There's a valid argument that hunting elk with a compound bow requires different set of tools vs bowhunting whitetails. What people notice is the obvious gear difference needed when western hunting in the backcountry but often times overlook the drastically different needs of their elk hunting arrows. 

I am anything but an elk expert, in fact at the time I write this article I have gone 1 for 3 on western elk trips. I hope that success rate continues to climb. Irregardless of my mishaps and failures, there are some common sense conclusions that we can look at to decipher the right approach to selecting archery equipment for elk.


It's no secret archery elk hunters are used to shooting their equipment at distance. The average shot opportunity for elk hunters is 60 yards. The average shot opportunity for whitetail hunters is 30 yards. Talk to any archery elk hunter and you'll hear them talk of flight path and arrow trajectory. 

Shooting setups and conditions are always changing. Shot opportunities happen fast, many times you don't have time to get an accurate range. The majority of veteran elk hunters want an arrow that meets the min KE and Momentum requirements to pass through an elk yet yields fast enough speeds that allow for moderate yardage mistakes. 45 foot pounds of kinetic energy is a good minimum threshold with the momentum minimum coming in around .40 slug feet per second. Get to those metrics with the fastest, flattest shooting arrow and you've covered all the basis. 


Elk hunting has exploded in recent years, with more and more whitetail hunters taking out of state travel hunts in the west. Like most newbies, we make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes in hunting strategy, style, and execution is tolerable as long as we are learning. Making mistakes with your archery equipment before your hunt even starts is not tolerable. 

So why in the heck do whitetail guys heading west, use the same arrow setup?

For myself, I would pin the answer around not wanting to setup my sight for two different arrow weights....or I could tell the truth and say it's laziness. If this is you, there's a very easy solution. Shoot your elk setup for whitetails. Elk are bigger, have tougher hids and more dense bone structure; thus you will need more momentum and KE to achieve a pass through. If you arrow setup will zip through an elk they will certainly zip through a whitetail. 


The hot trend is .166 micro diameter arrow shafts but the tried and trusted fail safe is .246 standard size hunting shafts. The claim to fame with micro diameter arrows is they perform better in crosswinds and have better penetration. Both come from the logical thinking around the arrow shafts having less surface area. When you are only comparing shaft both claims make total sense. When you add a slave to each end of the arrow, one being the broadhead and the other your fletching configuration, things get pretty complicated and not so black and white. 

From a scientific standpoint, your arrow's recovery ability ultimately impacts wind drift far more than the surface area of the shaft itself. The same with penetration. A more efficient arrow will carry better flight characteristics and carry more energy downrage for the moment of truth.

Another downfall to micro diameter shafts is the availability of quality components. While there are plenty of options out there for .166" and .204" shafts, the options for quality components are lagging far behind. This is a major point many overlook when going the down the micro diameter arrow road. The most likely failure point of your arrow will always be the weakest link and there is always a weakest link. In the case of micro diameter arrows, many times it's simply the components. 


Right out of the gate, selecting the correct static spine can make or break your elk hunting arrow's performance and flight characteristics. Luckily, nearly all arrow manufacturers offer some type of spine chart to use as a reference tool. Unfortunately, most spine charts are extremely basic and only reference elementary data inputs such as point weight, draw length and draw weight.

There are several other variables to take into consideration beyond the basics.

  • Let-Off - Your compound bow let-off directly relates to the powerstroke and work applied from your bow to your arrow. A general rule of thumb is the higher the let-off the more deflection you will see in your arrow which will impact the arrow's flight characteristics. If you're in between on a spine chart and shoot 85% or 90% let-off, stay on the stiff side. 
  • IBO Speeds - Again, relating to the powerstroke of your compound bow and work applied to your arrow, the IBO speed rating of your setup will alter the amount of deflection in your hunting arrow. While most spine charts are inclusive of 90% of compound bows with charts including IBO speeds between 315-340 FPS, what happens if your compound IBO speed is outside of that velocity? Another general rule is you can add 10lbs of draw weight for IBO speeds over 350 FPS (which doesn't happen often) and subtract 10lbs of draw weight for IBO speeds under 300 FPS. If you find yourself just outside the 315-340 FPS range use a 5lb adjustment.
  • Total Arrow Length - While most recommendations of total arrow length are similar to your draw length if you are a hunter planning to shoot large fixed-blade broadheads you may want to extend your carbon to carbon length to place the broadhead in front of your hand. We've seen some gruesome accidents floating around the internet. If you feel the need to extend your arrow length be sure you consider this in association with the static spine chart.


Spine indexing or building the arrow around its first dynamic spine is nothing new. Think of this as the dynamic spine/bend (spine in motion) vs static spine (spine at rest). You're arrow is only perfectly straight at rest, any other time when the arrow is in flight it's is flexing and bending from different forces. It seems silly that people are not building arrows around their flight characteristics.

The first dynamic bend or dynamic spine of an arrow is the amount of deflection it experiences as it is released from the bow and where that flex occurs on the shaft. This is determined by the combination of your compound bow's powerstroke, let-off, point weight/length, and IBO speed rating in comparison to the arrow's static spine rating.

There are a few ways to spine index your arrow shafts, most require an indexing tool. The concept revolves around finding the weak portion of the arrow shaft's spine and aligning that with both your cock vane and nock so that the first dynamic bend is up when the arrow is sitting on your rest. Finding the weak or spine in compression is crucial because arrow shafts will have multiple "strong" spines but only one weak leaving the side in compression the only measurable consistency. Building each arrow around the dynamic bend ensure each arrow is reacting the same exact way when shot for more consistent arrow to arrow flight characteristics....leading to better performance.


While the arrow shaft and build is critical to performance, the business end of your hunting arrow usually gets all the glory or blame. Lack of blood - it's the broadhead. Great blood - it's the broadhead. No penetration - it's the broadhead. Great penetration - it's the broadhead. You get the idea and we are all guilty of pointing the finger at some point in our bowhunting evolution.

Broadhead selection seems to be a personal decision, after all, confidence is the key to archery hunting success. While broadhead selection deserves its dedicated article, below are some key points to keep in mind.

  • Fixed blade flight is directly tied to your bow being tuned
  • If you're choosing mechanicals or hybrids make sure you have enough KE
  • Be sure you are spined correctly for your desired broadhead weight
  • Buy something dependable with a rugged design and sharp blades

Any well-designed, sharp well placed broadhead on the correct arrow build will do the job. Don't overcomplicate this.


Understand the basic function of your arrows fletchings...That is to stabilize the arrow in flight to hide flaws and/or allow the arrow to come into equilibrium faster. Allowing the arrow to recover or come into equilibrium at a faster rate allows your arrow to be more efficient downrange.

Most configurations and vane types do this by the introduction of friction, drag, or lift. This introduction of friction, drag, or lift is a direct influence on the center of pressure position of your arrow shaft. The further the center of pressure point is from the center of gravity point, the more stable your arrow flight becomes. 

Also keep in mind, the faster the velocity of the arrow the more visible flaws become. Flaws in your shooting form, bow tuning, and the arrow itself are noticeably more visible at faster velocities. Thus, most people slow down the arrow through mass or more friction through their vane configuration to hide flaws. This doesn't solve any issues, it simply masks them.

Proper nock fit is arguably the most important component on the back end of your arrow. It's the only component transferring the work from your compound bow directly into your arrow shaft. With that said, it's also the most overlooked component. Have a nock that fits too tight on your center serving and you'll likely experience nock pinch, which creates a world of issues in the moment of truth. Have a nock that fits too loose and you run the risk of your arrow falling off but you're guaranteed to have a less efficient transfer of work from your bow. The last thing you want is your bow string rattling around in the throat of your nock. Know your center serving size and throat size of your nock for a perfect fit...It's relatively simple.

Lighted nocks have almost become the standard and for good reason. The ability to retrieve your arrow post shot is so crucial in a successful track job. Your blood-stained arrow should be the storyteller of your shot placement. Having a lighted nock during low light pays dividends. If you choose not to shoot lighted nocks, I strongly suggest solid white as it easily shows up best in camera footage and is fairly visible. Be sure to verify the specific legality of light nocks in the state you are hunting, as they are not legal everywhere. 

After reading this article you may be overwhelmed with info, don't let deter you from tinkering with your arrow setups and becoming more educated. Folks have been harvesting elk for decades with lesser equipment than what we have today. However, any time a bowhunter can eliminate variables they become much more effective. In the case with elk hunting arrows, we do have the power to eliminate variables. 


 Author: Chad Sylvester, Exodus Co-Founder/Owner