When you strip away all the fancy gear, the expensive packs, boots, garments, etc.. hunting elk with archery tackle really boils down to two very simple yet ultra important concepts.
1. Be accurate and precise at distance with your equipment
2. Maximize penetration of your arrow
There is zero argument about elk hunting popularity being on the rise. The influx of new archery hunters, difficulties of legally travel abroad to hunt, and increased content around western hunting all has played a part of the elk hunting surge! With that in mind, we've also seen a continuous rise in the questions surrounding the business end of your arrow.
"What is the best broadhead for my elk hunting trip?"
"What broadhead should I be using for elk?"
"What is the best broadhead for elk?"
Elk are certainly not whitetails, but they are certainly not water buffalos either! Outside of the animal itself having a reputation of carrying tough hides and a more dense skeletal structure, what other factors should you be considering when trying to pick the best broadhead to harvest an elk with?
YOUR SHOOTING PLATFORM
Regardless of the animal you are hunting, the very first stop in your process of selecting the right broadhead is your shooting platform. Your bow is the largest factoring part of the equation, PERIOD.
Someone shooting a recurve should not be choosing the same arrow and broadhead setup as someone shooting a crossbow or compound. Taking that a step further, draw weight and length, arrow speed, arrow weight, etc, should all factor in to your broadhead choice.
If we're talking about a crossbow platform, I am shooting fixed blade broadheads. It’s really that simple. I don't have to think about it, and I don't have to consider anything else... I don't even have to wonder. A fixed blade broadhead that is tough, has excellent penetration statistics, something that has thick blades is what I'm looking for. Flight characteristics at high speeds is critical when shooting a crossbow. A general rule of thumb is vented blades tend to perform better than solid blades and cutting diameters no more than 1 1/2" tend to be more accurate at longer distances. Our K2-Fixed and Fixed EXT broadheads offer everything a crossbow hunter dreams of.
When we're talking about compounds you really have a wide variety of broadhead choices. Fixed blades, hybrid blades, and mechanicals are all options but not all are created equal. Pending your bow and arrow setup you have some really good options. The key factor is, again, your bow setup. Understanding your bow's capabilities with your exact draw length and total arrow weight is ultra important. Low poundage shooters and, in some cases, you folks with short draw lengths really need to take a hard look at fixed blade broadheads. Having the understanding that in certain setups you just can't afford to lose any KE, these types of scenarios IS THE REASON Afflictor's hybrid broadheads were created. The patented drive-key design offers next to no loss of KE, and with blades opening at impact, you have a true fixed blade broadhead when entering the animal. We can't say that about other mechanicals. Across the board, whether you are looking at Afflictor's fixed blade or hybrid blade broadhead offerings, there's multiple solutions for all compound shooters. Regardless of your broadhead choice, the important message is make sure you understand your setup and that your bow is a fine tuned machine!
When we are looking at the more traditional setups, these guys tend to like a traditional broadhead, right? A single bevel or potentially other fixed blade options, but some trad guys are actually shooting different hybrid broadheads. Something like our Hybrid X or our K2 Mini in the heavyweight stainless steel versions where they're getting into 175 grains, are really gaining popularity. An outside the box solution for traditional archers, but hybrid designs can be a viable option.
YOUR ARROW BUILDS
The other consideration on your setup is around your arrow builds.
- What is your arrow weight?
- Do you know what your FOC is?
- What is your KE and Momentum?
For seasoned elk hunters, their arrow builds and broadheads go hand in hand with their shooting platform. Since the western hunting is growing and evolving, there's a lot more new elk hunters in the mountains, and we're a trend of eastern guys thinking elk are just big deer. “I'm a whitetail hunter and I'm going elk hunting. That mindset is a mistake.
You need to understand you WILL need more Kinetic Energy and Momentum for pass through shots on elk...regardless if you are shooting a mechanical, hybrid, or fixed blade broadhead. You need to understand that the average archery shot on an elk is much longer than the average shot on a whitetail. You need to understand and plan for this. If you are an eastern guy and truly just want to shoot the same arrows for both species, the best advice is to take the "reverse engineer" approach. Build and shoot what will work for the tougher animals and it will work for whitetails.
HUNTING STYLE AND POTENTIAL SHOT OPPORTUNITIES
- Where are you going to be hunting?
- Are you going to be hunting a waterhole with a standard blind placement?
- Are you going to be spot and stalk?
- Are you going to be calling?
- Are you willing to take a shots that is pushing your limits?
Not all western states have the same elk hunting regulations when it comes to archery equipment. Make sure you read and fully understand the regs of the state where you hold your elk tag. Some states have specific requirements around broadheads. For a quick break down you can check out one of our other blogs by clicking here.
Your hunting style will certainly impact the potential for tough shots. If you are planning to only ambush hunt elk, similar to whitetails, shot opportunities tend to be closer and with less obstructions. If you're like the majority of elk hunters, calling and glassing to locate animals and then closing the distance, it's pretty common to face less than ideal shot angles, obstructions, and some serious distance.
All these variable influence what type of broadhead will perform best, but the common theme doesn't change. Make sure you have enough KE and Momentum with great long distance flight characteristics.
One consistent theme over the years, no matter what part of this industry I've been, it seems that elk hunters have a preference for a certain diameter cut, no matter what broadhead that they're shooting....1 1/2". Now, of course, there's highs and lows to that, but I'm just saying as an average, in our experience for most people, what they're looking for is 1 1/2" cutting diameter.
The discovery behind that is that seems to be the cut that offers the greatest penetration for most people’s set up. When that broadhead hits that 1 1/2" mark, it seems to really be able to pass through elk and still carry good flight characteristics.
Why does size make a difference? Well, when you start getting into broadhead diameters that are 2" and up, you really have to have the right setup to drive that home for enough penetration to do fatal damage. You may also be handicapping yourself a little bit because the larger blades sometimes are a little more fragile. They require a lot more energy to open, penetrate, and to pass through. So you really have to be considerate of your overall setup when you're considering using a larger cut blade. On top of that, larger blade diameters typically do not fly as well as smaller blade diameters.
FIXED VS MECHANICAL
This debate also lives in the elk bowhunting world too. It will never end...it's like the old Chevy vs Ford talk.
Fixed broadheads are simple in our eyes. They take out some of the performance variables out of the equation, and you know, with the right placement you're not going to have any problem with an elk. The challenge is long distance flight characteristics. Even though this shouldn't be any issue with a well tuned bow, folks still want to shy away from the added work in tuning their setup.
Mechanicals have come a long way since their inception. They're tougher and more reliable than before. Now you can get them with thick blades and some designs don't require a lot of energy to open. Again, you have to do a little bit of research around your setup to make sure you're making the right purchase.
When push comes to shove, you need a sharp broadhead that performs at distance. Outside of understanding the archery regulations in the state you are hunting in, confidence in executing a well place shot is king. What ever broadhead gives you these three things is the broadhead you should be shooting.
Author: Chris Creed, Afflictor Broadheads