Know-How: Shooting the Bull

posted on August 29, 2016

A bull elk weighs 700 pounds and doesn’t easily surrender its spirit. Mud-caked hide, massive bones, second-to-none cardiovascular efficiency and mountainous terrain make these beasts extremely tough to recover if not hit perfectly. So bowhunters should only attempt ideal shots.

The ideal bow shot and the one that offers the largest margin for error is taken while the elk stands broadside, slightly downhill from the shooter. Aim at the crease formed by the foreleg and chest, 3 inches below centerline. Perfectly executed, the arrow will destroy the aorta and perforate both lungs before exiting low behind the offside shoulder so that blood pumps to the ground. This animal will expire in seconds.

An elk’s lung area is roughly 12 inches wide by 12 inches high when broadside. An elk’s humerus (foreleg bone) does not run vertically from chest to backbone, but rather at an angle toward the neck before angling back and up to meet the scapula. This structure forms a pocket—protected only by ribs and the triceps muscle—that exposes the heart and lungs to arrows. Just don’t hit too high.

But what if the bull doesn’t turn broadside? Quartering shots are acceptable if the angle isn’t too extreme, as a one-lunged elk is often a lost elk.

“If I can’t envision a double-lung pass-through, I won’t take the shot,” says Oklahoman Bill Bolin, who’s taken 30-plus elk with his bow.

Yet elk often come in looking for the caller and present a head-on shot. This angle immediately reduces the vital zone to the size of a grapefruit. It’s not ideal, but it can be done.

“If the elk is downhill and facing me with his head up, I’ll aim at the base of the neck,” explains Bolin. “But it’s got to be close, so I know I can hit heart.”


Draper Shooting Ruger Super Redhawk 22 Hornet
Draper Shooting Ruger Super Redhawk 22 Hornet

#SundayGunday: Ruger Super Redhawk in .22 Hornet

Get a closer look at the Ruger Super Redhawk in .22 Hornet, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.

Review: Ruger Super Wrangler

The Super Wrangler is reliable, accurate and affordable. It may well be this generation’s best of the best for a “woods” gun and is an excellent rimfire handgun choice for any hunter.

Traditions Launches Outfitter G3 in 360 Buckhammer

Traditions Firearms has announced the release of its Outfitter G3 single-shot rifle line in 360 Buckhammer. This caliber will be available in both the standard and all new Pro Series models.

Head to Head: .375 H&H Magnum vs. .416 Rigby

The .375 H&H Magnum and .416 Rigby are both capable of taking the entire spectrum of game animals, in any climate, on any continent. But which is the better choice for the hunter? We investigate.

New for 2024: Heritage Manufacturing Heritage 92 Line

Heritage Manufacturing has launched its line of Heritage 92 lever-action rifles. Rooted in tradition, the Heritage 92 series is designed to pay homage to the iconic firearms of yesteryear while delivering the precision and performance demanded by today's enthusiasts.

Accessing Peak Performance

On a West Texas hunt, where shots can go long, a capable rifle is only part of the equation. Success requires peak performance from the shooter, too.


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.