What is the ideal arrow to use when hunting elk? Or is there such a thing?
Do you need an “elk arrow”?
First, let me clarify that there are plenty of arrows on the market that are adequate for hunting elk. If you are an experienced bowhunter that is just beginning to hunt elk, then you may not need to change anything about your current arrow setup. But if want to move beyond what is simply “adequate”, and find the most effective arrow setup for elk hunting, then it is likely that you can improve upon the arrows that you have been hunting with.
Before we talk about selecting a specific arrow for elk hunting, let’s first reiterate what makes a great arrow for any archery or bowhunting pursuit. Regardless of the type of shooting you’re doing, all arrows should be tough, straight, consistent in weight, and properly spined for your bow setup.
I can’t stress that last point enough! Proper spine is extremely critical, especially when shooting broadheads. Basic spine charts consider draw weight and arrow length, but there’s more to it than that! You should also consider your draw length, your bow’s cam design, and the weight of the broadhead that you are going to be using. If you don’t start with proper spine, you’ll never get your broadhead-tipped arrows to fly well!
What makes an arrow good, or bad, for elk hunting?
The first consideration for elk hunting is realizing the overall size and bone mass of the animal. Elk are extremely large animals, with sizeable ribs, shoulder bones, and a large body cavity. If a bowhunter wants to ensure a clean kill, and hopefully a pass-through shot, then their arrow must deliver high amounts of energy and penetration. Your arrows may zip through the ribcage of a whitetail with ease, but elk are literally a completely different animal!
The next consideration is arrow flight. Bowhunters that are new to Western big game hunting should consider perfecting their skills and equipment, so that they can comfortably, consistently, and confidently extend their range to at least 40, and more preferably 50+ yards. A good elk hunting arrow can’t just fly “good enough” with broadheads at 20 or 30 yards – rather, it should fly “spot on” at 50 yards, or more. Ideally this arrow will also resist drifts from cross-winds, which are common in the mountains, and other Western terrain.
Three characteristics of great elk hunting arrows…
There’s a lot of debate regarding what constitutes sufficient mass arrow weight for elk, but suffice to say, more is typically better! Of course there’s an extreme, where the arrow becomes so heavy that it ceases to travel with adequate velocity, but most don’t come close to reaching that level. Many bowhunters are quick to calculate kinetic energy, but momentum is also worth keeping an eye on.
The ArcheryReport.com has published a great article on Kinetic Energy and Momentum, including the results of their testing, which proved that, “kinetic energy and the momentum both rise as the arrow weight is increased. For the arrow weights tested, the kinetic energy tends to be leveling off but still gaining slowly, while the momentum is climbing almost steadily but is beginning to level slightly. Of all the testing done to date, I have not found any cases where the kinetic energy will decrease with increasing arrow weight. There is most likely a point where the arrow is so heavy that the bow cannot efficiently propel the arrow forward, but it is somewhere beyond 1450 grains for the bows tested.”
Either way you look at it, beefing up the weight of your arrows is a good idea for big game, such as elk. And, as an added benefit, shooting heavier arrows can significantly quiet your bow down. My current arrow setup weighs 465 grains, and they still fly with plenty of speed and hit really hard, even at longer distances.
Light and fast is not the name of the game when it comes to achieve penetration on elk! Sure, like all things in bowhunting, you can find someone with a story that claims otherwise, but talk to pretty much any veteran bowhunter that regularly hunts elk, and they’ll tell you that they want some weight behind their broadheads.
Front of Center
We just discussed why mass arrow weight is a good idea, but where we distribute that weight throughout the length of the shaft is important. Great long range arrow flight comes from proper balance, or should I say imbalance of the arrow.
“FOC” stands for “Front of Center”, which is a way to measure where the arrow’s balancing point is, compared to the center point of the arrow shaft’s length. The arrow should balance (weight) in front of the center (length) of the arrow shaft.
A common FOC recommendation is 7-10%, but for hunting setups I have had better luck with a FOC of 10-15%. After a lot of experimenting I settled on an arrow setup that has a FOC of 13%.
FOC isn’t a characteristic of the arrow itself, but your arrow and component selection – specifically your shaft length, shaft GPI (“grains per inch” weight), insert, nock, vane, wrap and broadhead choice – will determine your FOC. Therefore, it is important to consider your target FOC when you are selecting an arrow shaft. For example, I used to shoot Easton FMJs, which are great shafts, but for my broadhead choice and arrow length, it is difficult to get the FOC that I was looking for, while keeping the spine and total arrow weight that I needed.
There has been, over the past several years, a trend to make hunting shafts smaller in diameter. Overall, this is a great thing – especially for elk hunters! Smaller diameter shafts aid in penetration and resist wind drift, especially on longer shots.
When a broadhead enters an animal and begins cutting a path through hide, flesh, and bone, the “hole” created by the broadhead can begin to try to seal itself as the broadhead passes through. Smaller diameter shafts have less surface area and can “follow” the broadhead through the animal with less friction, which means the arrow shaft retains more momentum and can out-penetrate larger diameter shafts. Not only does this make sense “in theory”, it has been proven in reality.
The smaller surface area of thinner arrow shafts also help the arrow “cut” through the wind and make the shaft less susceptible to wind drift. The larger the sail on a ship, the more wind it will “catch”, and the more it will be steered – the same goes for arrows. (And moving back to my point about arrow weight, a heavier arrow will also resist cross-wind drift, because the momentum of the shaft cannot be altered off-course as easily as a lighter shaft.)
I don’t think arrow weight, FOC, and arrow diameter are as critical to whitetail hunters that are taking 20-30yard shots on smaller game, but for someone that is hunting elk, and is considering the possibility of longer shots, these characteristics of arrows can make a huge difference.
My personal opinion is that if I release an arrow on an elk, I want to know that I’ve done everything I can to ensure an accurate shot that has sufficient energy and penetration to cleanly kill an animal that I respect so dearly. So to answer the question that I raised in the beginning – “Yes,” for me, there is such a thing as an “ideal elk arrow.”