What do Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali and elk have in common? They’re all skilled boxers. While it might be easy to assume antlers are an elk’s preferred weapon, boxing is often used in common quarrels between elk. During a fight, both elk will rise on their hind legs and rapidly punch with their front hooves, alternating legs.
A strike from a front hoof can be a powerful blow. Aggressive cows often use this behavior and are capable of dominating bulls this way. Cows might also use their front hooves to defend their calves against coyotes or other foes. A cow will usually rise a little and strike downwards toward her target, sometimes while chasing in pursuit of the threat.
Bulls box, too. They will use front legs when their antlers are in velvet or have been shed, but bulls also box in the winter while they still have antlers.
Like the best fighters, elk can also surprise their opponent. Elk will sometimes threaten an adversary with a behavior called a “biting threat.” They pull their lips back to expose canine teeth, flatten their ears and hiss. Instead of following up with a bite, though, an elk might suddenly leap upward and flail its target in a hail of sharp hooves.