Do Moose and Elk Look Similar?

Make sure you can properly identify elk and moose in the field. These tips will help you know the difference when you head out on your hunt.
Moose Question
Do you have enough info to identify the pictured animal? It’s a moose. Take the necessary time to properly identify your target.

The most common misidentification Colorado hunters make is confusing elk and moose. With more moose, particularly young bull moose, on the landscape in Colorado, it is increasingly important for hunters to be aware of the difference in these animals.

As this year’s big-game hunting season begins, Colorado Parks and Wildlife would like to remind hunters to follow one of the key principles of hunter education, which is to properly identify their target before shooting.

A Successful Moose Reintroduction

It wasn’t long ago that it was incredibly rare to see a moose in Colorado, especially in the southwest portion of the state. But since the reintroduction of roughly 100 Shiras moose to the Creede area along the upper Rio Grande drainage in 1991 and 1992, the population has grown and spread throughout the region.

In recent years, Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff have seen more young moose on the landscape, leading to some elk hunters mistakenly shooting a moose.

“There is really good potential for seeing moose in our area,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta, who oversees the Durango office. “From Pagosa Springs and west to the Mancos area, we see more moose, specifically younger bulls. While it may be more common to see them at higher elevation areas around Creede and Silverton, they are sometimes found at lower elevations.”

Moose and elk often share the same habitats, leading to confusion. Still, there are several key differences that hunters can see to identify between the two.

Size and Color

Bull Moose Color – darker and will not have the lighter coloring on the rump like
elk in pine woods
Bull Elk Color – Reddish or Lighter Brown Coat

Moose are the largest animal in Colorado and grow significantly larger than elk. A bull moose can grow to be 6 to 7 feet tall at the shoulders and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. A bull elk, meanwhile, is typically 4 to 5 feet tall and around 600 pounds.

Elk have a reddish or lighter brown coat, while a moose coat is significantly darker and will not have the lighter coloring on the rump like an elk.

Antlers and Head Shape

Moose antlers will grow out of the sides of the head.
Elk antlers grow backward over their bodies.

Differences in antlers will also be apparent when hunting bulls. Moose antlers will grow out of the sides of the head, while elk antlers grow backward over their bodies. Elk antlers have one main beam with long points that grow off of it, whereas moose antlers have a paddle-like shape with many points growing off the thick, paddle-shaped portion.

Moose also have a long, round nose compared to the narrow, pointed nose of an elk. Under the jaw, moose also grow a flapping piece of skin known as a dewlap or bell. This trait is unique to moose and isn’t present in elk.

The differentiating characteristics of cow moose and elk are the same as with bulls, except for the antlers.

Moose Calf – Round Nose
Elk Cow – Narrow, Pointed Nose

Mistakes Happen

Colorado Parks and Wildlife understands that mistakes sometimes happen. If a hunter mistakenly shoots an animal other than what they have a license to hunt, they should quickly contact the closest Colorado Parks and Wildlife office.

“We want to remind folks to please properly identify their target before shooting any animal,” Archuleta said. “If a mistake is made, it is important for it to be reported honestly to our office immediately.”

To learn more about moose in Colorado, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlfie website.

Written by John Livingston. John is the Southwest region public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

4 Responses

  1. I’ve known the diffierence for too many years:( but I get to find out this year after 23 years worth of preference points I finally received a bull Shiras tag:) yeeee haaaaa and I’m 81 years youn now1

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