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.”


Silencer Central INC 5000 Lead
Silencer Central INC 5000 Lead

Silencer Central Makes Inc. 5000 List of Fastest-Growing Companies

Silcencer Central has made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America.

Smith & Wesson Introduces Model 350

Smith & Wesson has introduced the Model 350, the company's first production revolver chambered in the powerful straight-walled 350 Legend.

Members' Best 2022

Be it a bucket list hunt in a land of giants, an anniversary escape with a loved one, a quick scouting trip turned big-buck showdown or the culmination of a trophy slam, American Hunter readers searched for and found opportunity near and far this past year.

First Look: Buck Bourbon Rack House Blind

Veil Camo has announced the integration of its Wideland Camo pattern with the new Buck Bourbon Rack House 300+ One Way Mesh hunting blind.

First Look: Canvas Cutter Dominator 2.0 Bedroll

The Dominator 2.0 Bedroll is Canvas Cutter’s flagship outdoors sleep solution, designed for any backpacking, hunting, fishing, or camping adventure.

Florida Expands Gator-Hunting Hours and Equipment

Gargantuan gators beware! Florida's 2022 hunting season started on Monday, 8/15 with brand new rules regarding hunting hours and acceptable equipment.


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.