Elk are big animals. You’ll realize it the first time you have a cow or bull walk by you within bow range. Elk are the second-largest member of the deer family in North America, second only to the moose. Cows can push the scales to 650 pounds and bulls can exceed 800 pounds. To put it into perspective for the average whitetail hunter, that means you are pursuing an animal at least four times the size as large as the average buck. This, quite simply, is why you must evaluate your equipment for effectiveness on a bull elk.
A larger animal means everything else is also larger. Of course, the vitals are larger, giving you a little more leeway in terms of shot placement, but pesky obstacles on a whitetail become arrow-deterring problems on a bull.
Elk bones, especially shoulder and leg bones, are massive and thick compared to those on a deer. The shoulder blade on an elk can be as effective at stopping arrows as Kevlar armor. Al Morris knows the stopping power of an elk’s shoulder bone. Morris, a Hunter’s Specialties pro staff member and the professional hunt manager for Three Forks Ranch in Colorado, has helped send home nearly 700 elk with successful clients. He’s seen it all in his 21 years of calling bulls in close for bowhunters.
“I don’t care what broadhead you are shooting, most bow setups won’t blow through the shoulder of a mature bull. It’s a thick piece of bone and something you want to avoid at all costs. Instead, focus your shot to impact directly behind a front leg to punch through both lungs.”
The National Bowhunter Education Foundation stresses a broadside-only rule for elk and for good reason. To cleanly kill a bull, you need to have your arrow pass through both lungs. A heart shot will also do the trick, but the lung area offers you the largest target with the quickest results.
Why should you attempt only a broadside shot? On a deer-sized animal, most modern bow and arrow combinations can drive an arrow through the target from the two most popular angles, broadside or quartering away. That’s not the case on a proportionately larger elk, especially if the quartering-away angle is too extreme. You may slice through a portion of the paunch and that could impact your arrow’s effectiveness drastically. An elk’s paunch resembles a small bale of hay when full—a wet and compacted bale of hay—which should give you an idea of its arrow-stopping ability.
Next: Setup Considerations