Elk Anatomy – Senses


Elk have acute olfactory nerves in their nostrils, making them very aware of the odors in their area. However, they have just average sight and hearing.


Elk have decent eyesight, and they do rely on their eyes to spot danger or identify nearby objects. However, elk are not long range wary, and predators can often move slowly a few hundred yards away without being detected by the elk simply because the elk’s natural defense is to search the immediate area ahead, instead of long distances.

Added to that is the fact that there are constantly moving forms in the natural world that are not a danger to an elk. A deer moving in the brush a hundred yards away may be watched for a few moments by an elk, but then dismissed as non-dangerous because its body language does not indicate a predator’s crouched stalk.


An elk has good hearing, but the natural world is full of noises. For instance, in the forested Rocky Mountains, the red squirrel begins chews pine nuts from branches high above the forest floor in the fall. The result is an avalanche of nuts bouncing off the forest floor. At times, this noise reaches a crescendo that makes it sound like many large animals are stomping through the woods.

The elk hears all these extraneous noises and subconsciously cancels them out, but the snap of a twig brings a feeding elk’s head up immediately to search for the source of that “unnatural” noise. It may be another elk, or a deer that stepped on a branch and broke it, but the elk will continue on alert, even walking forward to investigate, until it is satisfied that the source of that noise was not a danger.

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The elk’s longish dark brown snout is capped by a large black nose that is kept glistening wet by constant licking with the tongue. No doubt, this keeps the nerves in the nose area acute and allows maximum detection of odors.

Outdoors people who have spent many years among the elk have a saying that goes like this: “You can fool an elk’s eyes, and you can fool an elk’s ears, but you can’t fool an elk’s nose”.

Though an elk also relies on its ears and eyes to spot danger from predators, an elk is constantly hearing noises or seeing objects moving that may, or may not, be dangerous. However, a few molecules of the unique horrible scent carried by a mountain lion will put an elk on the run immediately.


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