Elk are also called wapiti, a Native American word that means "light-colored deer." Elk are related to deer but are much larger than most of their relatives. A bull elk's antlers may reach 4 feet above its head, so that the animal towers 9 feet tall. Bull elk lose their antlers each March, but they begin to grow them back in May in preparation for the late-summer breeding season. During the late summer breeding season the bugling of bull elk echoes through the mountains. These powerful animals strip the velvet off their new antlers using them in violent clashes that determine who gets to mate with whom. Males with the bigger antlers, typically older animals, usually win these battles and dominate small herds.
Elk range in color from dark brown in winter to tan in summer and have a characteristic buff colored rump. The head, neck, belly, and legs are darker than both the back and sides. A dark shaggy mane hangs from the neck to the chest. With a thick body, short tail and long slender legs, mature elk stand almost five feet high at the shoulder. Big bulls can weigh as much as 1000 pounds.