Elk Photos and Fine Art Photography Prints

Bull Elk wintering in the high country with snow.

The Elk Photography Wall Art Print Gallery offers the finest quality limited edition art works available in Acrylic, Metal, Canvas and Fine Art Paper framed and unframed ready to hang prints.

Enjoy the beauty of Elk Photography Prints in your home

Welcome to the Elk Photography Print Gallery where you can view, learn more about, and purchase stunning limited edition fine art Elk photo prints. Photographing Elk is one of the great pleasures a wildlife photographer can encounter especially when elk are in the "Rut" or breeding season during September and October. Elk or "Wapiti" as they are call by many westerners are one of the most magnificent large animals in North America. Not only is the activity of the bull gathering their harems impressive but the Bull Elk behavior with almost choreographed prancing and head tossing makes for dramatic photographs. Since elk are one of my favorite wildlife subject I could go on for many pages about my experiences while photographing Elk for magazines and advertising publications during the past 40 years but I will let some of my favorite pictures tell some of those stories.

Elk range in forest and forest-edge habitat, feeding on grasses, plants, leaves, and bark. Male elk have large antlers which they shed each year. Males also engage in ritualized mating behaviors during the rut, including posturing, antler wrestling (sparring), and bugling, a loud series of vocalizations that establishes dominance over other males and attracts females. Although it is currently native to North America and central/eastern Asia, it had a much wider distribution in the past. Populations were present across Eurasia into Western Europe during the Late Pleistocene and survived into the early Holocene in southern Sweden and the Alps; the extinct Merriam's elk subspecies ranged into Mexico. The elk has adapted well to countries where it has been introduced, including Argentina and New Zealand. Its adaptability may in fact threaten endemic species and the ecosystems into which it has been introduced.

About Rocky Mountain Elk

The elk (Cervus canadensis), also known as the Shawnee word "wapiti", is one of the largest species within the deer family, Cervidae, and one of the largest terrestrial mammals in its native range of North America, as well as Central and East Asia. The common name elk, used in North America, creates confusion because the larger Alces alces, which is called moose in North America, is also called elk in British English, and related names in other European languages (German Elch, Swedish älg, and French élan). The name "wapiti" is sometimes used in North America for Cervus canadensis. It originates from the Shawnee and Cree word waapiti, meaning 'white rump'.

Elk Facts

Elk have thick bodies with slender legs and short tails. They have a shoulder height of 2 ft 6 in – 4 ft 11 in with a nose-to-tail length of 5 ft 3 in – 8 ft 10 in. Males (Bulls) are larger and weigh 392–1,096 lb while females ( Cows) weigh 377–644 lb. The largest of the subspecies is the Roosevelt elk (C. c. roosevelti), found west of the Cascade Range in the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Roosevelt elk have been introduced into Alaska, where the largest males are estimated to weigh up to 1,300 lbs. More typically, bull Roosevelt elk weigh around 701 to 1,100 lb, while cows weigh 575 to 624 lb. Bull tule elk weigh 450–701 lb while cows weigh 375–421 lb. The whole weights of adult male Manitoban elk range from 635 to 1,054 lb. Cows weigh 600 lb. Elk are the second largest extant species of deer, after the moose.

Antlers are made of bone, which can grow at a rate of one inch per day. While actively growing, a soft layer of highly vascularized skin known as velvet covers and protects them. This is shed in August when the antlers have fully developed. Bull elk typically have around six tines on each antler. The Siberian and North American elk carry the largest antlers while the Altai wapiti has the smallest. Roosevelt bull antlers can weigh 40 lb. The formation and retention of antlers are testosterone-driven. In late winter and early spring, the testosterone level drops, which causes the antlers to shed.

On the Hunt

Rocky Mountain Elk Photo of Bull Elk hunting for Cows during the rut.. A Fine Art Limited Edition of 200 Prints.

Rocky Mountain elk

The Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni) is a subspecies of elk found in the Rocky Mountains and adjacent ranges of Western North America. Some the best locations to view and photograph elk are Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks.


The winter ranges are most common in open forests and floodplain marshes in the lower elevations. In the summer it migrates to the subalpine forests and alpine basins. Elk have a diverse habitat range that they can reside in but are most often found in forest and forest edge habitat and in mountain regions they often stay in higher elevations during warmer months and migrate down lower in the winter. They may even come down the mountain and leave the forest into some grassland for part of the day but head back into the timber in the evening.

Effects of climate change.

Climate change/warming can keep elk in their higher elevation habitats for longer into the winter than normal. Climate changes such as warming have in some cases even increased the seasonal range of elk in the winter. For example, in Yellowstone the climate warming has kept the snow at a lower level than in the past and has given the elk the ability to populate higher ranges than before. The lack of snow in Yellowstone has also given the elk an advantage over the wolves in their predator prey relationship because wolves rely on deep snow to hunt elk in winter ranges of Yellowstone. The total wild population is about one million individuals.



The Rocky Mountain elk was reintroduced in 1913 to Colorado from Wyoming after the near extinction of the regional herds. While overhunting is a significant contributing factor, the elk’s near extinction is mainly attributed to human encroachment and destruction of their natural habitats and migratory corridors. A year later, twenty-one elk from Jackson Hole, Wyoming were reintroduced to South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park for population increase. Conservation efforts also brought the elk populations in New Mexico from near-zero numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, to healthy populations in the 1930s in Northern New Mexico.


Population numbers of elk in Nebraska continued to increase through the 1970s and 1980s, to a level in which complaints from landowners in the Pine Ridge region led to the implementation of relatively liberal hunting seasons in the late 1980s. Elk numbers continued to increase through the 1990s to the present.


All Rocky Mountain elk in Washington are the result of reintroductions conducted in the early 1900s from Yellowstone elk herds. These initial reintroductions have expanded their range and have also been translocated within the State. Not all of these elk have all the habitat to be successful in large numbers; supplemental feeding programs are used to compensate for lost winter range .

Eastern U.S.

In 1990, feasibility studies were conducted to determine if wild, free-ranging elk still had a place in some of their former eastern habitats. Once this was complete, healthy source herds of Rocky Mountain elk from Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, and Utah were used to introduce this elk subspecies to the former range of the extinct eastern elk.


In recent years, elk from Utah have been used to reestablish a population in Kentucky.

West Virginia

In 2018, elk from Arizona were transported to West Virginia to help with reestablishing the population there. Unfortunately, a parasite has killed off some of the herd.


Their populated Canadian ranges occur in Alberta's Jasper and Banff National Parks as well as British Columbia's Kootenay and Yoho National Parks.

Chronic Wasting Disease

As of 2010, the Rocky Mountain elk herd has been diagnosed with a serious disorder called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).[citation needed] CWD affects the brain tissue of infected elk and is similar in symptoms to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad-cow disease (MCD). There is no evidence to conclude that elk CWD is transmittable to humans, and research concerning CWD and its effect on the eco-system continues. Environmental and CWD problems in Estes Park, Colorado and, on a greater scale, throughout the Western U.S. and North America have local, state, and federal policy makers searching for solutions.

Life Cycle of Elk

During the fall, elk grow a thicker coat of hair, which helps to insulate them during the winter. Both male and female North American elk grow thin neck manes; females of other subspecies may not.  By early summer, the heavy winter coat has been shed. Elk are known to rub against trees and other objects to help remove hair from their bodies. All elk have small and clearly defined rump patches with short tails. They have different coloration based on the seasons and types of habitats, with gray or lighter coloration prevalent in the winter and a more reddish, darker coat in the summer. Subspecies living in arid climates tend to have lighter colored coats than do those living in forests. Most have lighter yellow-brown to orange-brown coats in contrast to dark brown hair on the head, neck, and legs during the summer. Forest-adapted Manchurian and Alashan wapitis have red or reddish-brown coats with less contrast between the body coat and the rest of the body during the summer months. Calves are born spotted, as is common with many deer species, and lose them by the end of summer. Adult Manchurian wapiti may retain a few orange spots on the back of their summer coats until they are older. This characteristic has also been observed in the forest-adapted European red deer.

Elk are among the most gregarious deer species.  During the summer group size can reach 400 animals. For most of the year, adult Bulls and Cows are segregated into different herds. Female herds are larger while Bulls form small groups and may even travel alone. Young Bulls may associate with older bulls or female groups. Male and female herds come together during the mating season, which may begin in late August. Males try to intimidate rivals by vocalizing and displaying with their antlers.  If neither bull backs down, they engage in antler wrestling, sometimes sustaining serious injuries.

Sunrise Elk herd

Rocky Mountain Elk Photo. A Fine Art Limited Edition of 200 Prints.

Bulls have a loud, high-pitched, whistle-like vocalization known as bugling, which advertise the male's fitness over great distances. Unusual for a vocalization produced by a large animal, buglings can reach a frequency of 4000 Hz. This is achieved by blowing air from the glottis through the nasal cavities. Elk can produce deeper pitched (150 Hz) sounds using the larynx Cows produce an alarm bark to alert other members of the herd to danger, while calves will produce a high-pitched scream when attacked.

Rocky Mountain Elk Photo. Photo © copyright by Jess Lee.


Rocky Mountain Elk Photo. © copyright by Jess Lee.

Elk wintering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after migrating there during the fall

As is true for many species of deer, especially those in mountainous regions, elk migrate into areas of higher altitude in the spring, following the retreating snows, and the opposite direction in the fall. Hunting pressure impacts migration and movement. During the winter, they favor wooded areas for the greater availability of food to eat. Elk do not appear to benefit from thermal cover. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem elk herds comprise as many as 40,000 individuals. During the spring and fall, they take part in the longest elk migration in the continental U.S., traveling as much as 168 mi between summer and winter ranges. The Teton herd consists of between 9,000 and 13,000 elk and they spend winters on the National Elk Refuge, having migrated south from the southern portions of Yellowstone National Park and west from the Shoshone and Bridger–Teton National Forests.

Predators and defensive tactics

Winter Wolf in the Snow white
White wolf feeding on elk

Single bull elk in winter are vulnerable to predation by wolves.

Predators of elk include wolves, coyotes, brown and black bears, cougars, and Siberian tigers. Coyote packs mostly prey on elk calves, though they can sometimes take a winter- or disease-weakened adult. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone National Park, bears are the most significant predators of calves while healthy bulls have never been recorded to be killed by bears and such encounters can be fatal for bears. The killing of cows in their prime is more likely to affect population growth than the killing of bulls or calves.

Elk may avoid predation by switching from grazing to browsing. Grazing puts an elk in the compromising situation of being in an open area with its head down, leaving it unable to see what is going on in the surrounding area. Living in groups also lessens the risk of an individual falling to predation. Large bull elk are less vulnerable and can afford to wander alone, while cows stay in larger groups for protection for their calves.Bulls are more vulnerable to predation by wolves in late winter, after they have been weakened by months of chasing females and fighting.Males that have recently lost their antlers are more likely to be preyed upon.

The elk ranges from central Asia though to Siberia and east Asia and in North America. They can be found in open deciduous woodlands, boreal forests, upland moors, mountainous areas and grasslands. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) list the species as least-concern species. The habitat of Siberian elk in Asia is similar to that of the Rocky Mountain subspecies in North America. During the Late Pleistocene their range was much more extensive, being distributed across Eurasia, with remains being found as far west as France. These populations are most closely related to modern Asian populations of the elk. Their range collapsed at the start of the Holocene, possibly because they were specialized to cold periglacial tundra-steppe habitat. When this environment was replaced largely by closed forest the red deer might have outcompeted the elk. Relictual populations survived into the early Holocene (until around 3000 years ago) in southern Sweden and the Alps, where the environment remained favorable.

Introductions and reintroductions

The Rocky Mountain elk subspecies was reintroduced by hunter-conservation organizations in the Appalachian region of the eastern U.S., where the now extinct eastern elk once lived. Since the late 1990s, elk were reintroduced and recolonized in the states of Wisconsin, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia. In the state of Kentucky, the elk population in 2022 had increased to over 15,000 animals. In 2016, a male elk, likely from the Smoky Mountains population, was sighted in South Carolina for the first time in nearly 300 years. Since 2015, elk have also been reintroduced in a number of other states, including Pennsylvania, Missouri, and introduced to the islands of Etolin and Afognak in Alaska. Elk were reintroduced in Michigan in 1918 after going extinct in 1875. Reintroduction of the elk into Ontario began in the early 20th century and is ongoing with limited success. As of 2014, population figures for all North American subspecies are around one million. Prior to the European colonization of North America, there were an estimated 10 million elk on the continent.

Elk and red deer were introduced to Argentina in the early 20th century. There they are now considered an invasive species, encroaching on Argentinian ecosystems where they compete for food with the indigenous Chilean huemul and other herbivores. This negative impact on native animal species has led the IUCN to identify the elk as one of the world's 100 worst invaders.

The introduction of deer to New Zealand began in the middle of the 19th century, and current populations are primarily European red deer, with only 15 percent being elk. There is significant hybridization of elk with red deer. These deer have had an adverse impact on forest regeneration of some plant species, as they consume more palatable species, which are replaced with those that are less favored by the elk. The long-term impact will be an alteration of the types of plants and trees found, and in other animal and plant species dependent upon them. As in Chile and Argentina, the IUCN has declared that red deer and elk populations in New Zealand are an invasive species.