Choosing a Broadhead for Elk.
The bull elk screamed in the Colorado morning air and the hair on the back of my neck snapped to attention as my breath caught in the back of my throat and adrenaline pounded in my ears. The bull’s harem of cows was crossing right in front of me and soon he would be following along behind them on that same trail. With a gap in the flow of cows on the high country elk trail, 22 yards away, I came to full draw as I heard the bull’s glunking in cadence with the his quickening steps coming closer… closer….
The bull appeared, stepping out on the trail from the thick timbered cover, solely focused on gathering up his cows. I softly cow called and the bull put on the brakes, swinging his head in my direction. He was slightly quartering away and my pin settled calmly as I sent the arrow toward its mark. The hit appeared lethal, maybe a high 10 ring, had I been shooting a 3D target and the bull crashed up the draw with nowhere to go but a steep box canyon. With darkness descending and temps in the high 30’s we backed out deciding to return in the morning and pick up the blood trail confident that it would be a short one.
After a fitful night of sleep, we returned to pick up the blood trail and within 30 yards we found the back ¾ of my arrow, which to my surprise and disappointment showed signs of poor penetration. I didn’t understand… The shot was a good one, and I was shooting a broadhead that, according to their marketing, was supposed to be perfect! As we stayed on the trail for the next 200 yards the blood disappeared… I was sick! I didn’t understand. I had done everything right but I failed to get the penetration that, in my opinion, with my setup (70 lb bow at 28” draw and 455 grain arrow) I should have received.
My broadhead had failed me, and I had fallen for the hype, but I vowed it would never happen again. I went on a quest to figure out the best broadhead for elk and began testing various different styles, designs, and brands in order to form, IN MY OPINION, (That is in all caps, because this is strictly my opinion based on my testing and experience in the field) the best guideline for choosing an elk broadhead.
Accuracy…. You have to be able to shoot it accurately, here is where mechanical broadheads shine, you can cut some corners on your bow tune and arrow tune and still get great flight and precision. But weight your options carefully based on the other specs of your set up before picking a mechanical. Also factors such weight tolerance between individual heads can affect accuracy.
Sharpness…. I probably didn’t even need to mention this one, but they need to be SHARP…. And being able to replace or re-sharpen blades is a huge plus. Easy ways to check sharpness could be shaving hair or how easily they cut stretched rubberbands. If they don't do those things easily move on to a different head!
Toughness… A broadhead has to stay together and create devastating damage. Making a big entry hole is great for pictures, but what really matters is having the broadhead hold together in the cavity and create a massive wound channel, rather than scatter shrapnel. A fixed blade excels at this compared to mechanical broadheads. An exit hole greatly improves blood on the ground for trailing.
Penetration… Also very key in delivering a devasting wound channels is penetration. Consequently, this will depend heavily on your individual bow set up and how much KE (Kinetic Energy) and momentum you are delivering down range. The point of impact also plays a vital role and determines what lies beneath the skin. A well placed arrow on a 3D target, at the wrong angle is a low penetrating shot on the shoulder of a bull in real life. You need to be able to penetrate well through bone, especially ribs on an elk, and in my testing a fixed blade broadhead is far superior in this category.
If you want to do REAL testing this will cost you some cash… Buy a 3 pack of each of all the broadheads that you want to try and spin each arrow/broadhead combo to make sure they spin true. Then put them through the paces yourself…
Test them for accuracy and group reliability at distance from 20-60 yards. If you can’t hit what your aiming at the next tests won’t matter. Next set up a few “obstacles” such as, a piece of plywood, 55 gallon drum, an old tire, or anything else you can find to shoot into in order to test the ruggedness and penetration on these items. Again you are simulating a tough elk bone structure and you want to see how each broadhead reacts… does it hold together or blow apart? This will assist you in choosing your next elk broadhead, just by the results you observe.
After testing the different broadheads that I did research on, including a mix of mechanical broadheads, I personally found the broadhead that worked best for me was a 3 blade fixed head (cutting diameter of 1- 3/16”) with a trocar tip that assisted in breaking bone. It flew true and I got great penetration through some pretty rugged material. If you’re interested, my head of choice this year is the Wasp Havalon HV 100-gr. You can check it out here. And if you want to listen to a podcast with one of the guys behind the HV's development listen here.
Everybody’s set up is different and choosing and tuning a bow for each person is uniquely personal, so why shouldn’t we use the same diligence when we choose our broadheads for elk? You commit to much time to your adventure, don’t let your broadhead choice ruin it!