(John Williams, Facebook)

You’re going to be embarrassed one of these days when you call a moose an elk

OK, just so you don’t fall into the same trap as photographer John Williams, who freaked when he saw a moose with a rack like an elk, here are some basics:


  • A mature bull moose typically weighs 1,200 pounds – twice the size of the average bull elk.
  • Moose are dark brown, often appearing almost jet black, depending on your lighting.
  • Elk, on the other hand, are light brown. Some appear almost golden – with a pale yellow rump – again, depending on your light and the time of year.
  • A moose has a very large, long and bulbous nose and a “bell” under the throat. An elk’s snout is much narrower.
Alaska Bull Moose Walking in Front of Car in Denali National Park
  • Typically, a moose will not flee at the sight of a human. That makes them easier to kill. An elk will wisely go into a sprint.
Bull elk bugling in Canadian Rockies
  • OK, now here’s the very important part: a mature bull moose has broad, flat antlers, unlike the pointed antlers of an elk. Still, the antlers of a young moose have not flattened out yet. That’s why a hunter has to peer carefully before pulling the trigger – the fines are immense if you’re wrong.

That last point is key to understanding why Williams, a well-respected professional photographer, reacted the way he did when he came across the moose at Arapaho National Forest in Colorado. He shared his find on Facebook:

“I grabbed my phone instantly,” Williams told CBS4. “Since I didn’t have my real camera with me, I did the best I could with that, but you can see it does look like an elk and not a moose,” he said.

Here’s his phone video:

An expert with Colorado Parks and Wildlife told CBS4 this type of thing is more common than you might think.

“It is not typical, but it’s not I would say unusual. We’ve seen it before,” Lyle Sidener said.

Wildlife managers have seen evidence from similar looking antlers in other bulls over the years.

How did the moose get antlers like that? Biologists say the chances of a moose and elk breeding to create the hybrid are extremely low.

“Genetics, nutrition, injuries — things like that. There’s a lot a normal variability within antler growth,” Sidener said. There’s even a page devoted to abnormal antlers.

Williams, sounding a bit like Ahab with his whale, is vowing he’s going to be ready next time when he happens upon the bull moose – with his camera, not his camera phone.