Elk Hunting Vs. Deer Hunting: 3 Major Differences

Fact checked by Steven Lines, lifelong Hunter, and OutdoorsmanOpens in a new tab..

Experienced hunters would agree that it’s much easier to hunt a deer than bigger bulls like elk. However, you will catch a bigger bull if you develop specific skills and learn about the significant difference between elk and deer hunting. 

The major differences between elk and deer hunting are locations where you can find those animals, different scouting ways and approaches to find the animals, and the size of the gear you will need for meat storage. Those animals are very different in weight and size.

Understanding the major differences between elk and deer hunting is important, as it will help you choose the right equipment.

Whether you’re hunting on elk or deer, you need to make sure you’re wearing the finest gear that will keep you camouflaged and comfortable throughout the whole hunting and stalking of the prey.

Elk hunting vs deer hunting

Elk Hunting 

Many guides recommend getting in good physical shape before hunting, as it can be quite challenging. Also, it would be better if you give yourself some time to acclimate to the area’s altitude before your hunt. Hunting on elk if you’re out of shape will be brutal, as you need to sit still for a long time or walk long distances.

As a professional hunter Rob Phillips saysOpens in a new tab.: “Elk season is the most common time that we see disputes over who killed an elk — that is also an indication of how important folks see the prize.” This shows that killing an elkOpens in a new tab. means a lot more than killing any other animal for hunters. 

Elk seem to be more appealing to the hunters due to their meat. However, you need to be prepared that the elk country is huge; that’s why you need to be comfortable negotiating it to get to where elk live.

If you’re hunting on foot, it’s essential to think of your hunt’s location. You need to prepare a detailed plan of the area and choose the best place with the highest chance of facing elk. 

When going on a hunt, you must be ready to pack the meat. It would help if you did not go to the remote areas, where you’ll have to cover long distances to get to the needed area. A large elk can weigh up to a thousand pounds, and leaving your prize behind is not an option. You need to pack out the meat and take it. It’s also illegal to leave a killed animal behind.

It’s important to keep the wind in your face; that’s why you need to circle the herd. Elk rely more on their smell senses rather than on hearing. 

You should also use scent-masking gear if you’re in a windy area. The specialized gear also plays a great role in the success of the hunting party.

Usually, you will be approaching an elk from a distance; that’s why it’s good if it’s windy, as it helps cover up the sounds you make. 

Deer Hunting 

There are two ways of deer hunting. They are called stand-hunting and still-hunting. These are the most common ways that many hunters use to hunt a deer. Stand-hunting means the hunter stands or sits and waits for their prey. Still-hunting is when a hunter quietly sneaks up on the deer. The hunter stalks the deer and then kills it.

For many hunters, deer hunting is usually recreational. Deer are not very big and easier to stalk and kill. People enjoy the woods and appreciate nature during the deer hunt; it doesn’t matter if the hunter catches the deer. 

When it comes to elk, hunters usually place greater importance on hunting. Elk hunting is a serious matter that requires intense preparation and planning. Elk are bigger with massive antlers. They are also often regarded as better to eat than deer. 

Depending on location, hunters treat deer differently, meaning deer are perceived as great prey and valuable in some places. In contrast, there are bigger animals from the deer family in the area in other hunting places. 

Differences Between Elk Hunting And Deer Hunting

It’s a known fact that elk are from the deer family. They are one of the largest deer species and one of the largest land mammals in North America. Deer and elk have differences in lifestyle and the amount of meat you can get from the prey. It’s important to identify those differences so that you can make a great plan for your next hunt.

Elk hunting is more complex than deer hunting, as you don’t know for sure if the hunt will be successful. The opportunities are random and mostly depend on luck and preparation. Deer and elk hunting require different approaches due to elk and deer’s behavioral and biological differences. 

Different Places For Hunting

The key thing to know about these animals is that they have different lifestyles. Deer are browsers, while elk are grazers. This means that you need to hunt them in different places. It would be best to look for deer in the forests and elk in the open meadows and woodlands. 

Deer can be around a square mile, while elk can cover larger territories. That’s why you need to plan your hunting area. Elk travels in large herds that can sometimes consist of hundreds of individuals. This makes it hard to identify their tracks, unlike deer, which rarely form large herds. 

Deer can also form groups. In this case, it can be even easier to hunt deer when you spook the herd. When deer get scared, they will go off on their own, and the hunters can hunt deer one-on-one. 

Regarding elk, the whole herd will take off when you spook a lead elk. Even when one elk is wounded, the herd stays grouped. They can start to run randomly, but hunters can use the chance to break up a herd and then kill one or two elk.

The hunters usually aim for the lead elk or the dominant bull in the herd. This way, they can confuse the herd and allow more opportunities for hunting. During the hunting party, it helps to harvest these animals. 

You can look for your prey by following the tracks. Deer tracks are smaller (usually four inches long) than Opens in a new tab.elk ones. And elk tracks are more rounded, while deer tracks are sharp and pointy. Due to the elk weight, the tracks can be more pressed into the ground than deer tracks.

Different Scouting Ways 

Here the main focus is finding the right tracks that will lead you to the animals you’re hunting. As mentioned above, deer and elk tracks are different in size and shape. Also, it is good to know that you will need to spend more time scouting elk, as it’s much harder to locate and find a herd of them. 

Elk hunting requires more patience and planning, while deer hunting can be easier and faster. You can hurry up a tree and wait for a deer to come, while elk hunting requires trekking miles over rough territories. 

Another interesting fact about elk is that they tend to rely more on their sense of smell than on hearing abilities. That’s why it’s recommended to wear scent-masking gear during your elk hunt. 

Also, hunting elk will be much easier if you’ve previously hunted deer. Deer hunting gives a solid basic understanding of how to use tracks and droppings to search the deer. You already know what deer tracks look like and how to find them in the wild. Elk tracks are similar but bigger. 

If you already have experience in deer hunting, you will not have problems with elk hunting. It would be best if you were much more prepared than you’re used to for deer hunting.

Preparation For Meat Storage Requires Different Size Freezers

If you get lucky and kill elk, you will need a bigger freezer to store the meat than to keep deer meat. You usually get around 50 pounds of meat from a deer, while elk can have hundreds of pounds. You can get from 30 to 60 pounds of boneless meat from one deer, while elk can provide from 100 to 300 pounds.  

It’s illegal to leave killed elk behind. That’s why you need to make sure you’re prepared and well-equipped. There is also much more work required for harvesting elk meat than deer. However, all preparations and challenges that come with elk hunting are worth it if you get lucky enough to kill elk.

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Bestseller No. 3
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Last update on 2024-04-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Steven Lines hunter pic 1

Steven Lines is a hunter and outdoorsman from Safford, Arizona, USA. Since he was a child, he has been hunting and fishing and has over 20 years of outdoor experience. Steven works as a hunting guide in Arizona during his spare time and runs a Youtube channelOpens in a new tab. dedicated to sharing his outdoor adventures with others.


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Hi, I'm Sam! I used to work as a caregiver, and now I'm in medical school. My blog is about helping people get healthier through fun activities like archery, hunting, and powerlifting. If you like one of my articles, please share it with your friends and family so they can be healthy too!

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