Elk Shot Placement - How to Shoot an Elk - Elk Anatomy

Elk Shot Placement

by Ruben Sanchez on 09-10-2014 in Hunting Articles

Welcome to our elk shot placement guide. This guide was designed to educate both firearm and archery elk hunters on proper shot placement when hunting elk. It is the responsibility of all hunters to make sure your kills are quick and that you can recover your game after your shot. One of the biggest complaints by anti-hunting groups and people who don't hunt is the suffering that animals go through when dying and wounded animals from bad shots. Accuracy is the key to the perfect elk shot placement and will make your recovery process much easier. It's important that you know your ability with a firearm or a bow and the internal anatomy of an elk to make sure you can take a proper kill shot.


This guide is broken down into a four different sections. The first section is education on how an arrow and a bullet work; you might be able to skip this section if you're a more seasoned hunter. The second section is information and education on the internal anatomy of elk. The third section is about where to aim depending on what type of shot you're going to take (broadside, quartering away, etc). The fourth section is some simple tips and reminders regarding elk shot placement. We recommend that all readers at a minimum read both section two and three in its entirety. Remember, to protect the integrity of hunting and our rights we must continue to educate each other on quick, humane shot placements.



How Arrows Work When Hunting



An arrow is a projectile that is fired by a bow or crossbow. An arrow has a razor sharp tip that is designed specific to cut through whatever it hits. Arrows are used to bring down an animal by cutting through veins and arteries which will result in rapid blood loss and rapid death. Blood loss is not the only way an arrow can bring down an animal. An arrow that is shot through a lung will cause the lung to collapse and bring on death by suffocation.

Depending on the range and type of bow or crossbow an arrow can easily cut through softer bones. However, no matter how strong the hunter or powerful the bow\crossbow an arrow cannot penetrate heavy bone that is found in the head, neck, hips and shoulders. This is why it's important to have sharp arrow tips and perfect elk shot placement to make sure you can hit the right spot and be able to recover your elk. It's generally a good idea to only take shots on big game like elk within 40 yards or whatever your personal effective range is with a bow you're accustomed too.


How Bullets Work When Hunting


A bullet is a projectile that is fired from a rifle, shotgun (shell) or a handgun, majority of the time hunters will only use rifles or shotguns when hunting. Bullets can range in size and caliber. The type of bullet used is based on the weapon of choice and type of game you're hunting. A bullet will bring down an elk due to the massive hydrostatic shock and tissue damage cause by the impact. Since bullets travel at such high speed they posses more energy and accurate than an arrow. A proper shot placement with the right caliber bullet will bright down an elk humanely and quickly.

Muzzle loading has become a popular choice among hunters when hunting elk. Since there are limitations to consider with muzzle loading it's important that you pay special attention to shot placement. The projectile shot from a muzzleloader is usually heavy and moves at a much slower speed when compared to a high powered rifle. It also takes longer to load a muzzle loading weapon so most hunters will only get one shot at an elk. You should never take a shot when using a muzzle loading weapon when you are farther than 100 yards from your target.


The Internal Anatomy of an Elk


Please download the elk anatomy diagram (credit to Wayne Trimm)

elk target

After you've downloaded the above elk anatomy diagram we recommend that you study it a bit. Familiar yourself with the placement of organs and bones, this will help you visualize them when you're in the field and about to take your shot. The primary spot that all hunters should attempt for is the center of the lungs or slightly lower than the center. Both an arrow (razor tipped) and bullet will successfully bring down an elk if it penetrates both lungs. This type of shot placement on an elk will also make it easier to recover the animal after it goes down.

One of the best advantages of shot to the lungs of an elk is the fact that they are large and somewhat easy to hit. The heart is also located between the two lungs, just a bit lower in the chest cavity. So, if you happen to aim a little low on your shot you still might penetrate the heart. There are several other vital organs that are around the heart and lungs. They include; the spine, aorta, liver and spleen. A hunter using a rifle or muzzleloader will have more shot placement options than a bow hunter. It's recommended that you test some shot placements on an elk target.


Broadside Elk Shot Placement


Bow Hunters - The best bowshot that a hunter can take on an elk is when it's standing broadside. The amount of penetration required to hit a vital organ is minimal when an elk is standing broadside. This shot placement is also the best when try to hit both lungs in one shot which would result in the collapses of both lungs and a much quicker death. You'll need to make sure that you adjust for elevation before you take your broadside shot. You can find the best spot by following up the back of the front leg 1/3 to 1/2 up the chest cavity of the elk. By using that method you'll find that your arrow is now aimed at the center of both lungs and the top of the heart. If the elk happens to have its front legs spread apart then simply just follow up the upside down v-shape of the legs 1/2 to 1/3 up to the chest.

Rifle Hunters - The broadside shot placement on an elk offers quite a few options for a great shot from a rifle hunter. The primary location for a rifle hunter is right behind the shoulder, in the vital organs area as mentioned above. A rifle using a proper bullet for elk hunting will breach both the heart and lungs with this shot. A neck shot that is placed in the right spot can instantly bring down the elk. Avoid any headshots as those tend to result in wounding the elk instead of bring it down or preventing the recovery of the elk due to a delayed death.


Quartering Away Elk Shot Placement


Bow Hunters - The quartering away shot isn't ideal for larger game such as elk due to the positioning of their intestinal tracts and that their girth is broader than small game such as deer. The positioning of an elk's intestinal tracts will degrade arrow penetration and while it may mortality wounded it can suffer for days and make recovery impossible. Sometimes the contents of an elk's stomach can decrease the arrow's energy and even prevent the arrow from reaching any vital organs.

If you do attempt to use this type of shot placement on an elk it's important that you wait for the best possible quartering away shot. The best spot to place your razor tipped arrow will be in line with the far front leg about one-third to one-half up the elk's body cavity. The bow hunter needs to try and take shot that will penetrate both lungs and the heart while passing through as little intestines as possible. The actual location where you attempt your shot will be different each time and depend which way the animal is quartering away. Never take a quartering away shot if you are farther than your effective range.

Rifle Hunters - A rifle hunter will have far better luck with a quartering away shot than a bow hunter. This shot placement offers several different lethal shots and if you're within your effective range you can greatly increase your success of mortally wounding the elk. With a rifle or muzzleloader it is important that you avoid striking the hindquarter or any paunch area. Almost all shots that will successful bring down an elk will be behind the shoulder, but make sure that you don't strike the shoulder.


Quartering Toward Elk Shot Placement


Bow Hunters - This is the least favorable shot for a hunter using a bow and isn't recommended. When taking a shot behind the shoulder the hunter's arrow will most likely miss the vital organs and end up in the intestines and\or the stomach. Since an arrow cannot penetrate the shoulder bone it acts as a shield against the vital organs. By missing your shot by a little as an inch or two can result in a non-mortally wounding shot. Elk can also see a hunter from this angle and when the hunter goes to draw their bow they can get spotted and the elk can run off. You should wait for a broadside shot or quartering-away shot when possible.

Rifle Hunters - Hunter's using a rifle will have better success than hunters using a muzzleloader; this is not a shot that should be taken when using a muzzleloader. You should aim your rifle at the elk's neck slightly below the ear and or chin; alternately you can aim at the front of the shoulder for a successful fatal shot. If you don't properly place your shot when shooting in front of the shoulder you may strike the shoulder bone and it will deflect off of it. Never attempt this shot outside of your effective range with your rifle.


Head-On Elk Shot Placement


Bow Hunters - This is another one of those shot placements that isn't very good for bow hunters. The center of the elk's chest is where the vital organs are located and it's protected by bone. The elk must have its head properly raised in order to reveal the target area and when you draw your bow you'll instantly alert the elk to your presences since you'll be facing each other. It's recommended that bow hunters avoid this shot placement, an elk that is alerted to your presence can easily avoid your shot and/or cause you to miss and just wound it.

Rifle Hunters - A hunter using a high powered rifle can be successful with this shot as long as they are within their effective range. The target areas are the neck area, just below the chin and the center of the chest. It's recommended that muzzleloaders avoid this shot placement due to the angle and chance of missing the vital organs.


Rear-End Elk Shot Placement


Bow Hunters - This is one of those shots that you hear random hunters talk about but should never attempt. Any respectable hunter will always pass up this type of shot. The only real target area with this shot is the femoral artery and its protected by the hip bones and leg bones, not to mention it's only the size of a pencil. You'll hear people claim that the arrow can travel through the rear end and into the vital organs. This is really difficult and most of the time you'll just mortally wound the elk and it will die a few days later.

Rifle Hunters - Even with a rifle this is one of those shots that you should just pass up. A bullet shot at this area may not bring down the animal rapidly and can also damage a good portion of its meat. You can attempt a neck shot from this angle if it raises its head high enough. All hunters using a rifle should wait for a better shot placement opportunity.


Elk Shot Placement Tips & Reminders


  • The best shot placement for elk is the broadside shot and this is true for both bow hunters and rifle hunters.
  • The quartering-away shot placement is another ideal shot for firearm hunters but should be avoid by bow hunters.
  • If you're a bow hunter hunting elk it's generally best practice to wait for a broadside shot to have the best chance of bring it down.
  • Rear-end shots are the least desirable shots and should be avoid by all hunters.
  • Practice makes perfect. Just because you know the anatomy of an elk doesn't mean you can actual strike your target area. Make sure you are proficient and skilled in the hunting weapon of your choice and never attempt a shot outside of your effective range.