Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Although elk may live to 16 years in the wild, the overall age structure of a hunted elk population is younger than most people think. Of elk harvested in the badlands that biologists have examined, more than 70 percent of cows and 90 percent of bulls were 4 1/2years old or younger.
Antler and body size can indicate an elk's age, but physical characteristics are often misleading. The number of antler points do not correspond to age. Even if it did, it wouldn't help in aging cows, which make up a considerable proportion of the harvest each year.
Antler size in bulls and physical development in both genders is greatly affected by diet, which may account for differences between animals of the same age taken from different locations.