Colorado Hunters Frequently Mistake, Illegally Shoot Moose Instead of Elk, Reports Say

by Jon D. B.
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As fall hunting arrives, Colorado State wants sportsman to be sure they know how to spot a moose from an elk – or it could cost them, too.

Any hunter planning to harvest either moose or elk this season may need to brush up on their species anatomy. While an easy peg at first glance, several factors can have even experienced outdoorsman confusing one for the other. Bagging the wrong one in Colorado, too, can cost you big.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunters kill and illegally harvest moose by mistaking them for elk on a yearly basis. How does this happen? CPW believes hunters are spotting antlers and antlers only – then making mistaken kills.

Even this, however, is nowhere near as straightforward as it may seem. The fully developed bull antlers of moose and elk are highly distinguishable from one another. This takes a decade of development for both species, however. In fact, both species’ antlers resemble one another greatly when covered in developmental velvet. While bull moose are young, their antlers have yet to develop their large, fanning crown we associate with the species. If a hunter spots a young bull moose by the antlers alone – it is easy to mistake them for the velveteen antlers of an elk.

How to Tell a Moose from an Elk

In addition to making a sportsman a pro, correct identification can and will save you both legal charges and fines. The CPW classifies such cases into three categories: accidental harvest, careless, and negligent.

Fines up to $1,000, and/or loss of hunting privileges can result from the above. As a result, being intimately familiar with the differences between both species can save you a ton of legal hassle and funds.

While moose and elk differ vastly in size, it can be impossible to tell said size from a large distance while hunting. For this reason alone, one of the best ways to identify an elk from a moose is by coloration. Elk sport much lighter coats, and are a tan to light brown color on their entire bodies. Their heads, manes, and neck are dark brown, but elk will always have a distinct yellowish color to their torso, backside, and rump (see below).

A white elk, also known as a wapiti, stands on a snowy mountainside and raises his head to look around. (Photo by W. Wayne Lockwood/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

If you are closer to the specimen, however, then size is a key factor. Elk are very large mammals, yes, but they are half the size of the world’s largest deer species – moose. An average bull elk will weigh around 700 pounds. A bull moose, though, will double this, and can weigh over a ton (1,200 lbs).

Having already discussed antlers, it is still important to note key differences. Elk have much more typical deer-like antlers that feature long, widespread and sharp points across their wingspan. Moose antlers, when fully developed, sport a distinct, plate-like fanning and rounded tips. Adult moose antlers can also stay velveteen, as well, whereas elk will always shed velvet after developing their rack for the season.

A large male moose eats in the woods on August 23, 2016 near Walden, Colorado. North Park is called the moose viewing capitol of Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Know Your Big Games’ Behavior

Behavioral cues are also a solid way to tell moose and elk apart. While elk will typically travel in large herds and migrate together, moose are a solitary species. Large bulls of both species will wander off on their own – but an adult bull moose will rarely ever be seen with company.

In addition, moose are typically far less skittish of humans than elk. This can make them both easier to hunt – and far more dangerous. Having very few natural predators due to their enormous size makes the moose a far more brazen species. If a gigantic chocolate brown beast is lumbering straight towards you in the forest, chances are it is a moose.

While correct identification helps keeping yourself within lawful hunting, it also serves to help control and maintain protected species.

Doing your part and staying well informed not only benefits you, but the wilderness we love, as well.

[H/T Out There Colorado]

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