Do Elk Live in Alaska?

Bull Elk in Pennsylvania

Elk do live in Alaska. However, they’re not native to the state.

Fossilized remains give evidence that a subspecies of elk inhabited interior Alaska during the Pleistocene period. However, they became extinct a long time ago.

The elk that live on Alaska’s Afognak, Raspberry, Etolin, and Zarembo Islands are descendants of elk that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game transplanted there from the Pacific Northwest, Washington State, and Oregon to be exact, in the 1920s and 1980s.

What do Alaska’s elk look like?

Elk are the second largest members of the deer family in North America, behind the moose. As members of the Cervidae or deer family, they are phenotypically similar to deer, moose, and caribou.

Some characteristics that set them apart as elk are a tan to grayish brown body with dark brown legs and neck. Elk also have an expansive yellowish-tan rump patch.

Adult males, or bulls, are quite a bit larger than adult females or cow elk. Mature bull elk have large antlers that sweep outwards and back over their shoulders. The antlers of a large mature bull may reach back to his rump when he has his head tipped back. Like all cervids, bull elk shed their antlers in the early spring. They then grow a new set through the summer months.

In growing new antlers, first, the bull grows a layer of shiny skin covered with fine short hairs called velvet over the open wounds over its pedicles where the old antlers were connected. Velvet provides a covering for vascular action to deliver oxygen and nutrients to its growing antlers. See

In the late summer, the bull elk’s antlers will have become fully grown and hardened. At this time, the blood flow between the velvet and antlers ceases, and the velvet dies and dries up.

The bull will then scrub his new set of antlers free of any velvet on whatever handy shrubs or trees that are around that suit his purpose. Antlers are bone, so they’re white in color. However, tannins from the vegetation that the bull polishes them on stain them brown.

Elk subspecies in Alaska

The North American elk or wapiti is the largest of the red deer species. There were originally 6 North American elk subspecies. However, 2 of them, the Eastern Elk and the Merriam’s elk, are now extinct.

The 4 remaining North American elk subspecies are Roosevelt elk, Rocky Mountain elk, Tule elk and Manitoban elk. See

Alaska is home to two different elk subspecies. These are the Roosevelt Elk and the Rocky Mountain Elk. Although Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain elk are very similar, there are some subtle differences between the two. We’ll talk about these next.

Roosevelt Elk
Roosevelt Elk

Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti)

The Roosevelt elk is the largest of the four surviving elk subspecies and the third-largest land animal native to North America. This elk can grow to a body length of 6 to 10 feet, with bulls being the larger of the two sexes.

In height, they stand up to 5 feet tall at the shoulder. Cows weigh around 700 pounds on average. Bulls weigh from 850 up to 1100 pounds. There are rare large bulls from Afognak and Raspberry Islands in Alaska, weighing up to 1300 pounds.

Roosevelt Elk have a greyish to light brown body, a yellowish rump patch, dark chocolate brown legs, neck, and head. Bulls sport antlers, which can reach maximum lengths of up to 4 feet. Some Roosevelt Elk antlers have a three-point tip at the crown. Palmated antlers are also more common with Roosevelts than other Elk species. See

Although Roosevelt elk are the largest of the four subspecies by body mass, their antlers are slightly smaller than those of Rocky Mountain elk.

The native range of the Roosevelt elk begins in northern California and extends northward through Oregon and Washington to cross the Canadian border into southern British Columbia.

Rocky Mountain Elk
Rocky Mountain Elk

Rocky Mountain elk

The Rocky Mountain elk is another large elk subspecies. Zoologists rank the Rocky Mountain elk and Roosevelt elk as the largest subspecies, as they have a similar body mass. Rocky Mountain Elk grow to a length of between 6.5 to 8.5 feet long, and they have an average height of 4 to 5 feet at the withers.

Bulls weigh between 700 and 1000 pounds, while cows weigh 500 to 750 pounds. They sport a golden-brown coat, with the head, neck, and legs being dark brown. In winter, their coat takes on a grayish brown shade and is longer to provide ample insulation. Males are larger than females and have a dark brown mane on the throat.

Rocky Mountain elk are native to the Rocky Mountains and the adjacent ranges in the western United States and Canada.

Rocky Mountain elk grow the largest antlers of any of the four remaining elk subspecies.

Where do Elk Live in Alaska?

Afognak Island Coastline
Afognak coastline at Kazakof Bay

Afognak Island

The majority of the state of Alaska’s elk population lives on Afognak Island, which is an island in the Kodiak Archipelago off of the southern Alaskan mainland. Afognak Island lies 3.1 miles to the north of Kodiak Island.

Besides Roosevelt elk, there are Sitka black-tailed deer and Kodiak brown bear on Afognak Island.

In size, Afognak is 43 miles long from east to west and 23 miles wide from north to south.

The island is sparsely populated. Many of its human inhabitants left after the 1964 earthquake.

A small community called Aleneva is the one remaining settlement on the island. The residents of Aleneva are descendants of the island’s original Russian inhabitants and still practice the original Eastern Orthodox religion.

The biggest challenge for elk hunters on the island is the steep terrain and tenuous footing due to the tall rain slick grass. The island also has frequent rainstorms accompanied by banks of fog. This, along with the thick vegetation, makes seeing the elk a challenge.

Physical fitness and mental toughness are prerequisites to hunt elk on Afognak or any of Alaska’s islands, for that matter.

In 2023 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offered 15 bull elk, 120 antlerless, and 170 either-sex elk permits on Afognak Island. The permits were awarded by drawing to both residents and non-residents of Alaska.

Raspberry Island Alaska
Raspberry Island

Raspberry Island

Raspberry Island gets its name from its plentiful salmon berries, which look a lot like raspberries.

This member of the Kodiak Archipelago is located across the mile-wide straight to the southwest of Afognak Island. Raspberry Island is 18 miles long, while its width varies from 3 to 8 miles.

As with Afognak Island, the only 2 ways to access Rasberry Island are by boat or float plane.

The only permanent human residences on Raspberry Island are at Port Wakefield and the Raspberry Island Lodge. Port Wakefield is the former site of a fish cannery. However, it’s mostly abandoned today. On the other hand, Raspberry Island Lodge offers lodging and guide services to fishermen and hunters.

The founding animals of the Raspberry Island elk population swam there from Afognak Island.

In 2023, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offered 12 bull elk permits and 150 cow elk permits on Raspberry Island through a drawing that was open to both Alaska residents and nonresidents.

History of Elk on Afognak and Raspberry Islands

On June 29th of 1925, George Alexander Parks, who was the territorial governor of Alaska, approved a project to exchange Alaskan mountain goats for elk captured on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state and transplant them into the state of Alaska.

Consequently, in 1928, 8 Roosevelt elk calves (Cervus elaphus roosevelti), consisting of 3 males and five females who had been captured in the Ho Valley on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, landed at Alaska’s Kodiak Island.

The calves were placed at the U.S. Government’s Agricultural Experiment Station at Kalsin Bay on Kodiak Island. They spent their first year there. However, Kodiak Island’s ranchers had concerns that elk would excessively compete for grazing with the Island’s domestic cattle. For this reason, they removed the animals from the Kalsin Bay experiment station.

Subsequently, they released them on another island in the Kodiak archipelago called Afognak Island in the spring of 1929.

By 1933, those original 8 elk had multiplied to 30 or more, and by 1934 the Afognak Island herd had increased to between 50 and 60 animals.

With a steady year-to-year increase in numbers of elk, in the early 1950s, the ADWR estimated the population of the Afognak Island elk herd to be at around 300 animals.

Elk apparently have the ability to swim for long distances. Inasmuch as in 1951, elk appeared on Raspberry Island for the first time. The two elk that ADWR personnel observed apparently made the mile-long swim across Raspberry straight between Afognak and Raspberry islands.

The first Alaskan elk hunt took place on Afognak Island in 1950. Hunters harvested 27 bull elk in this first season. In 1959 Alaska initiated its first either sex elk hunt. In 1961, the combined elk population on Afognak and Raspberry Islands was at 1100 animals.

By 1965, the Afognak/Raspberry elk population peaked at 1200 to 1500 animals. These elk were in 9 separate elk herds on Afognak and 1 herd on Raspberry Island.

After that, a series of harsh winters in the late 1960s and early 1970s with heavy deep snow up to the winter of 1972 caused a massive die-off and also reduced calf production. By 1973, Alaska’s elk population hovered at around 450 animals.

Elk on Etolin and Zarembo Islands

In 1987, the ADFG introduced 33 Roosevelt elk and 17 Rocky Mountain elk from Oregon to Etolin Island. Etolin Island is in the Alexander Archipelago in southeast Alaska. Part of these elk dispersed across the Stikine Strait to Zarembo island. There are now breeding elk populations on both islands. In 2023, the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife offered 25 archery bull elk permits for a season lasting the entire month of September on Etolin Island. They also offered 100 firearm bull elk permits on Etolin. These permits were awarded by drawing to both Alaska residents and nonresidents.

More on Alaska elk hunting

The state of Alaska offers something called registration hunts. Basically, there are no limits on registration permits, but the ADFW calls a moratorium on the hunt if a certain harvest threshold is reached before the end of the season. Registration hunts are typically held after the end of the draw hunt. This makes the hunt more difficult.

In 2023, the state of Alaska will hold registration hunts on both the Etolin and Raspberry units. For more concise information, look here.

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