Elk rifle shot survey


New member
Dec 7, 2017

I started a survey about rifle shots taken on elk over on the Rokslide forum (https://www.rokslide.com/forums/threads/rifle-shots-on-elk-survey.134191/). It's similar to another survey I did here about shooting positions and distances on game (you can find that in the Firearms sub forum), but more focused on how effectively the elk is dispatched by bullet type, kinetic energy, shot placement, etc. I thought I could post here so as to increase the sample size. Will share the stats if I get enough data. Your participation would be much appreciated!


There's an old study of whitetail deer rifle shots from the South Carolina game department. They surveyed a bunch of hunters who took shots on whitetails, and recorded lots of data - distance of shot, whether it was hit, whether animal was harvested, distance animal traveled, caliber of rifle, bullet type, shot placement, etc. From this, they ran statistics on, for example, how far was the average shot, which bullets were most effective, how far did the animals travel after the shot, which shot placement was most effective, etc. The link to the study is here: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/articlegad.html

I've always thought it would be cool to do the same thing for elk, to see how they differ from deer. For example, SC found that soft, rapid-expansion bullets appeared to be more effective on deer than hard bullets, at least for quick kills - but would we see the opposite for a big animal like elk? It occurred to me that we have a treasure trove of potential data on this forum from you hunters. So, if you're willing, I'd love to take a poll here, collect data, and run similar statistics on elk. I'll share all data and methods for full transparency. With enough participation we might see some cool results. I work with data and statistics on a daily basis (with PhD), so I'm confident I can do a good job (but will happily take suggestions and criticisms).

To participate in the poll, please provide the following information on the last 5 elk you have shot at with a rifle - including the ones you did not successfully harvest!:
-Cartridge of rifle (e.g. 30-06 Springfield)
-Bullet used (e.g. 165 gr Nosler Partition)
-(I plan on using typical factory load data to estimate velocity and energy at various distances, but if you know the muzzle velocity of your shot is different from typical, do provide it.)
-Bull or cow?
-FOR EACH SHOT you took on the animal:
-Distance of the shot
-Position of shot (standing, sitting, kneeling, prone, etc)
-Whether the animal was hit or missed
-If hit, where the animal was hit (e.g., heart, lungs, liver, guts, head, spine, shoulder, etc. provide as much detail as you like.)
-If hit, did the bullet pass all the way through?
-Whether the animal was successfully recovered
-If recovered, about how many yards from the *first hit* on the animal did you recover it (e.g. 0 yards if DRT, but potentially many more if you had to track it)

If you can provide data for family members (kid, spouse), please do so.

The reason I am asking for the last 5 elk is because this will ensure that you do not cherry-pick (subconsciously or not) specific examples and therefore bias the data - like longer or better shots. Of course, if you can remember back more than 5 elk, please provide them. Please be honest about missing shots! Many numbers will require rough estimates (like distance traveled by animal), so please just do the best you can.

With this data I'll be able to do more advanced stats than the South Carolina study did. Questions I could attempt to answer are:
Does kinetic energy on impact predict killing effectiveness? What about caliber? Bullet type? Velocity? Are pass-throughs better than bullets that stop in the animal?
How does the probability of recovering an elk decrease with distance of shot? How does this vary with shooting position?
It's likely that some of these questions won't have conclusive answers, of course. But, the more data we get, the more conclusive the statistical analysis will be!

I'll go first - I've only shot at one cow.

1. 308 Win, 150 Federal Trophy Copper factory load. Cow. Took one shot, standing offhand at about 50 yards, quartering-away. Hit the lungs, full pass-through. Animal was successfully recovered, probably about 50 yards away from point of impact.

If you have any suggestions or criticisms of the survey, please share.


Well-known member
Oct 3, 2010
great state of Idaho....
I’ll put my experience here, 4 cow elk with rifle. .270 140grSST 300 yards high shoulder dropped dead, .270 140grSST 80 yards behind shoulder/lungs ran 35 yards, 6.5x.284 143grELD-X 10 yard frontal dropped dead, 6.5x.284 143grELD-X 50 yards behind shoulder/lungs ran 10 yards.


Well-known member
Dec 10, 2002
Chugiak, AK
you should use survey monkey, it would be far easier than compiling data from a thread. You'll likely get a better response rate, and won't have to read a bunch of superfluous information.


Well-known member
Mar 26, 2012
Somewhere in the basalt rocks
I would caution you against trying to make too many inferences from your survey. For instance, distance to shot recovery can be skewed by many things, such as if the animal ran downhill upon the shot, was it run previously, was it aware of shooter or unaware.

Also, as I'm sure you're aware, not all "behind the shoulder" shots are created equal. A well placed bullet will have a dead animal within a second or two. A poorly placed "behind the shoulder" shot may result in an unrecovered animal. An example of this is a high lung shot. It's behind the shoulder, and may well leave some lung tissue on the ground, but your odds of recovering this animal aren't the greatest.

Sask hunter

Active member
Sep 20, 2016
1 bull elk at about 50 yards slight quartering to shot. 225 Barnes ttsx out of my 338 win mag. Made it about two steps before falling over. Found bullet on the off side


Well-known member
Jan 8, 2015
I use my -06 165 Nosler AB factory ammo mostly. These are last 5.
Cow 180 or so yrds from shooting sticks ,dropped from ddbl lg & hrt picked up in truck
Cow 405 yrds from tripod dbl lg ,ran maybe 20yrds, recovered by PU
Cow 147 yrds from off knee/kneeling,dbl lg & hrt,dropped,Rec. by PU
Bull 187 yrds off tripod,dbl lg ,turned & dropped, R BY PU
Cow 180 yrds off tripod,dbl lg,dropped,R by PU

My 1st 2 bulls were in 70's off hand 30-30....in my camps....lol
A few very hard packout recoveries solo between,some with MZ.
I've revolved in my hunting...lol