Do Elks Fight? (How and Why They Fight?)

Fighting between members of the same species is almost universal among animals. No matter what kind of animal, from vertebrates to non-vertebrates, almost everyone fights for their survival. 

The same is true for elk, who engage in fights mainly to show dominance, find mates, and continue their bloodlines. Of course, it has nuances, and we, here in Floofmania, want to help you discover more about the elk’s fighting behavior.  

Two elk jousting in the tall grass with the edge of the woods behind them.

Are Elk Very Aggressive?

Unlike most animals in the wild, elks are not very aggressive. Although bulls (male elk) actively defend their territory from anything or anyone that dares come too close, elk only show aggression when provoked. 

But while they aren’t generally aggressive, it is still important to take note of times when elk can become dangerous. There are two periods of the year when elk can become especially temperamental.  

PeriodWhat happens in this period? 
Late spring/early summerThis is the cows’ (female elk’s) calving season. Cows are expected to be aggressive as they are extremely protective of their newborn calves.
FallThis is the elk’s mating season, occurring from mid-September to late October. During this period, bulls aggressively protect their harems from threats like their fellow bulls, humans, and other animals. Fights among elks are common during this season as bulls actively seek female mates.

It is recommended that you stay vigilant and be extra careful when exploring areas near elk habitats, especially during the calving and mating seasons. 

Do Elk Fight Each Other?

Every season, elk fight with each other. Most are minor fights where injuries are rare. Their most active fights only happen during the rut, which is the elks’ breeding season.

The rut takes place during the fall, around mid-September to late October. And even during intense challenges for dominance, the bulls aren’t intentionally trying to injure each other as they consider conserving energy for the winter ahead.

During this period, the bulls become very physical with each other because they want to display their dominance and attract cows to be their mates. But that’s just it, folks. Fighting among elks isn’t meant to be a battle to the death. It is meant to be a show of strength.

But even if this is the case, injuries are quite unavoidable. After fights, mature bulls usually show signs of injury and scarring, which commonly result from the tight locking of antlers during the match. 

Why Do Elk Fight?

While elk, especially bulls, are protective of their territory and harems, they will not attack without reason. They are generally reactive and not offensive, so they won’t act unless provoked. Among the reasons why elk fight are:  

  • To earn the right to mate. As was previously mentioned, during mating season, elk fight to attract the best mates and gain control of a group of cow elk known as the harem. They engage in a fight using their antlers. During this fight, they demonstrate their strength and superiority, which can entice cows and scare away weaker bulls. 
  • To protect their young. Just like most mothers, protecting their young is always the cow’s primary instinct. Since their young, called calves, are defenseless for the first three weeks of their lives, cow elk become overly protective of them. This means that any perceived threats are taken seriously, and if any elk try to threaten a calf, an aggressive kick from the mother is expected. This leads to fights between cow elks and other elks.  

Do Elk Fight Over Mates?

Staking their claim for female companionship is the main reason why bulls fight with each other. This is common during rutting when male elk lock antlers in a powerful display of dominance to fight off weaker bulls. The bull that wins the fight gains the right to mate with the most enticing cow they desire. 

Aside from fighting with their antlers, bulls also try to show their dominance while looking for a mate by using the distinctive sound they produce. This sound is known as the bugle. 

The bugle, like the human voice, varies individually. The older, more mature bulls bugle louder than their younger rivals. This makes it possible for older bulls to easily scare the younger ones away.

Having a powerful-sounding bugle also helps bulls make themselves appear bigger, stronger, and more attractive to prospective mates. 

Sounds like a dramatic romantic-action movie, right? All of that is happening just to find a mate. Imagine!

How Do Elk Fight?

When elks fight, it usually starts with two bulls approaching each other and turning sideways to show off their size and their antlers. They also bugle to demonstrate pride and rub their antlers on trees, shrubs, and the ground to intimidate their opponent. 

After what seems to be their warmup, one of the bulls will put its head down and turn toward the other, ready to fight. And without further ado, they will rush towards each other. Both will use their antlers to strike in a forward-downward arc direction. Within a few seconds, their antlers will clash and be locked together.

From here, the bulls will shove each other as strongly as they can. The fight continues until one bull bows out of the competition.

The first one to bow out is obviously the loser. The strong survive and win the right to reproduce and pass on their genes. Through this, it is ensured that the future population of elk will be strong and healthy, as they come from the strongest bloodlines. 

Do Elk Use Their Antlers When Fighting?

Elks’ antlers serve as their primary weapon during a fight. Antlers are extraordinarily tough and are effective tools for attracting mates and intimidating rivals.

All of the elks’ fights revolve around two opponents attacking each other using their antlers. You won’t see bulls fighting without using their antlers. Thus, having larger antlers is an advantage in trying to win the fight.

To elk jousting with their antlers locked against one another.

Do Elk Warn Other Elk, Or Attack Directly? 

Elks do not send a direct signal to warn their opponent when starting a fight. In what seems to be their warm-up before a fight, elk will attempt to show dominance by bugling and rubbing their antlers on trees or the ground. 

After that, one of the bulls will put its head down. That gesture may already be interpreted as a sign that a fight is about to start and that the opponent should be ready because an attack will be on its way anytime soon.  

Are Elk Fights Fatal, Or Do They Usually Back Down?

Elk’s fights rarely result in serious injuries or deaths. Although fights become intense, elk will not fight aggressively to the point that they seriously injure their opponents. In fact, once an underdog feels that they are about to lose the fight, they back down and run away from the battlefield.

Since most fights happen during the fall, elk seriously try to avoid injuries and make sure that they don’t exhaust their energy in preparation for the winter ahead. Elks will need as much energy as they can to adapt to the harsher temperatures during winter, so getting injured isn’t an option for them.

Of course, there may also be instances when fights become fatal. But that’s quite a rare occurrence in the elks’ kingdom.

What Happens To The Loser Of The Fight?

After a fight, the loser will just run away without much injury. However, since the usual purpose of the fight is to find a mate, losing means that the bull loses his right to mate with the cows

With this, the loser bull will have to wait for another rutting season to come to gain the opportunity to once again find a mate.  

Do Only Male Elk Fight?

While the most common elk fights happen between the bulls, there are also some less known and seen female matches that cows participate in. 

Fighting over point-food sources like mineral licks is a constant theme in these conflicts. A mineral lick is a place where animals can go to lick essential mineral nutrients from a deposit of salts and other minerals.

Curious about what a cow’s fight looks like? See this:

Will Elk Fight For Fun?

Fighting for fun isn’t a thing among adult elk. Elks are more competitive than playful. So, their fights aren’t born out of the thrill of playing around but of the need to assert dominance. 

Elks have different ways to assert dominance, the most common of which is by butting heads or chasing one another. And again, fighting can deplete energy. Doing so in a playful manner isn’t really the best way to conserve the energy the elk needs. 

Do Juvenile Elk Play Fight? 

Sparring or playful fighting is common among young bulls as they prepare for the rut. They usually have mock battles inside a forest where the prize is bragging rights over a muddy waterhole. 

Since they do not have any antlers yet, they can only afford to have cautious, lighthearted sparring. But at times, during sparring, elk act like they already have antlers as they put their heads down and try to attack in a forward manner. This is similar to the movement made by adult bulls when they fight. 

Young bulls only become a little more aggressive as the summer progresses and their antlers get closer to being fully developed. But while that isn’t happening yet, the young bulls are pretty much just learning the trade. 

How Do Elk Protect Their Young?

The protection of young elks (calves) is exclusively done by female elk (cows). Bulls do not contribute anything to caring for and protecting their young. 

As mothers, cows are extremely protective of their calves. They protect the calves by hiding them in a secluded area such as brush and shrubs during their first 2 to 3 weeks.

In hiding, the calves eat, sleep, and gain strength, which they need to join the herds. After joining the herd, cows continue to nurse and protect their young through their first year of life.

With predators always just a step away, the cows also try to remove odors that can easily attract predators.

One of the easily recognizable smells is that of the birthing place, so the cow removes it by consuming the placenta and birth membranes, as well as the dirt and vegetation that were soaked in birth fluids. The cow also ingests its calves’ urine and feces to protect them. 

Are Elk Moms Extra Aggressive? 

Although elk moms are extremely protective of their young, they are generally non-aggressive unless their calves are threatened. 

If there is an evident threat, a cow elk, in defense of her young, will use her front hooves to strike at the threat. Without raising the hind legs or even while running swiftly, she will quickly rise a little and strike downward with a front hoof. This is a very effective attack and is dangerous for the opponent as she can deliver a powerful blow. 

Even we, humans, are not safe from these possible attacks, especially when the cows perceive us as a threat. Thus, the best thing to do is to avoid getting too close to them.

Why Would Other Elk Attack Juvenile Elk?

A fully-grown elk attacking a juvenile elk is rare in the elk kingdom. And elk, being the reactive animals that they are, will only attack juvenile elks (around 1.5 to 2 years old) when they see them blending into their harems and trying to mate with any of the cows in the harem. 

Can Juvenile Elk Protect Themselves?

Although they do not have their antlers yet, juvenile elk can protect themselves. When faced with a predator, the juvenile elk will stand its ground and attack the predator using its front hooves. Because hooves are made of multiple layers of keratin, they are strong enough to deal a significant blow to the opponent. 

Despite this capacity, it is rare for juvenile elks to just go around protecting themselves because their mothers always ensure that their young are staying with them in the herd.

Author: Clarisse Jane Javier

Hello, there! I’m CJ, and I’ve been writing since primary school. I love to write about a variety of topics, from pets to the arts. I have had an endless fascination for animals since I was a kid. Until today, I always looked forward to learning more about the diverse species we have on Earth.

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