Elk vs. Deer Comparison: Size, Habitat, Meat & Main Differences

Male deer and elk split screen
Elk vs. Deer

People often lump elk vs deer meat into the same category: venison.

We aren’t fans of that grouping because elk and deer are not only different creatures, they also taste quite different as well. So, for the sake of this article, we’re going to call deer meat ‘venison’ and elk meat, well, elk meat.

But first, let’s take a look at how each animal compares by comparing their appearance, habitat, what they eat, and how hunters adapt to catch each one.

All About Elk

An elk looks off into the distance in a sunny field
All About Elk

What do Elk Look Like?

Elk are members of the deer family as are moose. An adult elk bull (male) typically reaches 800 pounds and larger animals can tip the scales at over 1,100 pounds. They can grow up to five feet at the shoulder and are a much more physically imposing animal than the deer.

Their antlers, most prominent during summer, are sharp, pointed, and softer to the touch than deer antlers.

Where Elk Can be Found

In the US, you’ll find large populations of elk in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico. Other states have elk as well, but in much smaller numbers.

Internationally, significant populations of elk can be found in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Russia, China, Mongolia, and sporadically throughout Eastern Asia.

An Elk’s Typical Diet

Elk roam areas as large as 500 square miles. They constantly graze on grasses and foibles (weeds), and typically eat three pounds for every 100 pounds that the animal weighs. That’s a whole lot of grazing. 

An elk’s natural habit typically makes it much more difficult to hunt than deer. Elk usually live in rugged mountain meadows, coastal forests, and open woodlands. Because of where they live, elk are harder to track and much trickier to hunt than deer.

When hunting elk, you’ll need to cover a lot of ground. 

What does Elk Meat Taste Like?

Elk meat is widely considered the better-tasting, less-gamey meat to venison. Sure, wild elk still does have a hint of gamey flavor, and that’s largely due to its diet. Bark has a way of fouling the taste of meat. Plus, fat stores gamey flavor, which elk have very little of. 

When farm-raised by high-quality ranchers and farmers, elk meat loses its gamey flavor because ranchers only feed their elk food that contributes to good-tasting meat. What you’ll discover is that elk meat has a subtly sweet and savory flavor. This flavor profile makes it an excellent replacement for beef or pork and is far healthier in comparison, with higher levels of protein and vitamins.

All About Deer

Whitetail deer with foggy hills in the background
All About Deer

What do Deer Look Like?

Deer are the smaller, more agile, and more prevalent cousin to elk. They rarely weigh above 300 pounds and have sharp, pointed antlers that are similar to that of the elk, but are more solid and firm to the touch when fully matured.

Where Deer Can be Found

Deer can be found in all 50 US states, and live in less-rugged environments including prairies, deserts, and grasslands. Outside of the US, deer populations are robust. Deer are widespread and can be found inhabiting every single continent, aside from Antarctica, of course.

A Deer’s Typical Diet

Compared to elk, adult deer only cover about two square miles of land each and spend their days looking for more nutrient-dense foods like the tips of shrubs and trees. We classify deer as browsers because they have a specific diet they prefer — they don’t just fill their stomachs with grass, as elk do.

What does Deer Meat Taste Like?

Venison tastes gamier than elk meat and is generally viewed as the less-favorable meat. Venison contains more fat, which lends to a strong, intense, and earthy flavor. Deer’s high-fat content isn’t necessarily a good thing taste-wise, which is why most hunters prefer the taste of elk instead.

Further, substituting deer meat in beef or pork recipes is not as simple as a 1:1 exchange as it is with elk. Instead, look for recipes that are specifically suited to the strong taste profile of venison.

Both venison and elk meat have a place on our table, but, if you’re looking to get into eating game meat for the first time, we recommend trying elk first. It has far less of a learning curve and you can substitute it directly into many of the beef and pork recipes you already know and love.

Final Thoughts: Elk vs Deer

By now, we hope that you have a good idea about the differences between elk vs deer – where they live, what they eat, and ultimately how they taste.

Visit one of our fine suppliers to put elk on the dinner table for you, your family, and friends.

More Info About Elk

Last Updated on July 24, 2023

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