You’re looking for the best draw weight for elk and have probably spent a lot of time online trying to get a straight answer from forums and hunting sites. This search can be a confusing and frustrating process. To simplify things a bit, I put together this unpretentious guide to help novice hunters feel more comfortable picking a draw weight for elk.
The advice in this guide comes from lifelong archery hunters, and I made sure to include some great tips and gear recommendations for hunters of any skill level. So why hunt with a bow when you can use a rifle?
Hunting elk with a bow and arrow is among the most exciting experiences a hunter can have. There is nothing more exhilarating than a bull elk screaming out of the timber and storming within range of your bow. It’s essential that if you ever find yourself in this position you’ve done your homework and put all the pieces together to take a safe and ethical shot. One part of that puzzle is picking a draw weight for elk that works for you.
Elk vs Deer Draw Weight
You might be wondering if you’ll need a more considerable draw weight than what you’re used to when hunting deer. Well, for starters – and I don’t need to tell you this — elk are a much larger animal than deer. It stands to reason that you will need a little more oomph to get through that extra mass of hair, hide, bone and flesh.
However, many hunters will use the same pound draw weight for both elk and deer, as modern compound bows can take down most big game animals. With that said, I recommend increasing your draw weight, arrow weight, and broadhead cutting capabilities when stepping up from hunting deer to hunting elk. A little extra force and penetration can mean the difference between a successful kill and watching your prize elk get away.
For archery hunters, our biggest fear remains that we wound and/or kill an animal but never find it.
Important Note: Broadheads are an integral part of successful archery setups for elk. Please check out our best broadheads for elk guide for more information.
Minimum Draw Weights For Elk By State
Each state that offers elk hunting has specific rules for draw weight. Some states have restrictions on the maximum let-off percentage. Your compound bow stores energy through its cams, and the let-off percentage is the amount of energy that it stores while you are in full draw.
This let-off makes it easier to hold the weight longer while you are at full draw. For example, a 50-pound draw weight with 80% let-off would feel like you holding 10 Lbs at full draw.
Here are the draw weight limits for elk by state:
Alaska – 50-pound minimum draw weight
Arizona – 40-pound minimum draw weight
Colorado – 35-pound minimum with a maximum 80% let-off
Idaho – 40-pound minimum with a maximum 85% let-off
Montana – No specific minimum but maximum 80% let-off
Nevada – 40-pound minimum with a maximum 80% let-off
New Mexico – No specific minimum draw weight or let-off
Oregon – 40-pound minimum draw weight
Utah – 30-pound minimum draw weight
Washington – 40-pound minimum draw weight
Wyoming – 50-pound minimum draw weight
It’s essential to check with the local fish and game before you hunt and verify the rules and regulations, as they constantly change.
What’s Your Perfect Draw Weight?
The best draw weight will differ from hunter to hunter, but draw weight will typically range between 45 and 80 pounds. So, how do you pick a draw weight that will work for you?
Of course, each hunter will prefer a specific weight, so here’s the real question: What draw weight are you comfortable with, and how much control do you have at that poundage? Yes, some bows have an 80-pound draw weight or more, but does that make them any better? You’ll get more accurate and deeper penetrating shots with higher-pound bows, but if you can’t consistently control your bow at that weight, you’ll be in big trouble.
Conversely, some people only have the strength to pull back 45 to 50 pounds. Will they be able to take down an elk at that weight? The answer is yes; however, they will need to have a much cleaner angle, a closer shot, and proper placement.
For beginners looking to hunt elk, start with a 50-pound draw weight, though one of our experts recommends you start at 55 pounds. When you can safely and accurately shoot from several positions at this weight, add five pounds to your pull, and repeat until you reach a weight that you feel comfortable holding for 1-2 minutes.
For most hunters, once the necessary muscles needed to pull back a compound bow are strengthened, they should settle in somewhere around 60-70 pounds. This amount provides plenty of draw weight to penetrate an elk.
If you’re not comfortable pulling back 70 Lbs that doesn’t mean you can’t consistently shoot deadly shots into an elk, so don’t let your pride get in the way. If you can’t maintain proper form throughout your shot, you’re almost sure to make a bad one.
Advice From Successful Archery Hunters
Here are some lifelong archery elk hunters on choosing a draw weight for elk hunting:
Lance Fitzgerald, Colorado Bow Hunters Association Lifetime Member:
“I started shooting as a teenager at 45 pounds of draw weight. I gradually worked my way up to the 65 pounds that I shoot today. It’s way more important to shoot at the weight you’re comfortable with rather than the amount of weight you are pulling.”
Kyle Clarke, Lifelong Elk Hunter:
“Start at 55 pounds. Until you can shoot at this draw weight, I would consider another hobby. So, get comfortable shooting this weight consistently as a beginner.”
Mike Schwarzenbrenner, Expert Archery Hunter:
“Don’t think you have to be Mr. Macho and go out there and shoot 80 pounds. But then again, it’s an admirable goal. Top archery hunters can shoot accurately with a 90-pound draw weight, and the energy this provides is punishing for any big game animal.”
An important thing to consider is that you’ll need a bow with adjustable draw weight when getting started. Going out and buying the “Cadillac” of bow setups might put you on the wrong footing. Here are some inexpensive recommendations for getting your feet wet:
Bear Archery Legit Compound Bow
Good to hunt out of the box. This setup makes for a great beginner bow. It features an adjustable draw weight from 10-70 Lbs. You can use this bow to hone in your draw weight and get comfortable with form and proper mechanics. Users report that this lightweight bow is easy to draw, which helps you get over that learning curve faster.
Diamond Archery Infinite Edge Pro Bow Package
This bow provides another ready-to-go option for beginners. With an adjustable range of 5-70 lbs of draw weight, beginning hunters can hone their craft with this bow. I hunt with a Diamond Bow and can attest to the quality and craftsmanship of these stick throwers. It comes out of the box with a 53 Lb draw weight, a perfect starting point for new hunters.
PSE Archery Evolve Compound Bow Package
This bow hurts the wallet a bit more as far as a beginner’s bow goes, but it’s certainly worth the money if you are considering making a long-term commitment to the sport of bowhunting. It has an adjustable draw weight of 50-70 Lbs, making it perfect for those looking to refine their draw weight for elk. PSE is a quality company with excellent customer service, as many customers report an easy return process for defective gear (which, by looking at the reviews, is a rare occurrence)
Archery: The Art of Repetition
When looking to perfect your form while honing your draw weight, it’s necessary to practice proper technique. I read this book, which helped me hone my discipline and skills. It’s certainly worth a download and a read.
From Amazon: “Written by an acknowledged expert, this invaluable book is aimed at archers of all levels, from those starting out in the sport to those taking part in competitions at the highest levels. The author analyzes shooting techniques and tuning and emphasizes the development of mental toughness; he argues that this goes hand in hand with the mastery of the physical aspects of the sport. This comprehensive guide to shooting covers: how to get started in archery, the costs involved, choosing and using equipment, and the basics of shooting; setting up your equipment and initial tuning; the biomechanics of shooting; the tactics and preparation work involved in archery competitions; physical fitness, nutrition, and psychology; arrow selection and preparation; making bowstrings; and shooting techniques, improving performance, and the fine-tuning of equipment.”
Rinehart Targets 18-1 Broadhead Target
While perfecting your craft and getting comfortable with draw weight, you will need to do a lot of practice shooting. I like this target because it is highly visible and easy to aim at; plus you can shoot it from different angles and faces. Finally, the self-healing foam means you can use this target over and over.
Conclusions On Draw Weight for Elk
The best way to hone in on your perfect bow hunting setup is to get out there and start shooting! Try many different draw weights and broadheads to find combinations that work for you. A successful archery hunt begins long before you step foot into the field. Harvesting an animal is about putting all the pieces together at the right time, and getting comfortable with a draw weight is one of the most important pieces.
I hope this write-up was informative and cleared up your priorities in your quest for deciding the best draw weight for your upcoming elk hunt.
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Last Updated on July 24, 2023
Josh Riley lives in Colorado with his wife, Mary, and their three wild and crazy children. He’s an avid hunter, fisherman, backpacker, elk meat connoisseur, and international traveler.