Elk Anatomy - Elk Shot Placement
Firearm hunters and bowhunters have a responsibility to make quick kills and recover all game. One complaint that members of the public who do not hunt have about hunters is "slow deaths, wounded and un-recovered animals." Accurate shot placement is the key to a quick kill and game recovery. Necessary ingredients of good shot placement are knowledge of how a hunting arm kills game, shooting only within one's ability, and knowing the game animal's internal anatomy. The future of hunting and hunters' self-respect depends on the ability to efficiently harvest game.
Shot placement is especially important to elk hunters because of the animal's great size and weight. Elk are more than three times the size of deer. An average cow elk weighs 500 pounds, while bulls average about 650 and occasionally exceed 1,000 pounds. Besides being heavier and larger than deer, elk have thicker skin, heavier bones and proportionately larger stomachs - all of which affect penetration and performance of arrows and bullets.
Internal Anatomy of Elk
Study the elk diagrams. A spot in the center of the lungs or slightly lower should be a bowhunter's target every time. An arrow or bullet in both lungs will bring down the largest game, and the advantage of this shot is that the lungs are relatively large and surrounded by other vital organs: the heart is below, the spine and aorta (a major artery) are above, and the liver and the spleen are behind. Hunters using firearms have more choices than bowhunters. A bullet striking either the heart, shoulder, spine or lungs is fatal to elk due the massive shock and tissue destruction. Once again, the chest area offers the best lethal target.
How an Arrow Works
Arrows tipped with razor sharp broadheads are designed to cut. Arrows harvest game by cutting arteries and veins resulting in blood loss. In addition to severe bleeding, arrows shot through both lungs cause the lungs to collapse, causing rapid death by suffocation. Arrows can cut through softer bones like ribs, but arrows shot from even a very heavy bow will rarely penetrate heavy bones found in the shoulder, hips, head and neck. Thus, both razor sharp broadheads and careful shot placement are crucial to game recovery.
How a bullet works
Bullets harvest game by massive shock and tissue destruction. Bullets have more energy than arrows, and if fired from firearms adequate for the game being hunted, can smash even heavy bone and enter the vital organs.
Hunting elk with muzzle-loading rifles is popular and presents special shot placement considerations. The relatively heavy projectiles shot from a muzzleloader travel at slower speeds and have less energy than those from most center-fire rifles. At the same time, loading from the muzzle means that more than one shot at an elk is rare. Thus, muzzleloader hunters should not take shots at elk that exceed 100 yards.
Where to Aim - Broadside
Bow: An elk standing broadside represents the best bow shot because it requires the least amount of penetration to reach to vital organs. The broadside shot is also the best angle for accomplishing a double-lung hit, resulting in the collapse of both lungs. Find the best aiming point on an elk by picking a spot halfway up the side of the animal and about a hand's width behind the hollow of the shoulder. Or, in your mind's eye. eliminate the head. neck and tail. Then, divide the animal equally both vertically and horizontally. Hold on the spot where these imaginary lines cross, then aim about ten inches forward. This is called the "cross hairs" method of picking a spot. Both methods will help you put an arrow in the center of the vital area by enabling you to pick a spot rather than shooting at the whole animal. Remember, an arrow will penetrate the ribs. but be careful to avoid the shoulder bone. Wait until the near front leg is forward and concentrate on a spot behind the shoulder. Avoid head and neck shots. The brain and spine are small targets protected by heavy bone. The only artery of any size in the neck is the carotid (which is only the size of a pencil). Wait for the chest shot behind the shoulder!
Gun: The broadside position offers several excellent shots for a firearms hunter. The best target is the shoulder and chest area. A bullet of the correct weight and fired from an adequate firearm will break the shoulder and enter the lungs or heart. A neck shot will drop an animal instantly with no meat damage. but should only be used if you are proficient with your firearm. Head shots should be avoided.
Where to Aim Quartering Away
Bow: The quartering away position is less desirable for large animals such as elk Although this angle is excellent for deer, elk are considerably broader in birth and have proportionally larger stomachs In a quartering away position the arrow must pass through a foot or more of intestines and stomach before reaching the vital area. An elk's stomach full of grass and browse can stop an arrow cold. When picking a spot on a quartering animal, think in three dimensions. Imagine where the lungs are and determine where to aim so that the arrow will miss heavy bones and angle forward into the vital area. The exact aiming spot will vary with the degree to which the animal is quartering away. Remember that this angle is very important. The greater the angle, the closer you are to making a wounding rear-end. The smaller the angle, the closer you are to having a broadside shot and the better the opportunity of penetrating both lungs.
Gun: The quartering-away position offers several lethal targets for firearms. Just behind the shoulder is the best aiming spot.
Bow: This is one of the poorest bow shots and should not be taken. Picking a spot behind the shoulder will result in the arrow barely missing most of the vital organs and angling back into the stomach and intestines. Heavy shoulder bones shield the majority of the vital organs from penetration by arrow. An error of only an inch or two will result in a miss or a non-fatal hit in the shoulder. Another disadvantage of this angle is the possibility that the animal will see the hunter drawing his or her bow. Wait for the a broadside or quartering- away shot.
Gun: The quartering-toward angle is fine for center fire rifles, but is not recommended for muzzle loading rifles. Aim at the neck or front of the shoulder for an effective hit. A light bullet may deflect off the shoulder bones of elk. Be certain you use a firearm and ammunition adequate for the game you hunt and type of shot you select.
Where to Aim- Head-On Shots
Bow: This is a very poor shot for a bow hunter. The vital area is the center of the chest between the shoulders, which is an extremely small target. The animal must have its head up to expose this small target area. And it will almost surely see the archer draw a bow. An alert elk is capable of "jumping the string" of even the fastest bows and avoiding the passing arrow. Do not take this shot.
Gun: This is an acceptable shot with an adequate center fire rifle. The neck and center of the chest are vital areas that the hunter can use as aiming points. However, a muzzle loader hunter should pass on this shot angle.
Where to Aim- Rear-end Shots
Bow: This is a shot all responsible bow hunters will pass up. The only major target in the rear quarter is the femoral artery. Which is small than you finger and extremely well protected by heavy leg and hip bones. Also, the hind quarters have very heavy muscle tissue which, together with the heavy bone structure and viscera, make it long, questionable journey for an arrow to get up front to the vital organs of even a small elk. Gun: The rear-end shot is a poor shot with one fire of a firearm. A shot to the body at this angel may not bring an elk down quickly and could ruin the best cuts of meat. A neck shot is possible if the animal has its head up. Wait for a better shot opportunity.
Where to Aim-Elevated Stands
More elk hunters are using elevated stands and mountainous terrain presents similar shot angles. The change in the shot angle makes little difference to a hunter using firearms, but results in a smaller portion of the vital area being exposed to a bowhunter. Position of bones in relation to the vital organs changes more and more as you climb higher. The back bone and shoulder blade shield more and more of the chest cavity as the angle gets steeper. This causes the vital area to become narrower. To avoid the shoulder blade on a broadside animal when shooting from an elevated stand, aim farther behind the shoulder than you would from the ground. Complete penetration will result in a good blood trail, so avoid bones that could prevent the arrow from exiting low in the animal. Elevated stands also make it more difficult to make a double-lung hit.
Consider the angle of the shot when deciding how high you stand should be. Bowhunters should be sure to practice from elevated stands before hunting. Shooting down at narrower targets is very different than shooting horizontally at targets on the ground. Always wear a safety harness when practicing and hunting from elevated stands so that you can concentrate on making a good shot without fear of falling.