Red Stag Vs Elk

Bull Elk bugling for does.
© Wesley Aston/Shutterstock.com

Written by Colby Maxwell

Updated: May 23, 2022

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Red stag and elk are often confused for one another, especially since they look so similar. Both of these animals are members of the Cervidae family, making them deer. Additionally, they both are among the largest deer in the world and have some of the widest ranges of any deer species. Although there is a lot of similarities between the red stag vs elk, let’s take a closer look at them to learn the differences between them.

Comparing a red stag and an elk

The main differences between a red stag and an elk are their size, coats, and range.
Red StagElk
Taxonomy and namingCervus elaphus, member of the deer family, often called a stag or hartCervus canadensis, member of the deer family, often referred to as wapiti (white rump)
SizeLength: can grow 98 inches from nose to tail
Weight: 350-530 lbs (can be much larger depending on subspecies)
Height: 51 inches to the shoulder
Length: 5ft 3in-8ft 10in
Weight: 377-1,300lbs
Height: 2ft 6in-5ft 6in
Neck maneMales grow neck manes during the autumnNeck mane present in all males and some females
CoatReddish-brown in color, occasional spots, grows and sheds winter coatsBrown, reddish-brown, white rumps, double coats for winter
Range and distributionEurope, North Africa, Iran, New Zealand (introduced), Australia (introduced), Argentina and Chile (introduced)North America, Central Asia, East Asia
Subspecies9 different subspecies14 sub-species

Key Differences Between a Red Stag and an Elk

The main differences between a red stag and an elk are their size and distribution.

Red stag and elk are incredibly close as a species, so close, in fact, that they can actually interbreed. Still, there are some differences that can help us set them apart and understand them better, together and individually.

The most notable difference is their size. Elk are much larger than the average red deer in size and pure mass. While there are some subspecies of red deer that come close (the central Asian red deer, for example), elk are generally larger. Aside from size, elk and red deer don’t share a common range: elk are found in North America, while red stags are found across Europe, North Africa, and some of the middle east. Both species have been introduced to various habitats around the world.

There are quite a few differences aside from size and range, however. Let’s explore them in more detail below.

Red Stag Vs Elk: Taxonomy and naming

Red Stag Vs Elk

Elk go by wapiti, a Native American word meaning “white rump”. Red stags can go by names like red deer, hinds, or just stags.

©Ghost Bear/Shutterstock.com

Red stag and elk go by a lot of names, all of which can help us to understand them. Scientifically, both carry “Cervus” in their name, denoting them as deer. Additionally, red stags can be referred to as red deer, hinds, or just stags. Their name comes from their coat, famous for its rusty red or reddish-brown color.

Elk are also deer and carry “Cervus” in their name. Additionally, elk are referred to as wapiti, or “white rump.” Wapiti is the name given to the elk by the Shawnee and Cree people that inhabited North America and hunted elk as an important resource.

Red Stag Vs Elk: Size

Red Stag Vs Elk

Elk are usually larger than red stags.

©Smudge 9000 (https://www.flickr.com/people/smudge9000/), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Although they can vary according to their subspecies, red deer are generally smaller than the average elk. Most red deer weigh between 350-530 lbs, making them much larger than the common white-tailed deer in North America. The largest subspecies of red deer live in the Carpathian mountains and are often referred to as Carpathian stags. They can weigh as much as 1,100 lbs.

Elk also vary in size according to location and subspecies, but they generally weigh between 377-1,300 lbs. Elk are the second largest species of deer, only behind moose. The largest subspecies of elk are known as Roosevelt elk and live in the Cascadian region of the United States (primarily California, Oregon, and Washington).

Red Stag Vs Elk: Neck mane

Red stag males are known for developing a neck mane during the autumn months of the year. This mane is ruddy brown, with the deer living in the British Isles having the thickest neck manes overall. Elk also have neck manes, only they are year-round. Elk manes are thick and darker than their normal fur. They are generally found on males, but some subspecies of elk have females with them as well.

Red Stag Vs Elk: Call

Perhaps one of the most distinctive differences between the two is their call. Red stags have a throaty “roar” that nearly sounds like a large bullfrog is right outside your window. Elk have a high-pitched call that sounds almost like a bugling trumpet. This difference was one of the first things that colonists noted when they discovered elk for the first time.

Red Stag Vs Elk: Coat

Red stags get their names from their coats. They are generally reddish-brown, and their summer coats will occasionally have spots on the back. Additionally, red stag grows a thicker winter coat, often with a lighter and greyer color.

Elk are brown and grey with dark brown manes. Like the red stag, elk also grow winter coats with a thick double layer for insulation.

Red Stag Vs Elk: Range and distribution

Red Stag Vs Elk

Elk live in North America and Asia, while red deer live in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

©Delbars/Shutterstock.com

Red stag can be found natively in almost all of Europe, North Africa, and into the middle east (notably, Iran). Additionally, they have been introduced into New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and North America. In many places, they have damaged local populations of deer, the South Andean deer in Argentina, as an example.

Elk are found in North America, Central Asia, and East Asia. Their numbers are highest in North America (with Colorado being the highest population in the world). They also live on the steppes of Central and East Asia, notably, the plateaus of Mongolia, southern Siberia, and the Altai and Tien Shan mountains.

Red Stag Vs Elk: Subspecies

Subspecies of red deer:

  • C. e. hippelaphus (Common red deer)
  • C. e. maral (Caspian red deer)
  • C. e. atlanticus (Norwegian red deer)
  • C. e. scoticus (Scottish red deer)
  • C. e. hispanicus (Spanish red deer)
  • C. e. italicus (Mesola red deer)
  • C. e. corsicanus (Corsican red deer)
  • C. e. barbarus (Barbary stag)
  • C. e. brauneri (Crimean red deer)

Subspecies of elk:

  • C. c. roosevelti (Roosevelt’s elk)
  • C. c. nannodes (Tule elk)
  • C. c. manitobensis (Manitoban elk)
  • C. c. nelsoni (Rocky Mountain elk)
  • C. c. canadensis (Eastern elk; extinct)
  • C. c. sibiricus (Altai wapiti)
  • C. c. songaricus (Tian Shan wapiti)
  • C. c. xanthopygus (Manchurian wapiti)
  • C. c. alashanicus (Alashan wapiti)


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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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