There are at least six sub species of elk according to biologist Olaus Murie, who studied them extensively over his lifetime.
Of the six sub species of elk in North America, there are three sub species of elk with hunt-able populations classified by the Boone and Crockett club. The American Elk, the Roosevelt Elk and the Tule Elk.
American Elk (cervus canadensis nelsoni)
The most widespread species is the Rocky Mountain Elk or what many now call the American Elk. The American Elk live west of the Mississippi River. A bull American elk can weigh 800 pounds or more while a cow typically weighs 450 to 500 pounds. The largest herd of American elk lives in Colorado which has over 300,000 animals in it.
Eastern Elk (Cervus canadensis canadensis)
This is the same species of elk discovered by the first white men in North America. This elk was defined in simple terms as “all elk East of the Rocky Mountains. This definition no longer holds true as Rocky Mountain Elk or what is now called the American Elk have been transplanted to several states East of the Rocky Mountains, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. These states have small elk herds and allow elk hunting on a limited basis..
Roosevelt Elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti)
The Roosevelt Elk is the largest bodied of all of the sub species of elk. A mature bull can weigh up to 1,000 pounds where a mature cow can weigh up to 600 pounds. Roosevelt elk are found in Oregon and Washington but some inhabit northern California and British Columbia. The Roosevelt Elk is darker than the American elk and some say they are the toughest species to hunt because they often don’t bugle as much as American elk. The terrain they live in can be extremely rugged and wet because many of them inhabit the rain forest located in Oregon.
Manitoban Elk (Cervus canadensis manitobensis)
This sub species of elk lives in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, although some historically crossed the border into the Great Lakes States. Compared to the American Elk, it is larger in body size but has smaller antlers. This sub species of elk was driven to near extinction in the early 1900’s, but has since recovered.
Merriam Elk (Cervus canadensis merriami)
Tule Elk (Cervus nannodes)
The Tule Elk can only be found in parts of central California. The Tule Elk is smaller in size that the other species. An adult bull often tips the scales at 600 pounds or less while a cow typically weighs 300 to 350 pounds. The adult cows average 375-425 lbs (McCullough, 1969).
The Tule Elk thrive in the moderate Mediterranean climate and subsequent vegetation type in its native range. The Tule Elk forage on annual grasses such as the red brome and cheatgrass, as well as the perennial forbs like, globe mallow, and wild licorice. In addition, alfalfa is also very important to the herd’s diet.
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