When you use the term “largest elk” it depends if you are measuring its weight or the size of its rack. Avid hunters are more concerned with the size of the elk’s rack (antlers) and have developed a precise system for scoring the width, number of points and overall size of an elk’s antlers. If you are more interested in how big elk get, weight wise, then the rack might be less important.
Elk are one of the largest species of deer, smaller than only moose. They can be found in most of North America and parts of Asia. Yet, just how big can elk get? We dive into the largest types of elk and how big the largest elk ever was!
The types of elk: Exploring the 10 subspecies
In North America there are 6 subspecies of elk: Eastern, American (Rocky Mountain), Roosevelt, Tule, Manitoban and Merriam’s. Of these six, only three can be hunted. Although most elk are categorized as “least concerned” according to the IUCN, two of these subspecies are now extinct; the Merriam elk which once populated areas of Arizona and New Mexico, is now, unfortunately, extinct and the Eastern elk used to live in the northeastern United States and parts of southern Canada, but has been extinct since 1877. Conservationists and hunting clubs are very conscious of keeping the elk population under balance so that other subspecies do not disappear.
There are four subspecies of Asian elk as well, with the name “wapiti” used in place of elk, there are the Altai wapiti, Tianshan wapiti, Manchurian wapiti and Alashan wapiti. These can be found in China, Mongolia and Siberia and are not endangered at this time. Looking at all the subspecies of elk let’s take a look at which ones are the largest (by weight) and secondly let’s take a look at the largest elk by hunting standards and the largest scored elk (by antler rack size) ever in the world!
Alashan wapiti (elk) are the smallest elk subspecies
The smallest subspecies of elk is the Alashan wapiti which is one of the Asian elks. In general, the Asian elks are a smaller breed than the North American elk. There has not been a significant amount of research done on the Alashan wapiti but they are the smallest elk subspecies by weight and by antler size.
American (Rocky Mountain) elk are the second largest elk
The American elk are the most populous elk and can be found west of the Mississippi with the largest herd of elk living together in Colorado. Elk’s live in groups with the females and males congregating seperately except during mating season. The herd in Colorado is numbered at 30,000 or more! As for size, a male American elk can grow to be 800lbs with the females, or cows, being closer to 450-500lbs. If you were standing next to an elk they would be 4-5 feet tall at the shoulder, but if you kept looking up you would see the antlers extending an additional 4 feet! You would also know you are standing next to a male elk because only males have antlers.
Roosevelt’s elks are the largest elk
The largest elk in the world is the Roosevelt’s elk which can be found in the northwestern United States in Washington and Oregon, and parts of British Columbia. These elk can grow to be 1,200lbs and stand 5ft tall at the shoulder!
World Record for Largest Roosevelt Elk
Roosevelt elk are the biggest by body mass but not always by the size of their rack. But a hunter from British Columbia managed to get the largest Roosevelt elk by antler score back in 2015. Rick Bailey meets the definition of beginner’s luck. On his first elk hunt, on day two, he shot a 9×9 (having 9 points on each antler) elk with a score of 419 6/8ths. That record stands to date as the Roosevelt Elk World Record by Boone & Crocket.
What makes a “good catch” in elk hunting
If you are hunting deer you may be most concerned with the number of points on the buck, if you are looking for an award winning moose you would want one that has the widest rack, for elk there is a system of measurements, including the distance between points and the circumference of the antlers, that can be added together to find a score to compare to other elk. There are also two governing bodies that monitor the record keeping. The Boone & Crockett club monitors all elk, regardless of how they were killed, while the Pope & Young club monitors the record-breaking elk shot by bow and arrow.
There are also records for typical and non-typical elk. There are more specific guidelines that can be found on their website but the overview of the differences is that if you look at a pair of elk antlers a typical set would be relatively symmetrical and have 6 points. Elk that have one antler with an irregular shape or have 8 points on one side and 6 an another, for example, may be categorized as non-typical. Let’s take a look at some of the world’s largest elk!
World record for Largest Tule Elk
Elk are also categorized by their subspecies. The largest tule elk ever was not shot by bow and arrow or by a gun, but it was found already dead on the land of Jeff Lopeteguy. Jeff had a ranch in Glenn County, California and the land was frequented by tule deer. He had the rack measured and landed the title from Boone & Crocket as the Tule Elk World Record with a score of 379.
World Record for Largest Typical elk (bow and arrow)
Stephan Felix was an EMT that went for a hunt on public hunting land in Montana. On his first day out he found an enormous bull and was able to take it down with his bow. It ended up having a typical rack and after all the measurements landed on a score of 430 0/8ths to break the record. The largest ever recorded by the Pope & Young club.
World Record for Largest Typical elk (any means)
You have probably heard some crazy stories about “the fish that got away”, but the story about the Largest Typical elk has a unique twist to it too. In 1968, Alonzo Winter shot a large bull in the mountains in Arizona. He was proud of his catch but was content with sharing his story with friends and family and then hanging the rack in his garage…for thirty years! Turns out this was the world record largest rack but wasn’t officially measured until 1995 by an antler buyer, Allan Ellsworth who found it being transported by Alonzo’s sister. Allan bought the antlers and then had them officially given a fair-chase affidavit and measured with a score of 442 5/8ths!
World Record for Largest Non-Typical American Elk (bow and arrow)
The most recent record was broken back on March 20, 2021. A hunter named Shawn O’Shea from Alberta, Canada now holds the record from Pope & Young for the Largest Non-Typical Elk which he got with a bow and arrow. He had first noticed this particular bull on trail cameras back in 2017 and had been keeping an eye out for it year after year until September 202 when he finally found it. It paid off because the elk he got is the new record holder with a score of 449 4/8ths!
World Record for Largest Non-Typical Elk (any means)
The Boone & Crockett club shares the story of an elk named “Spider Bull”. This was a legendary elk that many had heard of and wished they could land, but it wasn’t until 2008 that someone finally got the bull. A hunter named Denny Austad went to extreme measures to get this bull, he bought a six-figure government tag and hired a professional guide to track the bull. After a second hunting trip, Austad was able to get within 180 yards and nailed the shot. When the elk was officially measured it did not disappoint and stands as the is the largest elk in the world with a score of 478 5/8ths!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ghost Bear/Shutterstock.com
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