually become accustomed to the presence of humans and they will get so tame that they go about their routine seemingly undisturbed even when people approach closely. Large numbers of habituated elk may be seen in Banff and Jasper national parks in and around the town sites, especially in early spring. Habituated elk are important attractions in those parks and are an asset of substantial aesthetic and commercial value. One thought to keep in mind is that animals that get accustomed to human activity may suddenly become aggressive if approached too closely. Bulls, especially, should be given a wide berth during the early autumn rutting season.

Disastrous results for elk, humans, and automobiles frequent happen in during the winter of mountain areas where elk occupy valley bottoms that are shared with major transportation routes. This leads to many elk-vehicle collisions, This costly hazard has been controlled in BanffNational Park by the construction of a system of fences, cattle guard gates, and underpasses along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Elk can be readily habituated and the products derived from them can be extremely valuable. This has recently caused considerable interest in domestication and ranching of elk. Since ancient times, Oriental people have believed that medicinal preparations from elk antlers that have been removed while still in velvet are a general tonic and possibly an aphrodisiac, or means of enhancing sexual desire. Thus Oriental medicine consumes large quantities of elk antler at a high price. Breeding stock on elk farms are given steroids that make these elk grow insanely large antlers. Before the antler hardens and dries, they are then removed, dried, sorted by grade, and shipped to Asian markets.

In many areas, elk and domestic cattle share the same ranges. Because both eat the same foods, conflicts between cattle and elk arise through to human interference.  In mountain areas where elk concentrate in valleys that are also important winter range for cattle, there is competition for scarce forage and disturbance of elk at a time when they are under stress due to severe weather. 


  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elk
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Mountain_elk
  • http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/north-american-elk.html#sid4
  • https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfd/pubs/Docs/Srs/Srs05/Srs05-6a.pdf
  • http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex146
  • http://www.capf.ca/pdfs/AWCS%20Draft%20requesting%20Public%20Feedback.pdf


Photo Credits - Background

Elk – SaunTek - Flickr

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