Elk vs Deer: 8+ Key Differences

Discover the distinct characteristics separating elk and deer, including size, habitat, and antler shape, for a clear comparison.

elk vs deer

Chances are you have seen an elk or deer before in your lifetime. But what is the difference between these two similar species? You may not have realized, but confusing an deer vs elk is common due to their similar features and attributes. 

However, critical differences between these animals can help hunters, hikers, and landowners differentiate. Understanding the key differences between elk and deer is essential for people to stay safe, avoid killing wildlife, and know the types of animals in their geographical area. 

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What is the difference between an elk vs deer?

An elk is a large subspecies of red deer commonly found in Central Asia and North America. A deer is a hoofed mammal that makes up Cervidae, including elk, red deer, reindeer, white-tailed deer, Roe deer, moose, and fallow deer. 

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There are considerable differences between elk and deer.

One of the main varying aspects between these two animals is the size difference. Elk are 3-4’ taller than deer and weigh upwards of 700 pounds for a bull or 500 pounds for a cow. Elk stand 6.5” as a cow or 8 feet as a bull. On the other hand, deer are usually 3’ tall and weigh between 80 and 160 pounds, depending on if they are male or female. 

A second difference is habitat. Deer live in various habitats and frequent Europe and South Asia. Elk frequent forested areas in the mountains, whereas deer usually live in deserts, low-land forests, plains, or grasslands. Elk also prefer wooded areas and high-altitude, typically found in North America, East Asia, and Central Asia.  

Thirdly, elk have very long antlers that branch off into various sections. These antlers can be up to 4’ long and weigh almost 40 pounds combined. Deer have shorter and stouter antlers that are only occasionally branched. A deer’s antlers begin to curl and curve as they get older. 

In addition, elk have a thicker coating and shaggy hair. Elk’s coloring is typically brown or gray. Deer have shorter coats and no mane since they usually live in warm climates. Deer usually are brown, red, gray, or white. 

One other main difference between elk and deer is their diet. Deer eat plants, grass, tree bark, and leaves. Elk usually eat plants and grass, whereas deer are considered foragers with a more diverse diet. 

Other differences between elk and deer are their speed and how they move on land. Elk are more suited to different conditions and can adapt their speed and mobility, moving upwards of 45 miles per hour. Deer vary based on their species, with the average speed running between 35 and 40 miles per hour, and whitetail deer running up to 45 miles per hour. 

One other critical difference between elk and deer is the sound they make while communicating or mating. Elk have loud calls, whereas deer have high-pitched noises and squeaks.

Lastly, elk leave rounded and parallel tracks, whereas deer have delicate and light tracks. The tracking makes it easy to tell which one you may follow while hunting or hiking in the woods. 

Are elk a species of deer?


Elk are a subspecies of red deer. They are typically located in Central Asia and North America in mountainous and forested areas. Although elk have previously been thought of as just a subset of ‘red’ deer, Red Deer can encompass the European deer, Tibetan red deer, and elk. 

The most common types of deer are white-tailed deer, Roe deer, and mule deer.


White-tailed deer are usually much smaller than elk, standing less than three tall and weighing less than 250 pounds. Whitetails have white hair on their tail, typically brown or red. Whitetail deer give birth to fawns weighing upwards of 8 pounds, whereas elk can give birth to one calf weighing as much as 45 pounds.

When it comes to the roe deer, these small species are usually found in Europe and vastly differ from an elk. An elk can be over 5’ tall, whereas the roe deer do not grow any taller than 2.5’. 

Lastly, mule deer have enormous ears and antlers that help people differentiate them from other types of deer. Mule deer are found in desert areas and can stand as tall as 3.5’ and weigh almost 275 pounds. Although mule deer overlap in some geographical areas with whitetail deer, they are seldom found in the same spots as elk. 

Is a buck a deer or an elk?

A buck is an adult male deer. 

Can a deer mate with an elk?

Elk can’t mate with deer. Elk are a large type of deer, containing 68 chromosomes, whereas deer have 70 chromosomes. If a hybrid occurred, it wouldn’t happen naturally in the wild. 

FAQs about Elk & Deer

Is an elk considered a deer?

An elk is considered a member of the deer family, Cervidae (order Artiodactyla), specifically the largest and most advanced subspecies of red deer (Cervus elaphus), known as wapiti. It can be found in North America and in high mountains of Central Asia.

Is an elk a bull or buck?

An elk is referred to as a bull when it is an adult male. Bulls reach their largest size at 7 years old and can average 5 feet tall at the shoulders, weighing between 700 and 1100 pounds. On the other hand, female elk, known as cows, weigh between 500 and 600 pounds and stand an average of 4.5 feet at shoulder height.

Does elk taste like deer?

Elk does not taste exactly like deer, but it is a rare and healthy red meat option. It has a similar taste to beef, but with a cleaner, more flavorful, and slightly sweeter profile. Unlike deer, elk does not have a strong gamey flavor. It is important to note that elk is a type of venison, originating from an animal in the deer family.

Is elk and deer the same meat?

Elk and deer are not the same meat. To summarize, while both meats have a gamey flavor, venison tends to be more gamey due to its higher fat content. On the other hand, elk meat is leaner and has a milder gamey taste. Therefore, the average person is more likely to prefer elk meat over deer.

What is a buck vs deer?

A buck is a male deer, while the term “deer” encompasses all creatures in the Cervidae family. Stags specifically refer to adult male deer, whereas bucks can refer to both young and mature male deer. However, when discussing fully grown and mature male deer, the term stag is more precise.

Why is an elk a cow and a deer a doe?

An elk is referred to as a cow and a deer is called a doe because the term “cow” originated from Middle English and Old English, while “doe” comes from the Latin word for deer.

Is an elk more related to a deer or cow?

An elk is more related to a deer than a cow. Elk, also known as wapiti, are referred to as “light-colored deer” in Native American language. While elk share a relationship with deer, they are significantly larger than most of their deer relatives. The antlers of a male elk, or bull elk, can grow up to 4 feet above its head, making the animal stand tall at 9 feet.

What animals are called deer?

Deer are a group of ruminant mammals known as Cervidae, which includes various species such as white-tailed deer, mule deer (including black-tailed deer), elk, moose, red deer, caribou, fallow deer, roe deer, pudú, and chital.

What is another name for an elk?

Another name for an elk is the moose, scientifically known as Alces alces in Europe, or the wapiti, scientifically known as Cervus canadensis in North America. The elk is a large North American deer, with the male having large, spreading antlers.

Is elk a deer or moose?

Elk is not a deer or moose; rather, it belongs to the subfamily Cervinae, which is known as Old World deer. Moose, on the other hand, belong to the subfamily Capreolinae, which are known as New World deer. These two subfamilies differ in their bone and ankle structure, making them distinct from each other.

Can a deer and elk mate?

Deer and elk can potentially mate, as there have been instances of crossbreeding between whitetails and mule deer. In captivity or when game-farm escapees are involved, red deer and elk can also produce fertile offspring, despite the geographical separation of wild herds by the Atlantic Ocean. It is worth noting that there was a claim made by biologists almost a century ago about the discovery of an elk-moose hybrid.

Are elk just giant deer?

Elk are not just giant deer; they differ significantly in size. On average, elk are much larger than common deer species like white-tailed deer, red deer, roe deer, and mule deer. They have thicker, more robust bodies and stand taller at the shoulders.

Are moose technically deer?

Moose are indeed technically deer, as stated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. They hold the distinction of being the largest members of the deer family and are also the tallest mammals in North America.

Can moose and deer breed?

Moose and deer cannot interbreed due to a significant height difference. Even if we attempt to mate an Eastern male moose with a Yukon female moose, a ramp would be necessary for the male moose to overcome the height disparity.

Is A moose A Bull or a Buck?

A moose is a bull, which is the term used to refer to male moose. Bulls start growing antlers in spring to prepare for the mating season in autumn. Cows, which are the female moose, typically mate with large, mature bulls that have well-developed antlers.

Why are moose called elk?

Moose are called elk in Europe due to a likely reason that can be attributed to the confusion caused by some American settlers. It is plausible that these settlers had heard about the original European elks but had never actually witnessed them. Therefore, when they came across a large forest animal with prominent antlers, someone mistakenly referred to it as an elk.

Can you call an elk a buck?

Yes, an elk can be referred to as a buck. However, it is important to note that while a buck is a term commonly used to describe a male deer of any species, an elk is a specific type of large antlered animal also known as the wapiti. Elks are members of the Cervidae family and there are several subspecies of elk found in North America.

Is an elk a type of cow?

An elk is not a type of cow, but taxonomically, both elk and cows belong to the Class Mammalia, which encompasses all mammals. They are further classified into the Order Artiodactyla, which includes even-toed ungulates such as sheep, bison, pigs, and cows. Therefore, at this taxonomic level, elk and cows are related.

Is elk deer or caribou?

Elk and caribou are both members of the deer family and are herbivores. However, an adult elk is taller and weighs more than an adult caribou.

Are reindeer elk or deer?

Reindeer are a species of deer with circumpolar distribution, native to Arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of Northern Europe, Siberia, and North America.

Is an elk a cow or a deer?

An elk is not a cow, but rather a member of the deer family. Adult male elk, known as bulls, reach their maximum size at the age of 7.

Is a reindeer a moose or a deer?

A reindeer is not a moose or a deer. Both moose and reindeer belong to the Cervidae family and share similar physical characteristics. However, moose (Alces alces) is the largest member of the deer family, while reindeer are a species of Arctic and subarctic-dwelling deer known as Rangifer tarandus. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to explore further.

Are reindeer just elk?

Reindeer and elk are not the same. Reindeer are native to the arctic and subarctic regions, while elk are primarily found in North America and eastern parts of Asia. Unlike reindeer, elk are generally larger in size, have a reddish hue, and a prominent rump. In contrast, reindeer are typically browner in color and have a slimmer appearance.

Is a reindeer a caribou or deer?

A reindeer is the same animal as a caribou or deer. They belong to the deer family and are scientifically known as Rangifer tarandus. In Europe, they are referred to as reindeer, while in North America, they are called caribou in the wild and reindeer when domesticated.

Is a caribou a buck or bull?

A caribou can be distinguished as a buck or bull by observing characteristics other than antlers. To differentiate between cow and bull caribou, examine the shape of the white rump patch when viewing them from behind. Additionally, look for the presence of a dark vulva on cows or testicles on bulls. It is important to note that during June and July, bulls may shed their antlers in patterns that resemble a vulva.

Are elk and moose the same?

Elk and moose are not the same. Moose have a chocolate brown color while elk have a lighter brown color with a darker brown neck. Bull moose have a waddle on their neck and their antlers have flat pads in the front and traditional pointed antlers towards the back. On the other hand, male elk, known as stags, have several pointed antlers.

Can elk and caribou breed?

Elk and caribou cannot breed because they belong to different subfamilies within the deer family Cervidae. While elk can hybridize with species like sika deer and hog deer in the genus Cervus, they are unable to hybridize with caribou.

What is bigger moose or elk?

Moose are larger than elk. In Colorado, moose are the largest animal and they are significantly bigger than elk. A bull moose can reach heights of 6 to 7 feet at the shoulders and weigh over 1,000 pounds. On the other hand, a bull elk is usually around 4 to 5 feet tall at the shoulders and weighs approximately 600 pounds.

Is a caribou a moose?

The caribou is not a moose. Caribou weigh between 175-400 lbs, making them significantly smaller than moose. They have distinct features such as their stylish coffee-and-cream coats and impressive summer antlers, as well as their large, splayed feet. Both male and female caribou grow antlers, although the males’ antlers are larger.

What is a caribou vs moose?

A caribou vs moose can be distinguished by their size, antlers, and overall morphology. Moose are significantly larger than caribou, often weighing twice as much or more. Additionally, moose are taller and longer in comparison to caribou.

Is an elk male a buck?

An elk male is commonly referred to as a buck. Elk typically possess a lengthy head with sizable ears. The adult male, known as a buck, showcases antlers that branch widely and can measure up to 1 to 1.5 m in length from tip to tip (refer to the photo). Elk used to inhabit various regions in the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, northern Africa, Asia, and North America.

Are elk aggressive?

Elk can be aggressive or defensive, just like other famous large American herbivores such as moose and bison. Despite being herbivores, elk are not always docile and harmless. They are among North America’s largest terrestrial mammals.

What is a female deer called?

The female counterpart of a deer is commonly referred to as a doe. Additionally, a female deer, particularly a red deer, can also be known as a hind. Male deer are typically called bucks, while young deer are referred to as fawns or yearlings.

What is a male deer called?

The male deer is commonly referred to as a buck, although it can also be called a stag, bull, or hart. Young deer are known as fawns, and as they grow older, they are called yearlings. Female deer, on the other hand, can be called does, cows, or hinds.

What is elk meat called?

Elk meat, known as “venison,” has similar calorie and protein content as beef meat. Elk venison is a lean, dark red meat that is considered a healthy choice due to its low fat content.

What are Elks known for?

Elks are known for their impressive antlers, which are a captivating adaptation observed in the deer family. Antlers are grown by all males in the Cervidae family, and interestingly, female caribou also develop antlers.

Are all deers female?

All deer are not female. While male deer are referred to as bucks, the females are known as does. They have distinct physical and behavioral characteristics. Does have a different way of living compared to males and they actively participate in parenting their young, which are called fawns.

Do you call a male elk a bull?

A male elk is called a bull. Bulls, which are adult male elk, reach their maximum size at the age of 7. At full maturity, a bull elk stands at an average height of 5 feet at the shoulders and can weigh anywhere between 700 and 1100 pounds. On the other hand, female elk, referred to as cows, weigh between 500 and 600 pounds and have an average shoulder height of 4.5 feet.

What eats an elk?

An elk is eaten by coyotes, bobcats, and black bears when they are young, sick, or injured. However, adult elk are usually not targeted by predators in the park. In other areas, gray wolves and mountain lions, which are no longer present in the Great Smoky Mountains, are known to be successful predators of elk.

What is a female elk called?

A female elk is called a cow and during the springtime, they will spend time in small herds while raising their calves. They exhibit more activity and personality during their breeding season or ‘rut’, similar to other deer species.

What is a herd of elk called?

A group of elk is commonly referred to as a herd, but interestingly, the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that they can also be called a “gang” of elk.

What is a male deer called a buck?

A male deer is called a buck, which is the term used in zoology to refer to the male of various animals including deer (excluding the sika and red deer, where males are called stags), antelopes, goats, hares, rabbits, and rats. In England, it is commonly used to specifically denote the male fallow deer.

Why do they call a female elk a cow?

A female elk is called a cow because the term “cow” originated from various Middle English, Old English, and Germanic words that referred to the female of a bovine animal. This term has been used since the late 1300s and is also used to describe female elks and moose.

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