Where to Aim When Bowhunting Elk

Video where to shoot an elk with an arrow

Your equipment doesn’t matter if your shot placement is off. Whether you’ve spent a fortune or a fraction on your bow, arrow, and broadhead, the outcome remains the same: disappointment. As elk hunters, it’s essential to hone our archery skills and understand precisely where to aim when shooting an elk.

John Dudley, an experienced archer with a proven record of successful elk kills, shares his advice on shot placement and gear selection for archery elk hunting. Here’s what he has to say.

Broadside Shot Placement

When aiming at a broadside elk, Dudley suggests following the back of the leg until reaching the midpoint of the animal. The key is to settle your pin on the aiming point, represented by the blue dot in the image below. By doing so, you ensure that your arrow penetrates the lungs while avoiding non-vital areas.

Broadside Shot Placement
Image Source: John Hafner

Quartering Away Shot Placement

A quartering away shot is considered one of the best opportunities when targeting an elk. It allows for easier drawing of your bow without being detected and offers a forgiving aiming area. According to Dudley, this shot offers a chance to cause significant damage to an elk since their lungs are quite large.

To take a quartering away shot, visualize the broadside aiming point on the opposite side of the elk. Aim at a spot that would make your arrow hit that area as it exits the animal.

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Quartering Away Shot Placement
Image Source: Wesley Aston / NPS

Frontal Shot Placement

While a quartering-to shot provides a small aiming area with a higher risk of hitting the danger zones, a frontal shot can be lethal if executed correctly. Dudley personally favors frontal shots and has successfully taken down numerous elk this way.

According to him, the area where the dark long hair of the bull meets the light tan is even easier to penetrate than the ribs. The kill zone for a frontal shot is approximately the size of a milk jug. However, Dudley cautions that only those confident in arrow penetration and speed should attempt this shot. Additionally, frontal shots should only be taken at close range.

Frontal Shot Placement
Image Source: Danita Delimont / NPS

Where Not to Shoot an Elk

Elk possess large bones that prevent easy penetration. Heavy arrow weights and high FOC (front of center) won’t help you penetrate leg bones, the spine, or the thick part of the scapula. Avoid shooting at these areas.

Non-vital regions like the stomach and hindquarter should also be avoided.

Danger Zones
Image Source: Michael / NPS

Tips on Arrow and Broadhead Selection for Elk

While heavy arrows are currently popular, Dudley recommends using a mid-weight arrow for hunting elk. Extremely heavy arrows may affect trajectory if the elk moves slightly during your shot process.

Regarding broadhead selection, choose one that matches your setup. If you have a shorter draw length and lower draw weight, prioritize penetration. However, if you have a longer draw length, higher draw weight, and are shooting a heavier arrow, you can opt for a broadhead that flies exceptionally well and creates a larger wound channel.

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Final Thoughts on Bowhunting Elk

Shot placement is critical when hunting any game, especially tough animals like elk. Once you understand where to aim, you must practice executing the shot properly. Study the anatomy of elk, focus on accurate shot placement, and select a broadhead that suits your bow setup.

Now armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to make precise shots deep in the mountains come September.

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