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Published on: Nov. 23, 2010

a result of such cooperation.

“For Arkansas, it was a partnership between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the residents of Newton County.” Gray said. “Now it’s a partnership between Buffalo River National Park, the Forest Service and several organizations. It’s a wide range of partnerships.”

Much has changed since thousands of elk roamed what is now Missouri, and much has changed since the last native elk was spotted in the state 150 years ago.

“We got away from the attitude that deer were nothing but a piece of meat on the table,” said Hansen. “That old mentality that we can’t possibly kill them all, but we did.”

It was people who exploited the elk until there weren’t any more, and it was people who changed the landscape to the point it was no longer hospitable. But Missourians care about conserving wildlife. With that kind of support, and with a little effort, cooperation and the restorative hand of sound forestry management, elk will once again have a place in Missouri.


Elk Facts

Biology Basics

  • Elk are members of the deer family, which includes white-tailed deer, mule deer, caribou and moose.
  • Male elk are called bulls, females are cows, babies are calves, and yearling males are called spikes. While newborns are only about 35 pounds, males weigh 600–800 pounds when mature.
  • Only male elk have antlers. A mature bull’s antlers may weigh up to 40 pounds. They grow and shed a new pair every year.
  • An elk’s top two canine teeth are called ivories. Scientists believe ivories are remnants of saber-like tusks that ancestral species of elk used in combat.
  • Elk eat grasses and forbs most of the year. In winter they may also eat shrubs, tree bark and twigs.

Social Behavior

  • Cows, calves and yearlings live in loose herds or groups. Bulls live in bachelor groups or alone.
  • Elks vocalize in a variety of ways and for different reasons. Bulls may bugle to attract cows or to advertise their dominance to other bulls. They will grunt at cows that stray from their harem. Cows may bark to warn others of danger, mew to keep track of each other and signal their calves by whining softly. Calves in distress will bleat for their mothers.


  • Elk breed in the fall. Bulls gather cows and calves into small groups called harems.
  • Elk do not have the potential population growth rates of deer. Elk almost always have a single calf each year as opposed to deer, which often have at least two fawns.
  • Bulls wallow in mud to coat themselves with “perfume” to attract cows. They also bugle and rub trees, shrubs and the ground with their antlers to attract cows and intimidate other bulls.
  • Calves are typically born in late May through early June. They are spotted and scentless and spend their first few weeks hiding motionless while their mothers feed.


  • Prior to European settlement, more than 10 million elk roamed nearly all of the United States and parts of Canada.
  • Today, about 1 million elk live in the western United States, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, and from Ontario west in Canada.

Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s website at



Key points to remember about elk restoration in Missouri:

  • Elk is a native species to Missouri, and restoring native species holds many benefits.
  • Elk in eastern states tend to be non-migratory and utilize available habitat,
  • Limited number of elk will be released,
  • Limited area with quality habitat,
  • Elk will be radio collared and closely monitored,
  • 79 percent of the elk restoration land is open to public access,
  • The Department is committed to addressing elk in unwanted locations outside the restoration zone including harassment techniques, trapping and relocating and/or euthanizing elk, and
  • Hunting is proposed to be implemented as soon as possible after the elk become established
  • Elk restoration will include health protocols, such as disease testing, to ensure the health of domestic livestock and other wildlife.

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