The most enjoyable aspect of putting this elk project together has been interacting with other elk hunters. I have received many great questions from new and aspiring elk hunters, and some wonderful insights from veteran elk hunters. Last week I received an email from a reader that asked…
“This September I will be going on my own inaugural elk hunt. I can’t afford a full size 3D target. What are the rough dimensions of an elk’s vitals? I am going to try to create a facsimile on the targets I already have.”
Great question! Obviously elk vary in size with age and sex, but research can reveal some very helpful numbers to consider. One source, The Hunting Rifle by Jack O’Conner, discusses the average dimensions of the body and vital area of many North American big game species. O’Conner says that the average elk will measure 24″-26″ from the top of the back, down to the brisket – and have a circular vital area roughly 15″ in diameter. Obviously the heart, lungs, and liver of an elk don’t form a perfect circle, but the 15″ figure is a good starting point to consider.
As you can see in my illustration above, I have roughly outlined the anatomical dimensions of the entire vital area, as well as a 12″ concentration zone. O’Conner recommends a 15″ vital circle, and my research supports his conclusion, but the conservative hunter in me cannot stand to consider margins as an acceptable target to count on. I absolutely believe that there is at least a 12″ zone to make a solid vital hit, and I will take an arrow anywhere in the 12″ zone above, but the story doesn’t end there…
How Accurate Is Accurate Enough?
Just because I believe there is a 12″ vital zone, does that mean that I am content with hitting a 12″ target in practice? Absolutely not!
Any bowhunter that has hunted for more than a day will know that “practice accuracy” and “hunting accuracy” are two different things. I can put together some solid groups on a target when I am in a controlled practice environment – feet level on the ground, time is never-ending, my foam target is lifeless, and there’s not much pressure on the shot. In practice I try to live by the “inch-per-ten-yards rule”, so at 20 yards I want 2″ groups, at 40 yards 4″, etc.
But in a hunting situation I may find myself contorted in an odd position, huffing and puffing after scaling a ridge, wavering in the wind, or simply not as mentally strong as I should be. Or, maybe all of the above.
Now, consider that my target is an elk! Maybe he isn’t perfectly broadside, maybe his vitals are obscured by a cluttered shooting lane, and maybe in the moment I don’t aim in the perfect center of the vital zone. Maybe, or rather likely, I don’t have 12″ or 15″ to work with after all. And at that point, in a high-pressure hunting situation, I’ll be extremely lucky to hold to the “inch-per-ten-yards rule.”
How accurate is accurate enough? I don’t know that there’s an answer to that question; at least not one that we can develop on the practice range.
I want to be as accurate as possible; and even then, I’ll want to do better tomorrow.
I painted the 9″ center core of my Rinehart RhinoBlock, and my goal is to consistently land 10 out of 10 broadhead-tipped arrows in that zone all day long from my yet-to-be-determined max distance, and that is including shooting from unconventional positions and in variable conditions. Nine inches is my “worst case” accuracy goal for longer range shooting, and although that sounds like a huge area, remember that I am considering all of the “in the moment” factors that will affect my shooting. Think of it this way, a 9″ diameter means that IF you aim in the dead center of the zone, you only have a 4.5″ buffer zone in any direction.
For better or worse, I have always been extremely cautious and conservative about the shots that I take in hunting situations. I am anxious to continue dialing-in my bow, arrows, and shooting skills to see where my confidence lands come September. But until then I have many months of practicing and experimenting ahead of me!
What’s your opinion? How do you, or would you, practice for elk hunting? What is “acceptable accuracy” to you?