Bowhunting the West by John Maynard

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John MaynardBroadheads For Elk

If you ever want to start a good argument, ask in a hunting chatroom what the best broadhead is. Hunters are passionate about their favorite broadheads. And every hunter think there's is the best one or they wouldn't be using it. And here are my views on the selecting broadheads for elk.

Let's face it, with today's faster and more powerful bows and with a wide variety of arrows giving you the best possible downrange velocity and power, just about any broadhead will kill a whitetail even if you are slightly off the mark and hit a rib or shoulder. But that certainly isn't the case for bigger animals like elk, moose, caribou, etc.

Those animals, and especially the elk, require a broadhead that will give you the best possible penetration through a tougher hide, bigger bones, and a larger animal with a lot of stamina. Sure, you can kill elk with a 50 pound bow and a lousy broadhead if you hit it perfect and blow out both lungs, but is that possible all the time? Are you that perfect of a shot? I'm not.

Therefore I want to use a broadhead that will give me the best possible chance of making a clean kill even though I may hit a tough rib bone or a shoulder.

Many Broadheads Cost You Energy

Let's be honest with each other here. Any broadhead which is designed so that it impedes the cutting action of the blades in any way can and will cause you problems on big bodied animals like elk. And some broadhead models are designed so they take extra energy to penetrate.  Despite your fondness for mechanical or expanding broadheads it is a known fact that it takes 20 percent more energy for them to penetrate than a conventional broadhead. That means in simple terms that you have to pick that up in more poundage with your bow. and 20% more pulling weight in a bow is a lot. You may try to pick it up in heavier arrows but then you lose speed.

Another given fact is that in big boned animals if a mechanical broadhead hit a bone at an angle it will slide along the bone and then keep that same trajectory as it comes off the bone into the animal's body. That means that it can slide and miss all the vitals.

Broadheads with cone shaped or even chisel shaped heads also lose some power as they have to push away whatever they are penetrating until the cutting action of the blades takes over. Again, there is a loss of penetrating power with heads like these. Even though I have killed several elk with these types of heads, why put up with a loss of penetrating power if you can help it?

Cut-On-Contact Heads Retain All Penetrating Power

It's a simple fact, only a cut-on-contact head, that is one that begins cutting right away will give you the best penetrating power on large, big-boned animals and it is my firm belief that they are the best broadheads to use. And the fact is, they are probably the least popular. Why? Because most of them have to be sharpened because there are no replaceable blades and hand sharpening is getting to be a lost art.

But there are tools out there that can make even the worst sharpener one of the best. One of my favorites is the type where you lock the broadhead in a guide and then move the stone over the broadhead so you always have the correct sharpening angle. There are also files that lay at a certain angle in a board and you just push the broadhead alone that file always giving you the correct angle. For the real inept there are little gismos that you just drag along the broadhead to sharpen it. They may not do the greatest edge in the world, but they do an adequate job in most cases.

Whatever you do, do not use the broadhead as it comes sharpened from the manufacturer. I have only found one broadhead manufacturer that sharpens their blades in a satisfactory manner and then I would still use a crock stick on these to give them even a better edge. Some edges are so horrible from the manufacturers that you have to set a whole new edge angle and sharpen it.

So, What Are My Personal Favorites?

Some of my favorite broadheads for elk are:

  1. Phantom broadheads. These stainless steel broadheads are made in Colorado where the manufacturer knows his elk. He also knows what goes into making a good solid broadhead that flies true downrange . The main blade has good thickness at .040 allowing it to stand up to hitting bone and the replaceable bleeder blades have a thickness of .028. The bleeder blades have a positive locking design that keeps it from falling out or moving if it strikes something tough. They are only available in one style at 125 grains and they are mounted on screw-in inserts. I've used Phantoms for about six years now and love the way they fly and penetrate. 
  2. There's a new kid on the block that I may move ahead of Phantom in my estimation except I have not had a chance to see what they do on elk. It's called the "Steel Force" and there are several features I like about them. They fly every bit as good as the Phantom downrange but they comes in weight ranges of 85 grain up to 200 grains. They are made in both stainless steel and titanium and they have a slightly heavier main blade of .042 in the stainless steel and .050 in the titanium. but the bleeder blades are .15 or .20 thickness which is lighter than the Phantom. The thinking of the manufacturer here is that with the lighter steel the bleeder blades will break up if you hit some solid bone and allow the main blade to penetrate unhampered therefore giving you more penetrating power. I like that thinking. They have an aggressive angle of attack which gives superior penetration. And last, but not least, they are the sharpest head straight out of the box I've ever seen and the manufacturer offers free sharpening for life if you return the blades to them. All in all I like their looks and flight characteristics.
  3. Delta Snuffers have always been a long time favorite of great elk hunters. "Bugling Billy" who is one of the better elk hunters I know swears by them. But they are one of the blades you have to really take a file to to put a good edge on. They fly well downrange and come in 125 and 150 grains. They have three main blades that hold an edge better than any blade I've ever seen. The arrow follows the broadhead perfectly and where they hit they penetrate. They are the heaviest of the three heads mentioned here and probably the best penetrating head of the three.
My Other Favorites

Other cut-on-contact broadheads that are also available are Patriot, Delta Magnus, Bear Razorheads, Satellite Titans and Titan TNT's. Any of these blades will also give you good penetration but I have personally not used these so I cannot speak specifically about them.

So, if you plan to come out West elk hunting my recommendation would not be to use mechanical broadheads at all. Use chisel or cone shaped broadheads with replaceable blades if you absolutely cannot sharpen broadheads yourself. And use cut-on-contact broadheads if you want the absolute best.

So keep 'em sharp, hit the right spot and that elk of a lifetime will be yours.

Good hunting and God bless, John Maynard

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