Elk vs Deer: Most Common Differences And Similarities 2023

When most people think of animals found in the United States, deer and elk often come to mind. But do you know which is which? Both are attractive, majestic creatures that thrive in various climates across the United States – from the Rocky Mountains to Appalachia. In this blog post, we’ll compare and contrast these two impressive game species so you can distinguish between them when you next spot one. Let’s dive into the differences between Elk vs Deer – their behavior habits, diets, and geographical range.

Elk vs Deer Quick Comparison

Elk and two deers in forest


Generally, elk are much bigger than deer. Adult elk can weigh up to 700 pounds, while deer generally weigh around 300 pounds.


Both male and female elk have antlers, while only the males of most species of deer have them. Male elk antlers are significantly larger than those deer.


Elk prefer higher elevation areas such as mountain slopes, meadows, and coniferous forests. Deer are more adaptable and can be found in various habitats, from prairies and meadows to woodlands and forests.


Both elk and deer feed on grasses and other vegetation, but elk also eat shrubs and young trees. Deer will occasionally eat acorns and other nuts, while elk rarely do.


Elk are social animals that live in herds, while deer tend to be more solitary. Elk often travel in large groups, while deer move alone or in small groups.

Overall, elk and deer can have some similarities, but there are also many differences between the two species.

The size of elk makes them much more imposing than their deer counterparts, and the different diets and behavior of each species set them apart. Understanding these differences is important in helping identify each animal in the wild.

Similarities Between Elk And Deer

  • Both elk and deer are members of the Cervidae family, including moose, caribou, and reindeer.
  • Both males and females grow antlers during their lifetime, although only males typically keep them throughout the year.
  • Elk and deer are found in North America, Europe, Asia, and South America.
  • Both elk and deer are social animals that live in herds or family groups.
  • Elk and deer are herbivores with diets comprised mainly of grasses, shrubs, foliage, and herbs.
  • Both species have excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell.
  • Elk and deer have light brown coats during the summer months, turning greyer and darker in winter.
  • Elk and deer typically breed between November and December, with females giving birth to their calves in May or June.
  • Both elk and deer can reach top speeds of up to 36 miles per hour.
  • Elk and deer have similar body proportions: a large head and neck, slender body, four legs, and a long tail.
  • Both deer and Elk use their antlers for combat during the mating season.
  • Elk and deer migrate in the fall, although elk usually migrate farther than deer.
  • The two species are hunted by humans for their meat, hide, and sport.
  • Both elk and deer have powerful leaps that enable them to jump over obstacles and escape predators.
  • Elk and deer are both shy animals that will flee if they sense danger nearby.

Differences Between Elk And Deer

  • Size: Elk are generally heavier and taller than deer, with bulls typically weighing between 700 and 1,100 pounds compared to 200 to 600 for deer.
  • Coloring: Elk have a generally darker coat than deer, with bulls appearing a dark brown or black and cows having an even lighter shade of brown. Deer tend to be a reddish-brown color all over their bodies.
  • Migration: Elk migrate more than deer, moving between higher and lower elevations with the changing seasons.
  • Lifespan: The average lifespan of an elk is 10-12 years, while a deer is 5-10 years.
  • Gestation Period: The gestation period of elk is typically 8-9 months, while that of deer is 6-7 months.
  • Predator-Prey Relations: Elk are often seen as a predator of deer, while the reverse is typically not true.
  • Territorial Behavior: Deers tend to be more territorial than elk and will fight off intruders from their area.
  • Sounds: Deer make different noises than elk, with deer making short bleats, whistles and snorts while elk make a bugle sound.
  • Social Structure: Elk tend to form large herds with cows and calves, bulls, and bachelor groups, while deer usually keep to smaller social groups consisting of a single buck, doe, or fawn.
  • Courtship: Elk use ritualized dances, sparring, and bugling to court their mates, while deer use their antlers as part of a more aggressive courtship.
  • Hunting Habits: Elk are usually only hunted during the rutting season, while deer can be hunted year-round.
  • Hooves: Deers have two hooves on each foot, while elk have four.
  • Tracking: Elk tracks are typically much larger than deer, with the front hoof measuring 4-5 inches across, while deer tracks are usually 1.5 to 2.5 inches in width.
  • Home Range: Elk typically have a much larger home range than deer, with bulls ranging up to 10 square miles compared to 1-2 square miles for most deer.
  • Escape Tactics: Deers tend to run away when threatened, while elk will stand their ground and fight.
  • Fur: Deer have a much softer and thicker coat than elk, with the fur of deer often being used for clothing or blankets.
  • Elks Are Not Domesticated: Unlike other types of deer, elk are not domesticated and are not suitable for long-term confinement or use as food animals.
  • Hunting Regulations: Elk hunting is generally more regulated than deer hunting, with states such as Alaska requiring hunters to take a special test on elk management before they can legally hunt them.

Types Of Elk

two Elk eating grass

Elk can be divided into two main species – the North American Elk (Cervus Canadensis) and the European Red Deer (Cervus Elaphus). Within these two species, there are several distinct subspecies. These include:

Roosevelt Elk (Cervus Canadensis Roosevelti) 

This is the largest subspecies of elk in North America, found mainly in the Pacific Northwest.

Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus Canadensis Nelsoni)

This variety is also found in the Pacific Northwest and is slightly smaller than Roosevelt Elk.

Tule Elk (Cervus Elaphus Nannodes)

This subspecies is native to California and is the smallest of all elk species.

Manitoban Elk (Cervus Elaphus Manicus)

This subspecies inhabits the grasslands of Canada’s western provinces, from Alberta to Manitoba.

European Red Deer (Cervus Elaphus) 

This species is found in most parts of Europe, including the British Isles. It is distinguished from North American elk by its dark brown coat and larger antlers.

Siberian Elk (Cervus Elaphus Sibiricus) 

This variety is native to Siberia and is similar in size to European Red Deer but has a much paler coat.

Japanese Deer (Cervus Nippon)

This species is native to Japan and has a unique coloration that distinguishes it from other elk species, with pale yellow fur and dark stripes along the back.

No matter which subspecies you encounter, all elks have impressive antlers that can be used for self-defense and to establish dominance over other males. They are also very agile and can run up to 30 miles per hour!

The elk is an iconic species that continues to be revered in many cultures worldwide. So whether you’re admiring a wild elk herd or hunting one, always remember to respect these majestic creatures.

Types Of Deer

deers eating grass

There are more than 60 species of deer family living across the world. The most common deer species include white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, red deer, sika deer, reindeer (caribou), fallow deer, and roe deer.

White-tailed Deer 

Whitetail deer is native to North America, most commonly found in forest edges and open fields. They have a reddish-brown coat with white fur on the underside and tail and antlers that are shed annually.

Mule Deer

Also known as blacktails, these deer are endemic to western North America and have white spots throughout their coats. They have a black-tipped tail, large ears, and forked antlers.


Moose are the largest species of deer, found in North America and certain parts of Europe. They have a distinct long face with a pendulous snout, an arched back, and humped shoulders covered with a dark brown coat.

Red Deer 

Native to Europe and Asia, red deer are the largest species of deer in Eurasia. They have an unmistakable reddish-brown coat and long antlers that can reach up to one meter in breadth.

Sika Deer

These small deer are native to Japan, China, and parts of Russia and have distinctive white spots on their reddish-brown coats. They are also known for the characteristic high-pitched barking sound they make.

Reindeer (Caribou)

These deer live in northern Arctic regions and can be identified by their large antlers and thick coats, which range from grey to brown, depending on the season.

Fallow Deer

Found in Europe, Asia, and parts of North Africa, this species is distinguished by its chestnut-colored coat and white spots scattered throughout its body. They also have three-tined antlers with a curved brow tine that resembles an axe head.

Roe Deer

This type of deer is found across Europe and Asia, typically in forested areas. They have a distinct rufous-colored coat with white spots, and small antlers shed each year.

No matter where they live, all deer share the same traits: they are herbivores that feed on grass, leaves, and other plant, material.

They also have excellent senses of hearing and smell, allowing them to detect danger from a distance. Deer are among the most graceful animals in the world, and they will continue to fascinate us for many years.

 FAQs About Elk vs Deer

Q: What is the difference between elk and deer? 

A: The main difference between elk and deer is their size. Elk are much larger than deer, with a full-grown bull elk weighing up to 700 pounds compared to a mature buck deer which only weighs around 200 pounds. Additionally, elk have shorter legs and larger antlers than deer.

Q: What do elk and deer eat? 

A: Both elk and deer are herbivores, meaning they feed mostly on grasses, plants, and shrubs. However, due to their size difference, an adult elk needs to consume more food than a deer to meet its nutritional needs.

Q: Are elk and deer found in the same regions? 

A: Elk and deer inhabit many of the same areas, though they have slightly different habitat preferences. While both species are commonly found in forested areas, elks prefer open spaces with plenty of grasslands, while deer are more likely to be found in wooded and shrubland areas.

Q: What is the average lifespan of an elk or deer? 

A: The average life expectancy for an elk is around 15 years, while the average lifespan for a deer is about 6 to 8 years. However, this can vary depending on the species and their environment.

Q: Male deer antlers are larger than female deer antlers. Is this true of elk as well? 

A: Yes, male elk also have larger antlers than female elk. The antlers of male elk can grow up to four feet long, while the antlers of female elk are much smaller.


Though they may appear similar, elk and deer are two distinct species. The biggest difference between these animals is their size; elk are much larger than deer. Bulls (male elk) can weigh over 1000 pounds and stand almost 7 feet tall at the shoulder!

So next time you’re out in nature, take a closer look–you might be able to tell which animal you’re looking at.

Junaid Swati

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