Watch an Injured Elk Outsmart a Grizzly Bear, Send It Tumbling, and Escape to a Nearby River

Written by Sharon Parry
Updated: March 22, 2023
© Mary Stample/
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Key Points:
  • Adult male elk can run at up to 40mph and jump 8 feet vertically.
  • Elks are excellent swimmers with lots of experience crossing swollen rivers during migration routes.
  • Bears can swim, although they aren’t great at it. Their bulk and dog-paddle swim style use up too much energy to sustain for long.

This is a fascinating, albeit half-hearted, attempt by a grizzly to bring down an injured elk that ultimately ends in failure. So, let’s analyze exactly what is going on in this short video.

Grizzlies Hunting Elk

Grizzly bears are opportunistic feeders and are fairly versatile when it comes to sourcing their meals. They are omnivores, and their digestion can cope with both plant and animal sources of nutrition. Most bears have a predominantly vegetarian diet. They like to snack on berries and fruits as well as shoots and roots. However, they do also need some meat in their diet, which can come from insects, small mammals, and fish. Bears will also occasionally tackle a larger animal, and this is what this grizzly is attempting to do.

Chasing down a fit adult elk would be a challenge for a grizzly as elk are large animals that can run fast. A calf or an ill or injured elk would be easier and would involve less effort from the bear. Despite the fact that this elk is injured (we are told that in the video notes), they still manage to keep running as the bear lunges at them. The elk has enough strength to drag the bear towards the river. This particular river is very fast flowing, and the bear makes a split-second decision to release the elk and climb back to the safety of the river bank.

elk running
Adult male elk can run at up to 40mph and jump 8 feet vertically.

©Agnieszka Bacal/

A Grizzly Bears Normal Diet

Grizzly bears are omnivorous, and their diet varies greatly depending on the season and availability of food sources. In summer months, grizzlies tend to forage for roots, berries, grasses, sedges, fungi, and insects, as well as scavenging carcasses left behind by other animals. During this time, they may also hunt smaller mammals such as ground squirrels or marmots.

In the fall, when salmon runs occur in coastal areas, grizzlies feed heavily on fish. While inland, they will preoccupy themselves with consuming nuts from pine cones or feeding on army cutworm moths or whitebark pine nuts.

When winter arrives, grizzlies switch to a more carnivorous diet which consists mainly of elk calves but can also include deer fawns and moose calves if available in their environment. While hunting larger prey is not common among grizzlies, it does occasionally happen when there is an abundance of meat sources around them during certain times of the year, particularly springtime when ungulates have just given birth to young ones.

What Do Grizzly Bears Eat
Grizzly bears are opportunistic feeders and will eat any plant, fruit, fish or animals that they can catch.

Grizzlies and Elk as Swimmers

It’s interesting to watch the decisions that these two animals make. Adult male elk can run at up to 40mph and jump 8 feet vertically. Brown bears are one of their main predators, and elk use their athleticism to try to evade this threat. Elks are also excellent swimmers. They have hollow hairs and body fat that insulates them from cold waters. Their migration routes often require them to cross swollen rivers, which they learn to do as calves. A typical elk tactic is to head for a river when they are being pursued and, because of their amazing endurance, choose to stay in the water for some time. This elk decides that the water is safer than being on the land with the bear.

Grizzly Bear Emerging from Water
Because they are so big- it takes a lot of energy for a grizzly to swim.


Brown bears can also swim, but they are not that keen on it. They use a doggy paddle-style stroke to propel themselves along, but their bulk means that it uses up a lot of energy, and they could not keep this up over long distances in rough water. You can see that this bear is eager to leave the water as quickly as possible, which is probably a wise choice!

The Featured Image

elk in water
© Mary Stample/

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About the Author

Sharon has a Ph.D. in Public Health but has spent the last decade researching and writing about all things connected with animal health and well being. As a life-long animal lover, she now shares her family home with three rabbits, a Syrian hamster, and a very energetic Cocker Spaniel but in the past she has also been a Mom to Guinea Pigs and several cats!She has a passion for researching accurate and credible information about pets and reviewing products that make pet owners' lives a bit easier. When she isn't checking out new pet products she's trekking around the Welsh mountains and beaches with her dog - although she lets her husband and her three grown up daughters tag along sometimes if they are lucky!

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