Elk, also called Wapiti or red deer, are related to deer but are much larger than most of their relatives

Although elk may look calm and complaisant, foraging their way through their day, they can move a lot faster than you think. Elk are social animals. Up to 20 or more cows, calves, and yearlings live in groups that remain apart from the smaller groups of bulls, except during the autumn mating (rutting) period. In the autumn, males compete for the attention of the females, and become cantankerous and restless. In spring and summer, females are often accompanied by young, and will attack any perceived threat.

The elk’s large size protects it from predators, along with its way of hiding newborn calves in dense cover and its habit of living in social groups. Although wolves, cougars and bears can reduce the numbers of elk, over the long term the rate of reproduction is usually sufficient to maintain populations. During the rutting season in September and October the male elk are aggressive and will fight anything that approaches, even a vehicle! In May and June you may not see young that are hidden close by the female elk, the mother will become aggressive if you approach.

Safety Tips for Observing Elk in the Wild

If an elk shows aggression, appears nervous or you have caused them to move then you are too close!  The rule of thumb is to stay 3 bus lengths (30 m) away from them.

  • Do not feed elk.  You are not helping them out in the long run.  Elk have plenty of natural foods in the wilds and keeping them there will prevent the need to deal with an elk ‘problem’ in your neighbourhood at some later date. 
  • Elk like most wildlife, will stress over fast moving actions. When observing elk, walk slow, make all motions slower than usual. Keep your voice levels low.
  • Elk will perceive you as a threat if you are above them in elevation. Therefore it is best to observe elk from a position lower than they are.
  • Elk are not stupid animals. Do not attempt to hide yourself behind bushes or rocks. This will only cause stress to the elk which might perceive you as some sort of threat.
  • Elk and automobiles do not mix well. Try to avoid driving fast near elk. You may find them grazing at the very edge of the roadway foraging for their food, they may step out into traffic lanes at any time. Avoid slamming doors, honking horns, shouting, barking dogs, etc. If you see elk along the road it is best to slow down and drive by them safely. Flashing your headlights can warn oncoming traffic that wildlife is in the area. This will all benefit the elk's safety as well as oncoming traffic.

Call the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service toll free at 1.877.952.7277 to report any aggressive elk.

More information on elk can be found in Elk in British Columbia, Ecology Conservation and Management prepared by the Ministry of Environment.