While black bears get most of the attention in the Smoky Mountains, elk is another notable animal that can be found in the region.
And if you see an elk in the Great Smoky Mountains, consider yourself lucky. These nearly-eliminated species can be a rare find.
But if you’re like me, there have been times when you’ve excitedly pointed at wildlife and said, “Look it’s a …” before verbally trailing off in shame of not knowing what animal you just spotted.
And, since we see quite a few questions come in about elk and other members of the deer family, here we answer some frequently asked questions about elk, moose and deer.
9. Are elk endangered?
Elk are not endangered. However, according to the National Park Service (NPS), while elk once roamed the Appalachian mountains, they were eliminated from the region from over-hunting and loss of habitat in the 1700s-1800s.
The NPS reintroduced elk into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as recently as 2001 and then again in 2002.
A total of 52 elk were released in the park. Cows (female elk) usually give birth to only one calf per year.
8. How many elk are in the Smoky Mountains?
While it’s hard to say exactly, there are more than 150 elk that roam the Smokies.
Kim Delozier, retired NPS biologist, was quoted in an interview in 2019 with WBIR saying that it’s hard to know exactly how many elk there are in the park today.
But the population is increasing, most sources now say there are at least 200 elk in the park.
7. Elk vs moose: Which is bigger?
It’s important to note that moose are not found in the Smoky Mountains. Moose are found further north in places like Colorado, New England and Canada.
So, if you see a large deer-like animal, it’s probably an elk.
Elk, deer and moose are all mammals in the Cervidae family, which is probably why they are sometimes confused with one another.
The most distinctive differential between elk and moose is size. Moose are the largest members of deer species.
So what’s the size difference?
Elk are large, with cow elk weighing about 500 pounds and bull elk weighing about 700 pounds.
But moose are huge.
Most sources say that a mature bull moose, or a male moose, can weigh up to 1,600 pounds. A cow moose, or a female moose, can weigh up to 1,300 pounds.
6. How do you tell a difference between an elk and a moose?
There are other defining characteristics between a moose and an elk.
Moose are much darker in color than elk and also have a distinct bulbous nose, fur under their throats, and loose skin hanging from their necks known as dewlap.
Elk gather in herds, have a lighter rump color and a more narrow snout than a moose. Moose are solitary animals.
In areas where both are present, hunters will identify their tracks. The hooves are shaped differently. Moose have a heart-shaped hoof and elk have more of a tooth shape.
They can be hard to differentiate, so one of the easiest rules of thumb is to remember that if it’s an elk, you’ll see multiple track marks.
Another difference can be noted in the animals’ antlers. An elk’s antlers are pointed, whereas a moose has flat antlers.
Elk and moose also sound different. Elks like to bugle. According to the NPS, they do this to advertise to the females and intimidate other males. Moose make more of a moaning sound.
5. Elk vs deer: Which is bigger?
While you’ll see deer and elk in the Smoky Mountains region, the easiest way to tell them apart is, again, size.
Deer are much smaller than elk, weighing up to about 300 pounds.
Deer are also much more commonly spotted in the Smoky Mountains, especially in areas such as Cades Cove.
Also, if the animal has a white patch on its throat, it’s safe to say that you’re looking at a deer.
4. Can an elk and a moose mate?
Well, not in the Great Smoky Mountains, since they are not both in this region.
But in areas where they come in contact with each other, like northern North America, it appears that some moose-elk hybrids occasionally occur, according to this article.
3. Which is bigger, an elk or a black bear?
OK, so we established that moose are bigger than elk and elk are bigger than deer.
But where does a black bear fall on the scale?
Believe it or not, elk are actually larger than black bears.
The range is usually between 175-500 pounds for black bears and 500-700 pounds for elk.
It’s all the more reason to keep your distance from these animals! Elk can be dangerous.
2. Do elk have antlers?
Elk do have antlers, and male elk (bulls) often use them to spar with other bulls.
In the spring, elk shed their antlers, which are then eaten by small animals, according to the NPS.
And while I’m not sure who needs to hear this, it is illegal to remove antlers from the national park.
1. When is the best time to see an elk?
Elk are most active during cooler parts of the day, in the early morning or late evening.
Mating season, which is known as “rut”, begins in the fall, which is when male elk make their bugling calls.
Elk are most commonly spotted along Cataloochee Valley on the North Carolina side of the mountains.
Remember, it is illegal to approach an elk within 150 feet or any distance that disturbs the elk.
Have you seen an elk in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!