What is the Difference between Deer and Elk?

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When I was young, I used to think these two animals are the same; that the Elk was an aged deer. It was not until I got older that I came to understand there are differences between the two. They both belong to the hoofed Cervidae family, but each of these animals has different features unique only to them. The main difference between the deer and elk is their sizes, a young fawn of an elk is equal to a fully grown female deer. This article aims to find out what is the difference between deer and Elk.


This animal is a healthy and energetic member of the Cervidae family. Its scientific name is Odocoileus Virginianus. Deer prefer walking in small social groups known as herds. South Canada and South America are where these species are most likely to be found. It is the lowest animal among the deer family that originates from North America.


Scientifically the elk is referred to as Cervus Canadensis; it is a herbivorous wild animal. An elk’s average lifespan is 10-13 years in the wild, and this might differ if the animal is tamed. In comparison to a six feet man, the elk are taller. They prefer travelling in large social groups known as a gang.

Differences between the Deer and Elk 

Physiological Differences


A deer prefers grasslands and dense forests as their habitat. The thick forest covers provide both food and shelter to escape predators. Deer hide their fawns on the floor of the grass cover in case of any danger. They move less than 10 miles from their habitat.

Unlike the deer, the elk are not that adventurous. The Elk travels less than 2 miles from their home range. It prefers mountainous forests and can survive even under low temperatures. The female elk is responsible for selecting a safe habitat for its fawns.

Search for Food

It came as a surprise when I figured that although both these animals are herbivorous, they use different approaches in locating their foods. An elk grazes for its meals from snow covered regions, picking out tree leaves.

However, when it comes to Elk, a different approach is observed. Elks find their way to food with the help of the food scent. They have very sensitive noses that can pick up strong scents from green vegetation. However, their nose capability is limited to a short diameter.


Both of these species are herbivorous. They solely rely on green vegetation for nutrients and vitamins. The fact that both share the same diet does not implicate that they have the same plant preferences. 

Elks seem to enjoy feeding on grass, while the deer eats grass, tree leaves, legumes, and other exotic vegetation. Deer are generally responsible for the extinction of some unusual plants since they seem to prefer them over common greens.

Physical Differences

Body Size

An elk is more massive than the deer, in both height and weight. It has a shoulder height of five feet (not including the antlers) and a length of 8 feet. The weight is respective to its height; it averagely weighs 700 pounds and may go up to 1100 pounds.

On the other hand, a deer has a shoulder weight of 3.5 feet and a length of 7 feet. The weight of this species cannot exceed 300 pounds. An interesting fact is that a 5-6-month-old calf elf is of equal size as a fully mature adult doe.


While both their meats are very rich in proteins, the size offered by the elk is greater than that of the deer. For a deer, you would expect 30-60 pounds; this is bone-free meat. The size increases with the elk giving you 100-300 pounds. This increase can be traced back to the fact that the latter is more prominent in size than the former.

An elk’s meat is healthier than most meat offered by both domesticated and wild animals; you may ask why? Well, the number of calories present in its meat is very minimal as compared to beef and pork. It is also very rich in iron and proteins that act as bodybuilding foods in human anatomy. I believe that most of you will back me up when I say elk meat is better than a deer.


These two members of the Cervidae inhabit different regions, and their lifespans do differ. An elk has a shorter lifespan as compared to the deer. A deer’s average lifespan is about 6 years, or even less, whereas the elk is 10-13 years. This difference varies because of reasons like hunting pressure and predator relationship between the animals.

In captivity, the deer’s life span may increase; however, this is only possible if favorable living conditions are met.

Calves and Fawns

These two might share a mating season; however, their anatomy brings forth completely different newborns. Elks give birth to a single massive calf weighing 45 pounds.

However, a doe gives birth to two fawns, each weighing at least seven pounds. The fawns combined weight will not sum up to even half of an elks calf. Both of the species offspring appear spotted for the first months after they are born, this gradually fades away as they grow. They are born around May and June.


An elk has a shaggy brown coating with black legs. Their surface tends to develop a thick layer during the winter to help them survive through the cold season. Around their necks, they develop manes to reduce body heat loss during colder seasons.

During the summer, the deer appears to have a reddish coating, and this color changes to grey during the winter. A deer’s legs and neck are the same color as the whole body, no rump patches present on its body. 


An elk is faster than its competitor. Its overall weight and limb strength give it perfect balance even when on top speeds. An elk can reach speeds of up to 45km/h when the deer’s top speed is 30km/h. These high speeds are useful when escaping from predators. The Elk’s size and its speed can take down some predators, as it charges with its mighty antlers.


Members of the deer family are all hoofed; however, the hooves have unique patterns in each species. The elks and deer feet have different shapes; therefore leave different tracks on the ground. An elk’s tracks appear deeper than a deer’s records, and this is because of the weight difference between the two.

A deer’s hooves are heart-shaped, while the Elk’s feet leave behind deep tooth-shaped traces.

Temperamental Differences

The Sounds They Make

Generally, deer are silent throughout the year. They occasionally bleat or make a high pitched sound in case of danger to alert the others. Deer are very alert, and they raise their short tails if they sense any danger.

Elks, on the other hand, are boisterous animals, especially during the mating season. The male breeds below loudly to attract their mates. These bellows are like calls to the female and can be heard miles away. Elks tend to make these noises early in the morning or late evenings.

Social Grouping

Elks are known to move in large masses, and a herd can accommodate over a hundred elks. This movement in large numbers gives them additional security as a predator is most likely not to approach the huge number of animals.

The deer, on the other hand, are rarely seen in groups. If seen, the number of animals in the group is fewer than that of the Elk. The small groupings of the deer give them the ability to move faster and cover more ground without raising too much attention.


During the mating period, both sexes of the elk call each other by making sounds unique to each sex. Male species compete for the attention of their female counterparts. An unusual behavioral pattern when it comes to the elk is that the animal digs up wallows and urinates into them. Then rolls in the urine to pick the scent; it attracts nearby females.

During the rut, the elk usually have a fever. To reduce the temperature, elks tend to enter in the water to lower their body temperature. After cooling off, the elk then leaves the water and urinates in it to show dominance over the territory.

The male deer also competes for does, however for a deer, the competition can be fought to the death to prove dominance. 

The ‘Must Have’ Hunting Accessories

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Both the elk and deer provide good meat to the hunter. However, an elk has more meat. Were it not for their locations, these animals might have more similar features. The deer is the smallest, while the elk is one of the mighty members of the deer family. With just a glance, you can distinguish the two by examining their size and coating color. If you are looking for sweet tender meat, the deer is your pick. However, if you are in it for the quantity, you should probably consider an elk.

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