Deer & elk identification

Know the difference

Use the drawings and traits listed to distinguish elk from deer. Individual elk are beginning to appear in a wider geographic area outside of the traditional range in northwestern Minnesota's Kittson and Marshall counties.

Take as much time as necessary to identify an animal before shooting. Use your binoculars – not your scope – for positive identification.

Accidents can happen. If you mistakenly shoot an elk, contact a conservation officer as quickly as possible.

White-tailed deer

© Robert Neaves


  • Body: Reddish brown in late spring and summer; gray in fall and winter; white belly.
  • Neck: White throat patch.
  • Rump: No visible rump patch when tail is down.
  • Tail: Long, broad and brown with white fringe; all white when tail is up.
  • Antlers: Consist of one main beam with three to five tines pointing upward (mature bucks). Yearling bucks have short spikes or forked antlers.
  • Length: 4 to 6 feet.
  • Height: 2 to 3 feet tall at the shoulder.
  • Weight: Males (bucks) weigh 100 to 300 pounds; females (does) weigh 85 to 130 pounds.
  • Range: Lives throughout the state in a wide variety of habitats.

Deer in MinnesotaDeer hunting


© Robert Neaves


  • Body: Reddish, lighter brown; legs are darker.
  • Neck: Chestnut brown.
  • Rump: Pale yellow/tan.
  • Tail: Short, yellow/tan color.
  • Antlers: Four to six or more ivory-tipped tines off of heavy, dark-colored main beams that sweep back toward the body (mature bulls); long spikes on yearling bulls.
  • Length: 6½ to 8 feet.
  • Height: 4½ to 5 feet at the shoulder.
  • Weight: Males (bulls) weigh 700 to 900 pounds; females (cows) weigh 500 to 600 pounds.
  • Range: Mainly in far northwestern Minnesota centered around Lancaster and Caribou in Kittson County and Grygla in Marshall County but individuals are appearing more widely.

Elk in MinnesotaElk hunting