Guide to the Wapiti Elk

Getting to know our most regal ungulate, the wapiti elk, including history, habits and habitat of this type of elk.

| September/October 1986

  • 101-112-i1
    The bugling of the bull elk during autumn rut is a magnificent sound from a soprano vibrato falling to sharp grunts.

  • 101-112-i1

Getting to know our most regal ungulate, the wapiti elk.   

Guide to the Wapiti Elk

From my mountaintop cabin's door, it's maybe 1,000 yards across a little river valley to the patchwork of verdant meadows and chalk white aspen groves that make up Old Rube's summertime stamping grounds. Where he disappears to during winter I can only guess. Perhaps the wapiti elk wanders the 15 miles and 1,500 vertical feet down out of the high country to the easier pickings along the sheltered bottoms of the river, as do so many others of his kind. Or maybe Old Rube simply holes up somewhere back in the dark pine and fir forests that gird his summertime meadows and groves.

I call the old bull elk Rube because of the sleek rubescence of his summertime coat. There are other elk to spy on (through 7X binoculars) as they feed at the cool edges of day in those meadows over yonder-sometimes as many as a dozen cows, calves, and spike bulls. But the big red harem master is far and away the most striking; against the distance-darkened green of the meadows, Old Rube shines under the morning sun like a rich red jewel in an Ethiope's ear.

This big bull wapiti elk — just one of many hereabouts — is a prime example of why the elkor wapiti (from an Algonquian word meaning "white rump") — has been called "the monarch of the West." The moose is larger, the grizzly bear more powerful, the cougar more mysterious, and the whitetail more graceful. But the bull wapiti, with his proud posture, trumpeted call to arms, and rich, tricolored pelage, is certainly the most regal of North America's great wild creatures. And his crowning glory is a magnificent rack of antlers.

In fact, among elk aficionados, a bull's degree of royalty is determined by the splendor of his crown: A male carrying six tines on each main antler beam is a royal, seven points rate imperial status, while those rare few potentates who wear eight or more tines per beam are honored as monarchs. Exactly where on that scale Old Rube falls I really can't say . . . the distance is too great and my binoculars too small to allow for an accurate point count. But I've seen enough bull elk, and enough of Old Rube, to be certain that he's royalty. Possibly imperial.

Elk evolved as a distinct species within the deer family (Cervidae) in Asia, then spread westward to Europe as the red deer (stag) and eastward to North America via the Bering-Chukchi platform over the tens of thousands of years it was exposed by lowered sea levels during the Illinoian and Wisconsin glacial stages — beginning possibly as long ago as 120,000 years. While the North American wapiti was long classified as Cervus canadensis, a species distinct from the smaller and more deep-voiced European red deer, most wildlife taxonomists now lump the two together as C. elaphus.

Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019


Next: February, 16-17 2019
Belton, TX

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters