Top 15 States with Highest Elk Populations

Arizona Game & Fish Department/Facebook

Elk are the largest members of the deer family in North America. Remarkably adaptable, they thrive across diverse habitats, often reshaping local ecosystems. Let’s explore the states that contain the largest elk populations and the challenges associated with managing these impressive creatures in the wild.

Nebraska: 2,750 Elk

USFWS National Wildlife Refuge System/Facebook

Nebraska has about 2,750 elk, mainly in the west, where people can observe or hunt them. The state works to improve their living areas and controls hunting to help the elk populace grow. Wildlife sanctuaries and forests are essential for keeping the elks healthy and thriving.

Oklahoma: 5,000 Elk

Oklahoma Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation/Facebook

A significant portion of Oklahoma’s 5,000 elk resides in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, which provides an ideal environment for these animals. Due to the scarcity of natural elk predators, the state manages annual hunting to maintain their numbers within a sustainable limit.

South Dakota: 7,500 Elk

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation/Facebook

South Dakota, which had no elks by the late 1800s, has now around 7,500. They flourish especially in the Black Hills and Custer State Park, with small herds dotting prairies in counties like Fall River and Meade. Strategic conservation, alongside research and habitat management, has revived their populations.

California: 13,000 Elk

California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Facebook

California is home to about 13,000 elk, including Tule, Roosevelt, and Rocky Mountain subspecies, which are exclusive to the Golden State. Living across different territories, these elk thrive thanks to protected areas and the creation of wildlife corridors. Though hunting is rare, they’re treasured and help safeguard California’s natural heritage.

Kentucky: 13,100 Elk

Kentucky State Parks/Facebook

With the biggest elk herd east of the Rocky Mountains, Kentucky has around 13,000 elk due to successful reintroduction. Now expanding on reclaimed coal mine lands, these animals provide guided hunts and viewing opportunities. It has recently boosted the local economy and showcased considerable conservation achievements.

Nevada: 17,750 Elk

Nevada Department of Wildlife/Facebook

In Nevada’s vast landscapes, around 17,000 to 17,750 elk roam despite the arid conditions, thanks to improved ecosystems and water initiatives. Controlled hunting keeps their population and health in check while preserving the majestic beauty and sustainability of the elk in the harsh environment.

Arizona: 40,000 Elk

Grand Canyon National Park Facebook

Elk populations were significantly low in the early 1900s, which prompted the relocation of 83 elk from Yellowstone to Arizona’s White Mountains. This initiative proved successful, leading to a steady growth in numbers. Arizona boasts 40,000 elk and excels in producing trophy bulls.

Washington: 60,000 Elk

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife /Facebook

Washington’s lush national forests and parks are full of elk territories and host 60,000 elk – an ideal setting for viewing and hunting. Concentrated mainly around the western areas, like Mount St. Helens, dedicated conservation like habitat restoration and conflict regulation ensures these elk herds continue flourishing.

Utah: 74,000 Elk

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources/Facebook

Utah’s numerous landscapes, from mountains to plateaus, support a 74,000-strong elk population. The Division of Wildlife Resources leads efforts in the improvement of their terrains and controlled hunting, which keep the ecosystem balanced and the elks thriving throughout the state.

New Mexico: 80,000 Elk

New Mexico Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation/Facebook

From high deserts to mountains, New Mexico’s diverse terrain has become the perfect domain for elks. With around 80,000 elk, it is known for trophy bulls, which poses a challenge for hunters. Habitat preservation, water projects, and regulated hunting promote healthy elk numbers.

Wyoming: 112,900 Elk

Isaac Spotts Photography /Facebook

Wyoming, with 90,000 to 112,900 elk, offers hunters high success rates amid breathtaking scenery. Iconic parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons serve as vital wildlife sanctuaries. With careful supervision, Wyoming maintains a healthy balance of elk within their natural surroundings.

Idaho: 120,000 Elk

Outdoor Idaho/Facebook

For over two centuries, elk in Idaho have experienced population shifts across northern, central, and southern regions. Idaho’s expansive wilderness and forests are now home to about 120,000 of these cervids. To oversee these figures and regulate hunting, the Department of Fish & Game has a comprehensive elk management system.

Oregon: 133,000 Elk

Paul H Neuharth Jr/Facebook

With 133,000 elk across diverse terrains, Oregon benefits from management strategies such as restoration of their living spaces and regulated hunting. Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk enhance Oregon’s biodiversity by presenting hunters with unique experiences and aiding the health of forested and protected regions.

Montana: 135,000 Elk

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks/Facebook

Historically abundant in Montana, elk saw a significant decline due to European settlements, with just 5,000 remaining by 1910 in the northwest. Efforts to rejuvenate their population by importing them from Yellowstone proved fruitful. Now, western and central Montana boasts an elk community of 135,000, which continues to grow.

Colorado: 290,000 Elk

Big Game Forever Colorado/Facebook

From near extinction after the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, Colorado’s elk numbers have soared to 290,000, thanks to conservation and managed hunting. This state has since become the US leader in elk populations by overcoming historical overhunting through strict regulations and the critical reintroduction of 350 elk from Wyoming.


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