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Deer is NOT a family name for all ruminants. Ruminants include cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, bison, moose, elk, yaks, water buffalo, deer, camels, alpacas, llamas, antelope, pronghorn, and nilgai.
"Deer" (that you're referring to) and elk are in the family Cervidae, which is the actual deer family (so an elk IS a deer, and is actually the second largest with moose being the first). Therefore, elk are much larger than, say, a mule deer. Elk males have a shaggy 'throat sack' and branching antlers, and mule deer and White-tailed deer are smaller heads with shorter, more rounded faces and smaller, more forward-pointing antlers.
Here is a link for more information on Cervids: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deer