Are Elk Territorial? (Ranges, Marking Territory, Defending Territory, and More!)

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Elk are often seen as docile creatures, especially since their relatives like the deer seem like calm animals. They often seem to remain within the same areas, which makes people wonder if elk are territorial. 

Elk are territorial animals that will gladly fight anyone that tries to challenge them. Elk also have multiple ways of marking their territory, such as raking trees and keeping their cows in tight herds while marking the surroundings with their scent.

Do you want to find out more about how elk fight for territory, how they mark their territory, and how big an elk’s territory is? We here at Floofmania have gathered all the answers for you!

Do Elk Fight For Territory?

Elks on a grass field in front of a pine forest. Some elk are grazing while others are lying in the grass.

Elk do fight for territory when the situation calls for it. Elk are not particular about the exact place that they have to protect, but rather the harem that they want to keep.

Elk can migrate around a given range, and protecting their territory usually refers to the space around their harem of female elk (cows) and young elk (calves).

Anyone that poses a threat or tries to take away the herd from the male elk (bull) will cause the elk to fight.

If you want to learn more about how elk reproduce, read our article called “All About Elk Reproduction, Mating, and Calves.”

How Do Elk Defend Their Territories?

If a bull faces another bull that wants to challenge its herd, it will lock antlers with each other and aggressively push each other until one wins. The battle usually ends when one elk unlocks antlers and runs away as seen in this video:

Elk are often found in large groups that can have over 400 elk. However, the herd is separated by gender, and the bulls will try to take smaller groups of cows to mate within the breeding season.

There is usually only one bull per group of elk whereas the rest of the 10-20 elk will be made up of cows and calves. As such, another bull will try to compete to mate with the herd. 

You can learn more about how elks fight by reading our related article, “Do Elks Fight?

Are Elk Aggressive Towards Humans?

Elk bull with large antlers walking in brown grass in front of a snow-clad mountain side with pine treees.

Elk can be aggressive towards humans if they think that the human will harm the rest of the herd.

For instance, elk have been known to run toward humans, especially after breeding season, and point their antlers at people to threaten them.

Additionally, elk are aggressive toward cars! It is likely because cars can accidentally harm elk or that the bull assumes that the car will also take its herd away like a competing bull.

Here is a video of an elk trying to get into a fight with a car:

You can find out more about elks and how they attack through our article, “Are Elk Dangerous?

How Big Is A Elk Territory?

The exact size of the territory for a single elk is unknown. However, we do know how that the average home range is huge.

A home range is an area where an animal would normally travel for food and shelter while a territory is a protected part of the home range. Bulls have an average home range of 63,000 acres whereas cows have around a 38,000-acre home range. 

As such, a home range is larger than a territory and elk will only protect their territory. Territories can also move within the home range depending on where the elk’s herd goes.

Do Elk Mark Their Territory? 

The bulls do mark their territory, and they do so by gathering the cows into tight groups while marking the surrounding area with scent and urine.

Uniquely, bulls also use their antlers to rub against trees, which will scrape off bark and tear off branches, this action is called raking. Not only is this a show of dominance, but it will also leave their scent on the trees.

Elk have an infra-orbital scent gland in a pocket in front of their eyes, and this gland releases a waxy musk. Raking is an effective way to leave their mark around their desired territory.

Elk will be picky about what trees they try to rake since they usually use trees that are only 6 feet tall or smaller. This is because older trees are harder to rake and sometimes already have a different elk scent on them.

Here is an example of what elk look like when they rake trees:

How Many Elk Live In A Herd?

The average elk herd will have at least 200 individuals in it, but some elk herds can have more than 400 members!

A large herd of elk seen from a distance on a grassy slope with rocks strewn out.

What State Has The Largest Herds Of Elk?

Colorado likely has the largest elk herd because Colorado has the largest population of elk. It is estimated that nearly 300,000 elk live in the state with the highest concentration of elk being in Routt National Forest.

Do Elk Ever Venture Out Of Their Territory?

Elk technically do not ever venture out of their territory because they are not true migratory animals.

Instead, elks have huge home ranges, and they will travel from different parts of that home range depending on the season. Typically, they will use the same routes as well.

For example, the elk in Colorado usually stay on the state’s south-facing slopes and at high elevations during milder winters. However, the elk will move to lower elevations, where it’s a bit warmer if the winter is too harsh for them.

You can learn more about how elk behave in the winter by checking out our other article, “Elk In The Winter.”

Author: Allison Marie Dinglasan

Hello! I am Allison, an avid writer for 6 years with a deep interest in animals since I was a child. I grew up on Animal Planet and animal books and often did rescue work for stray and sickly cats, dogs, and birds in my area, which led to over 60 rescues. My future goal is to be a veterinarian to have a more hands-on approach to helping and learning about animals!

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