Difference between Deer and Elk

Published on December 20, 2016

If you have gone trekking in North America or in Europe, you have probably come across deer and elk or their tracks.

The deer family, or scientifically known as Cervidae, include elk and deer which means they are somewhat related. Although they have many similarities, both species have differences as well. This article will distinguish the two.


Deer vs Elk
Deer are small and light

Deer is a general term that refers to Cervidae – or the deer family – which includes elk, moose, and white-tailed deer. It is also commonly used when specifically talking about the white-tailed deer.

The white-tailed deer are the smallest species of the Cervidae family. They usually wander in forests, deserts and prairies, savannas. They can weigh 100 to 300 pounds and can reach 3 to 4 feet in height upon maturity. Their coats show a hint of red during the summer which turns to gray in the winter. They rarely make a sound but if they do, it is usually just a faint cry. Only males grow antlers.

Elk have thick coats around the neck area especially during winter

On the other hand, an elk is a type of deer or Cervidae. Elk are usually found in mountainous forests and grasslands. Males are particularly huge and can reach 9 feet in height when their antlers are taken into account and they can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Females are also large, and they grow antlers as well as males. Females typically don’t weigh more than 500 pounds. In the winter, elk develop a shaggy thick brown coat. Males have a distinct thicker coat around the neck area.

To attract females, male elk make a very loud noise, called bugling. These sounds are so loud they can be heard from a mile away and are commonly heard in the early morning and late afternoon. Although they make this sound to signal mating, the sound can also mean distress.

Deer vs Elk

What, then, is the difference between elk and deer?

When it comes to size, deer (commonly known as the white-tailed deer) are smaller than elk. Deer typically weigh 100 to 300 pounds, while elk can reach up to 1,000 pounds. An adult deer can be 3 or 4 feet in height, while a fully mature elk can reach up to 9 feet including the height of its antlers.

Additionally, deer do not make loud noises. They make a high-pitched but faint sound. Elk are very vocal and can produce extremely loud sounds called bugling to signal mating and distress.

Elk are known for their thick brown coats which grow even thicker in the winter. Deer have thinner coats which are reddish.

It is also important to note that the term “deer” is a general term that covers the entire deer or Cervidae family but is also commonly used when specifically talking about the white-tailed deer. Therefore, an elk is a deer but a deer is not necessarily an elk.

Comparison Chart

Specifically refers to white-tailed deer but sometimes is used as the general term for the Cervidae familyA type of deer; member of the Cervidae family
Smaller in size; can reach up to 4 feet and can weigh up to 300 poundsBig animals; can be as tall as 9 feet including their antlers; can weigh up to 1,000 pounds
Reddish coatThick, shaggy, brown coat
Makes a high-pitched but faint soundProduces a very loud sound called bugling which signals mating or distress