Hunting > Big Game

How To Put Down an Elk

Here's the right place to put an arrow or a bullet.

Though a muscle-popping, big-boned, 700-pound bull elk is a tough customer, when you've closed the gap and put your bullet or broadhead into the right spot, even the biggest 6x6 won't go far. Here is what you need to know about gear and shot placement before you tackle elk.

Archery Gear
Many guys draw an elk tag, and then run out and buy a bow that pulls 70 or, my gosh, 80 pounds. Such a bow will work great if you can handle it. But most hunters are better off with their 60-pound deer bow, because they are used to how it feels, they can draw it smoothly and they can hold it while they wait for a bull to come those last few yards.

Shoot fast carbon or aluminum arrows and 100-grain broadheads, either fixed or expandable. Are you leery of mechanicals for elk? "A lot of our guys use them with good success," says call maker and elk expert Will Primos. Whichever you choose, make sure the blades are sharp.

Know the Range
If Primos has the time to use his rangefinder he'll shoot an elk at 40 to even 50 yards with his bow. But when a crazed, drooling 6x6 comes so fast to his calls he can't get the range, he sets his limit at 35 yards, a distance that most of us can judge reasonably well in our heads.

While we have entered a modern rifle-hunting era where 400 yards is the new 300, a 300-yard poke at a bull across a canyon or though the pines is still max in my book. Distance aside, you have to factor in the wind, your trembling hands and other limitations. If you can stalk inside 200 yards or closer yet, all the better.

Cartridge/Load Choices
The .30-06 with a 180-grain bullet is still a solid choice. It is flat-shooting and powerful enough and then some, and most hunters can live with its recoil. If you can handle the bigger kickers, the .300 Win. Mag. with a 180-grainer has proven fine. Famous Montana hunter Jack Atcheson Sr., who has shot more bulls on public land than perhaps anyone, swears by the .338 Win. Mag. Some excellent "new" choices are the .338 Federal, .325 WSM and 7mm and .300 Remington Ultra Mags.

Don't skimp on ammo. An elk hunt is the time to pay $50 and up for a box with premium bullets. You need Federal's Trophy Bonded Tip, Barnes' Triple-Shock X, Nosler's Partition or another quality bullet. Basically, you need a proven, controlled-expansion pill that hits hard, smashes bone and holds together on a heavy animal.

Shot Placement
There are only two angles you should take when bowhunting: dead broadside or slightly quartering-away. These are the best rifle shoots, too. I try to plant a bullet through one or both shoulders to drop and anchor a bull, but I make sure to aim so that if the shot is a few inches off line, it strikes back in the vitals. A 6x6 quartering-on makes for a narrower target, but I do not hesitate to take that rifle shot out to 150 yards or so.

After you let fly an arrow, watch for the bull to fall and/or listen for him to crash down. If you look 100 yards, see him still running and seriously start to doubt your shot, back off and wait. "Wait a day if you're not sure about a hit," notes Primos, "as a bull will bed down and die there if you don't push him over a mountain."

When you flatten a bull with a bullet, immediately chamber another cartridge and lock your scope on the bull. If the animal tries to lurch up, shoot again. You want your tracking job to end right there.


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