Knowing how to identify the species, gender, and age of the animal you are hunting is a good place to start pre-hunt preparations. Many Kentucky elk hunters have never seen a live elk before going on their elk hunt. This can make it challenging in the field when confronted with an elk for the first time. The size and characteristics of elk are much different than those of a white-tailed deer which many hunters are familiar.
There are a few distinct coloration characteristics to look for when identifying elk. All elk will have a light beige “rump patch” and typically contrasting darker legs and neck to their lighter bodies. An elk’s body will vary between seasons from a shade of light copper in summer months to light-tan during winter and spring. Typical bull pelage (hair) is “lighter” in color than cows during the hunting season.
For comparison purposes, we will compare an elk to the more commonly known white-tailed deer.
Elk are taller and heavier than the white-tailed deer. Average elk weights vary between 450 pounds for a cow (female) and 800 pounds for a bull (male). At shoulder height, elk will reach 4.5-5 feet at maturity. Bulls will be the largest, topping out the height and weight spectrum. Reference the chart for a comparison of size to the common white-tailed deer.
Being able to judge gender and age will be an important skill since the permit of those drawn is specified for a bull (male) or cow (female). Look at the pictures below. A cow and spike can average around 450-500lbs. Spikes have polished antlers that are displayed; where as a cow does not. With the antlers of a mature bull elk that we all imagine, hunters might think it’s impossible to not recognize the difference between a cow and bull. However, when it comes to a yearling spike verses an adult or yearling cow elk, the differences become more subtle at farther distances. In most cases, elk will not be found alone, but in herds. This may make identification more difficult for the hunter as individual elk move around within the herd. Correct identification and harvest by hunters is especially important for the stability and growth of a healthy Kentucky elk herd.