Of all the antlered creatures out there, Elk may be one of the most fascinating. Kin to deer, caribou, even the mighty moose, you can find these beauties in most of the western and northwestern United States. They also have a pretty large population in Canada and parts of Europe and Asia. In fact, at one point, you could find elk pretty much anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, but habitat destruction and overhunting have cut out quite a bit of the world’s population.
While you may know the basics, here are some crazy facts about our hooved friends that you may not have known. While some of these might help you in tracking elk, some of these are just plain cool.
When to Look For Elk
The number one thing to know about elk for hunters is when to hunt them. They are primarily “crepuscular” animals, doing most of their browsing in the twilight hours. So, if you are looking for elk, make sure you do so early in the morning, or in the evening. Also, elk season is very short, so make sure you do it on time. For bowhunters, hunting season is the last Saturday of September for the following week. For rifle, the last Saturday of October and the week following.
One characteristic that connects all things kin to deer is the antlers. While some animals, like antelope or water buffalo, have permanent horns, that kin to deer has seasonal antlers. This means that they will grow their antlers throughout the year, then cast their racks in the winter, between November and April.
Each different subspecies of North American deer, (meaning Deer, Moose, Caribou, etc.) shed at different times during that winter period. Moose first, typically between November and December, then Deer in that December to January period, then Elk, between January and March.
Given the yearly casting antlers, all of these animals’ antlers must grow quickly. Heck, moose antlers get up to 40 pounds and span up to seven feet. However, elk antlers actually grow at an alarming rate. Researchers have found that these antlers can grow up to an inch a day. This, however, depends on how much sunlight the bull gets, and therefore how much testosterone.
Scientists actually think we might have something to learn from these fast-growing bones. They believe that studying elk antlers might help fight certain types of cancer in humans. So these awesome antlers not only look cool, but also could save lives.
Pick of the Litter
Based on some research done by scientists, Elk might actually know how to count… to ten at least. For instance, when a female is faced with a male with nine-point antlers and a male with ten-point antlers, the female will almost always take the ten-pointer. It looks like female elk and hunters might have a little something in common.
The Elk Bugle
Most hunters should already know this one, but in case you don’t, here it is. The male elk mating call is known as the bugle. In this ear-piercing call, the bull will reach pitches far out of its own vocal range. Until very recently, scientists had no idea how the excited males accomplished such a feat. Here’s what they found out.
If you pay really close attention to the elk as it makes its call, it actually moves its mouth and nostrils at the same time. That means the bull whistles and sings at the same time, combining those forces to reach the loud famous bugle.
The bugle, however, is not the only way Elk are known to communicate. The other form of communication, believe it or not, comes from… their ankles? That’s right. The strange clicking and cracking noise that comes from their ankles– we believe– is another form of communication.
The Elk Rub
Ever see a tree that looks like a really bad lumberjack gave a few hacks and gave up? This could be the sign of an elk. During mating season, bulls will rub their antlers against trees knocking off the bark. They do this to show off for females and also polish their antlers.
An Odd Elk Mating Ritual
This absolutely bizarre mating ritual is called the “fatal attraction” and it may be the strangest you’ve ever heard of. In a very odd tradition, some males will dig a hole, urinate in the hole, then bathe in their own urine in hopes of attracting a mate. While the scent might work to attract a female elk, we would not recommend trying this at home. Well, at least don’t expect to get positive results.
Fast and Furious
Despite being one of the largest species of deer in North America, elk are no bumbling or cumbersome creatures. In fact, elk can reach top speeds of around 40 miles per hour. This means they can beat some horses in races, even with their 40 pound antlers.
Native American Legends
Elk are also quite legendary in many Native American cultures…. literally, things of legend. For instance, the Shawnee call elk “Wapiti” which translates to white rump. According to one Native American legend, the elk was responsible for creating the first flute. in the story, a boy felt too shy to talk to a girl until the Wapiti visited him in a dream. The wapiti gifted the boy a flute, which he learned to play and in turn, wooed the lady of his liking. Seems a lot more effective than bathing in your own urine.