Elk Distribution

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Various subspecies of the American elk inhabited virtually the entire North American continent from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans and from Mexico to Alaska.

Extinct Subspecies

The Eastern elk subspecies was found in all the states east of and including Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. This subspecies was exterminated by the late 1800s by commercial meat and hide market hunters and settlers.

The Manitoban elk was once found throughout the Midwestern states of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, through the eastern half of Montana, Wyoming and then north into the Canadian prairie provinces.


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The Manitoban elk had smaller antlers than today’s Rocky Mountain elk, though its body mass was larger. Uncontrolled market hunting sent this subspecies into virtual extinction by 1900, though some scientists believe there is evidence to indicate the Manitoban elk may have bred with today’s Rocky Mountain elk.

The Merriam elk inhabited the arid land of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Uncontrolled hunting and cattle grazing sent the Merriam elk into extinction by 1906.

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Today’s Elk


The Tule elk inhabited the coastal marshes of California. A mature Tule elk weighs only about 550 pounds. Its antlers are much smaller and more scraggy looking than a Rocky Mountain elk’s. by 1875, this subspecies was on the verge of extinction, but a local rancher took an interest in the Tule elk and protected the animals on his property.

Today, there is a small but growing Tule elk herd in California, and very limited hunting is now allowed to eliminate surplus animals because local ranchers and farmers and generally intolerant of encroachment on their croplands by the Tule elk.

The Rocky Mountain elk, also known as the Yellowstone elk, inhabited the mountainous regions of the West. This rugged terrain saved the species from extinction by market hunters in the late 1800s, and these elk eventually became the seed crop that biologists used to reintroduce the elk back into many of its former haunts.


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The Roosevelt elk inhabited the dense coastal rain forests of California, Oregon, Washington and Canada. The dense rain forests protected the Roosevelt elk from the onslaught of market hunters in the 1800s, and this species is now thriving in much of its historic habitat.


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In states such as Oregon and Washington, and in British Columbia, where both the Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk exist, scientists generally use the Cascade Mountain Range, running north and sound inside the coastline about 40 miles, as the split point between the two species. Any elk living on the rainy west side of the Cascades is a Roosevelt elk, while the elk on the east side of the Cascades are Rocky Mountain elk.


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