Where to shoot an elk with an arrow, may seem like a fairly easy question to answer? In the heart or lungs of course.
While that is the perfect spot, there is still a little more to it than simply pulling back and sending an arrow through the elk’s heart.
The Kill Zone
Beginning with the basics, lets identify exactly where an elk’s heart and lungs are situated in relation to its body and the size of both organs.
The size of the heart and lung area of an elk or otherwise known as the “kill zone” is roughly 22-inches across and 17-inches high.
Looking at an elk standing broadside, the kill zone can be located by moving directly up the front leg about 4 – 8 inches where the leg becomes the shoulder and then another 6 – 10 inches behind the shoulder (direction away from the head towards the rump).
The lungs are twice as large as the heart and the heart sits at the base of the lungs in between the two.
Many hunters talk about “The Golden Triangle”, this is the area where the heart and lungs overlap. Hitting an elk in this area will mean almost certain death as both the lungs and heart will be damaged.
Achieving a double lung shot should always be priority as an elk can survive on the use of one lung for a long period of time.
With an elk standing broadside, the ideal shot placement with an arrow would be to aim for “The Golden Triangle”. The aim would be to achieve at best a double lung shot and hitting the heart would be a bonus.
It should be noted that there is an element of risk when attempting to hit the heart and lungs simultaneously. If the shot is too low it risks hitting the elk in the leg, missing all the vitals.
Too far forward (towards the head) and the arrow may hit the humerus or scapula, stopping any significant penetration.
Ideally, the correct placement for an arrow on an elk standing broadside would be up the back of the front leg and a third of the way up from where the leg meets the chest area, one will notice the “crease” of the shoulder.
On that crease or 2” behind that crease will make for a very good spot to aim for.
Elk Quartering Away
Always remember that the positioning of the elk is a big determining factor on where to place the arrow. Angles of the vitals in relation to where the bones are will change as the animal moves.
There is a higher risk of pulling a shot too far back and hitting the elk in the stomach or intestines when it is quartering away.
An easy method to remember for the shot placement on an elk that is quartering away is to aim for the opposite leg, the one furthest away. On the mid-section of the elk, about 20” up from the base of the belly would be an ideal height.
The objective would be to send the arrow in behind the shoulder closest to you and have it exit out the front near the sternum of the opposite shoulder.
Beware of the angled height at which you will be releasing the arrow. If you are aiming downwards onto the elk, be sure to adjust accordingly.
A difficult shot to take for a number of reasons:
- The elk is looking in your direction and may very well jump at the sight or sound of the arrow coming
- The target area is smaller/compressed
- A low shot risks the area hitting the strong sternum of the elk which will not kill it
- There is very little to almost no possibility of a pass through, in the hopes of leaving a blood trail
Nonetheless, there are many bow hunters that have taken this shot successfully. The placement for the arrow would be middle of the chest at least 10” to 12” up from the base of the sternum or where the neck begins to taper down into the chest.
Elk Quartering Towards
What makes this shot difficult is the joint of the scapula and humerus, depending on how much the elk is angled towards the hunter, is in direct line of sight to where the vitals are.
Pulling the shot in the direction of the rear end will most certainly hit the stomach resulting in a non-fatal wounding or only hitting one lung which is often not enough to kill the elk in a short period of time.
The only real placement for the arrow in a situation such as this, let us say the elk is facing us with its rear sticking out to our left side, would be to place the arrow on the point at which the elk’s right shoulder becomes the neck/chest at a height of 10” to 12” from the base of the sternum.
The objective is that the arrow misses the bone joint of the shoulder closest to the hunter and exits the mid-rift of the elk between the front and back leg.
Elevated Blind or Stand
In this situation, the bowhunter is faced with a smaller surface area of the vitals to aim for. The most obvious obstacle to consider would be the elk’s strong spinal column and associated rib joints plus large shoulder blades acting as a shield over the heart.
The higher the stand, the lower the chance of a double lung shot and greater coverage of the vitals by the bones. Generally, a stand that is eight to twelve feet above the ground is considered suitable.
Looking at an elk from above, it is clear the spine runs down the middle of the body. The point at which the neck joins the shoulder is where the rib bones are tightest and vertebrae thickest. Therefore, the objective is for the arrow to miss this concentration and density of bone.
Studying the anatomy of an elk, the point of impact from the arrow should be between the 4th and 5th rib counting from the last rib closest to the rump and 6 – 10” either side of the spine.
The arrow would enter at a downward angle, exiting from the under bell of the elk.
Assuming the correct bow poundage, arrow weight and broadhead type are all correct for an elk along with sufficient practice, arrow placement on an elk is all about angles and obtaining the best possible penetration.
A broadside double lung shot with a pass-through on an elk is always going to be best for a bow hunter, however, hunting is unpredictable, and having the knowledge of an elk’s anatomy and bone structure will ultimately help the hunter decide on the best placement of the arrow.
Apart from the distance, one needs to be vigilant of distance and the trajectory of the arrow in flight.