Best broadhead for elk hunting [Gear Guide]

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It’s hard to overrate a broadhead’s importance for elk hunting. After all, the arrow is the only thing that actually touches an elk, so you want to pick the right one. Interested in my recommendations for the best broadhead for elk hunting (and why I chose them)? Read on.

Broadheads are one of the most hotly debated pieces of gear and there is no perfect choice for everyone. That said, there are some general rules and suggestions that work for the majority of elk hunters. I’ll focus on trying to educate you so you’re confident to make your own choice for your unique situation.

This guide is written for elk hunting but these heads will work just fine on almost any other game animal in North America. As always, I put my recommendations (and a summary) right up top since I go into so much detail later on. Make sure to scroll down if you really want to understand the “why” not just the “what”.

My recommendations: the best broadhead for elk hunting

If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick summary and some recommendations: the best option for 90% of elk hunters is a 1 1/16” – 1 1/8” wide two blade broadhead with bleeder blades.

  • Best broadhead at any cost: Day Six Evo or Iron Will S Series
    • Fantastic accuracy, tolerances, and penetration. All the strengths of one piece broadheads but with the convenience of replaceable blades
    • The D6 Evo is rust proof and penetrates slightly better. Iron Will heads have slightly better edge retention and strength (but aren’t stainless)
    • Full review of the D6 Evos here with comparison to Iron Will broadheads
  • Best value broadhead: Slick Trick ViperTrick Pro Series (Stainless Steel)
    • Most accurate fixed blade I’ve ever tested, great tolerances, stainless steel, and nice relaxed blade design. Proven winner.
    • Honorable mentions: QAD Exodus (only “full” blades are legal many states), RMSGear Cutthroat, VPA 3 blade (if you want easy resharpening)
  • Best budget broadhead: N/A
    • There aren’t any options that are significantly cheaper than the Viper Tricks that I’d recommend. Most broadheads are $10-15/head

How to pick the best broadhead for elk hunting

Elk hunting presents some difficult situations for a broadhead. Shots are often long, windy, and can present themselves at difficult angles, so accuracy is critical. Elk are big animals so a broadhead has to do a fantastic job penetrating to get a full passthrough. Finally, the broadhead needs to be drop dead reliable since you might only get one shot (if you’re lucky) and elk are solidly built creatures.

With that in mind, here’s a summary of what matters when you’re buying a broadhead for backcountry elk hunting:

  • Critical factors
    • Accuracy
      • Bows don’t transfer energy, so the only thing that kills is putting your broadhead in the right place. Accuracy trumps every other attribute.
      • A properly tuned bow (i.e. straight arrow flight) is essential for accuracy and no broadhead can “fix” an improper tune
      • Minimal surface area (length, width, vents), tight tolerances (weight, straightness), and easy on-arrow resharpening (i.e. ability to practice without removing blades) leads to accuracy
      • Most broadheads are accurate in perfect conditions but truly exceptional broadheads remain accurate in crosswinds or when shot with poor form
      • The only way to know if a broadhead is accurate for your setup is to test it (the same broadhead will perform differently on different equipment)
    • Penetration
      • A complete pass through is everything. Elk die quicker, tracking is easier, and you usually recover your arrow (which has important clues)
      • Smaller cutting diameter, relaxed blade angles, fewer blades, and smooth transitions lead to broadheads that penetrate better
      • There are four general blade layouts for fixed blade broadheads: two blade, two blade + bleeders, three blades, and four blades. The more blades, the narrower the head has to be to penetrate (all else held equal)
    • Broadhead type (Fixed vs Mechanical)
      • Fixed blade broadheads are more reliable, penetrate better, allow you to practice with your exact hunting setup, and are required by some states (ID)
      • Mechanical heads drain energy to open (= worse penetration), are weaker, and may/may not deploy when you want them to but are generally more accurate
      • A properly tuned bow can group fixed broadheads out to 100 yards, which is farther than you’ll ever shoot (I hope). Larger cutting diameter mechanicals are fine for deer but lead to decreased penetration in elk.
    • Your arrow’s energy
      • The broadhead design you need for good penetration changes dramatically depending on your bow’s IBO, your draw length, and your peak draw weight. See the detailed section below for detailed recommendations
      • Low powered (<55lbs and/or under 27” draw) archers need to take extra care to select broadheads with less resistance
    • Reliability & Strength
      • Steel or titanium ferrules (not aluminum), thick blades (0.035″+), and short stout construction lead to strong broadheads
      • A broken, bent, or malfunctioning head is not what you want if you’re lucky enough to get one opportunity at an elk
  • Somewhat important factors
    • Weight
      • You have to pick a single weight for all your broadheads and field tips. Your bow tune will change if you change point weight.
      • 100 and 125gr heads are by far the easiest weight heads to find. That also means identical field tips are cheaper, arrows are easier to tune, and you’re more likely to find replacements in a shop if needed
      • 125gr gives you slightly better arrow weight, FOC, and they’re usually stronger (although some have more surface area = worse accuracy)
    • Replaceable blades
      • Most replaceable blade broadheads are as reliable as their one piece counterparts
      • Unless you know how to resharpen blades (or want to learn), you need to buy extra blades for practice so you always have a sharp set
  • Not important
    • Price
      • The vast majority of broadheads are around $40 for 3 heads. They’ll work plenty fine and there really aren’t cheaper options.
      • Premium heads can be in the $90+ / 3 range. Since blades are resharpenable (and heads are more durable) they might actually be cheaper in the long run.
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Phew! That’s just the summary believe it or not. If you follow that advice I’m confident you’ll end up with the best broadhead for elk hunting for your individual situation. Want to understand why? Read on.

Critical factors for choosing the best broadhead for elk hunting

These are the things that really matter when you’re deciding between different broadhead options:

Critical: Accuracy

Archery is a game of inches. As I outlined in the arrow guide, an extremely powerful bow setup only has half the energy (and ¼ the speed) of a .22 rimfire round! Unless you put your shot exactly where it needs to go, the sad truth is that it’s not going to kill an elk quickly.

The broadhead has a disproportionately large effect on accuracy since it sits on the front of the arrow. The blades act like fins on a rudder and “fight” the fletchings in the back to take control of the arrow’s direction. That means two things:

  • A properly tuned bow is essential for good broadhead accuracy (and performance)
    • I can’t emphasize this enough. Your arrow needs to fly out of your bow perfectly straight since even the smallest angle will allow your broadhead blades to “catch” the air
    • Also, If your arrow isn’t hitting the elk dead straight, the increase in surface area will kill your penetration as well
  • The smaller and more streamlined the surface area of the broadhead, the more accurate it is
    • More surface area = more drag = worse accuracy. Imagine dragging a ping pong paddle through the water vs. a narrow stick. Get my point?

The interesting opposite of those rules is that most broadheads will show “good accuracy” in perfect conditions (flat shots, perfectly tuned bow, no wind). That’s because they never get crooked and expose the side of the blades to the wind. Unfortunately, those aren’t real world elk hunting conditions. Quick shots with bad form, steep uphills/downhills, long ranges, and variable mountain winds are pretty much standard.

The truly great broadheads minimize surface area and drag as much as possible so they are less affected by crooked flight (those bad shooting form, weird angles, poor bow tunes we discussed). The only ways to do so are to make the broadhead shorter, narrower, reduce the number of blades, and/or make the transitions “smoother” so they don’t catch wind. That also makes them penetrate better, but more on that soon. Broadheads that look surprisingly small often are the most accurate.

Broadhead tolerances also lead to good accuracy. If a broadhead’s concentricity (i.e. does it wobble when it spins?) is off, then it will try to fly crooked even if the arrow is straight. Also, if the heads have large variances in weight (over 5 grains) you’ll start to see a vertical spread at longer ranges. Many broadheads have good tolerances these days but the only way to know for sure is to weigh and spin them (check out my reviews if you don’t have the equipment).

It’s important to know that although some broadheads generally perform better than others, their accuracy really depends on your individual arrow/bow setup. There are so many variables that it’s impossible to predict just how they’ll fly unless you test them on your exact setup. Just because a broadhead works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Finally, the ability to resharpen your broadhead while it’s on your arrow is important for good accuracy. Why? If you change blades or swap out your “practice” head, the alignment is not guaranteed to be the same. I’ve seen extremely well made broadheads change their point of impact even after I put the same broadhead back in the same arrow. Yes, it might not matter under 50 yards, but if you really want to go long, investing in an arrow you can easily resharpen while it’s installed is a good idea.

Critical: Penetration

The gold standard of elk hunting (and most archery) is a complete “passthrough” of the arrow through the heart or lungs. That means the arrow fully exits the animal and leaves a total of two holes: entry and exit. That way the animal will lose blood pressure faster (i.e. die quicker) and drop more blood for easier tracking. Also, it’s easier to find your arrow since it isn’t still in the animal and the blood (or gut residue) on it provides valuable information about the quality of the shot.

Two things play a role on whether or not that happens: the design of the broadhead and the energy of the arrow pushing it. I’m a big proponent of shooting heavy arrows to maximize energy transfer, so let’s assume you’re already doing that. As far as the design of the broadhead, many of the things that make a broadhead cut through the air better (accuracy) also make it penetrate better. Here’s a list:

  • Width
    • Narrower = less drag = more penetration
    • Of course, that also means less cutting area. Most states limit the minimum width of broadheads to ⅞” for a reason
  • Smooth transitions
    • Abrupt edges or cutouts (vents) in the broadhead can reduce penetration energy
  • Blade angle
    • Have you ever tried to “push” straight down on the back of a knife to make it cut something? It’s really hard. “Pulling” a knife sideways ends up cutting much easier and takes less effort. Those are extreme examples of a 90 degree and 0 degree blade angle but hopefully you get the point. The more “relaxed” the blade angle (closer to parallel to the arrow shaft, or 0 degrees) the less effort it takes to cut something. That’s really good for elk (and archery in general)!
    • So why aren’t all broadheads that way? To make a blade really relaxed, you’d have to make it really long (assuming the same width), which increases the surface area which leads to… bad accuracy.
    • The only way to get around that tradeoff is to put a slight curve on the blade. I won’t dive into the complex reasoning (google why Japanese Katana swords are curved if you want a fun debate) but it does make a difference. The big downside is the blades can be harder to sharpen.
  • Number of blades
    • If you hold width constant, more blades = more drag = less penetration. Here’s an overview of the types with recommended widths:
      • True two blade
        • “Flat” piece of steel with two edges, like a sword. Generally the best penetration
        • Preferred design for most traditional archers and can be used in compound bows, especially for underpowered archers (low draw length or poundage)
        • Up to 1 ½” wide is good for elk
      • Two blade with bleeders
        • Like above but with ½” or ¾” diameter “bleeder” blade (basically 4 blades, but one set is really small)
        • The “gold standard” of elk hunting because they provide a great combination of accuracy, penetration and cutting area
        • Up to 1 ¼” wide is fine, but 1 1/8″ or 1 1/16” are great
      • Three blade
        • Three blades that are usually positioned evenly at 120 degrees apart.
        • Very easy to resharpen on a flat stone, but blade cutting angles and increased surface area makes penetration more difficult (you need plenty of power)
        • Up to 1 ¼” wide is ok, but I’d aim for 1 ⅛” or smaller
      • Four blade broadheads
        • Four blades, all the same size at 90 degrees
        • Do the most damage but need a powerful setup unless width is fairly small
        • Anything over 1” diameter will need some serious momentum behind it
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Critical: Broadhead Type (Fixed or Mechanical)

This is an age old debate that will likely continue for decades to come. Everyone’s situation is unique but there is a reason the majority of seasoned elk hunters shoot fixed blade broadheads:

  • Fixed blades penetrate far better
    • Mechanical heads take large amounts of energy to open when they hit an animal, which robs the arrow of energy for penetration
    • Mechanicals generally have flat blade angles and/or wide cutting widths which create far more resistance
  • Fixed blades are more reliable
    • Mechanicals can open in your quiver (or in flight), fail to open when they hit an animal, retention rings/o-rings are plastic and can break, and blades can snap (they’re usually thinner)… etc etc. While those aren’t common, they can happen, which is frustrating when a whole elk season boils down to one shot
    • Fixed blade designs are far stronger and can punch through bone in certain situations
  • You can practice with the fixed blades on your hunting arrows
    • Other than one exception (SEVR), you can’t practice with the same mechanical head you plan to hunt with unless you replace the blades
    • Mechanicals almost always come with lower quality blades since they are designed to be replaced (they can’t be resharpened)
  • Idaho requires fixed blade broadheads
    • If you want an OTC tag, you have to pick Idaho vs Colorado. Unless you shoot fixed blades you have to go to CO!

Mechanical broadhead proponents argue that they are more accurate and that the large cutting diameter is a benefit. To the first, I can easily get fixed broadheads to group at 100 yards, which is (hopefully) farther than someone would ever take a shot. To the diameter argument, I would say that I’ve had great results with small (1 1/16”) heads and that two holes is always more important to me than extra cutting area.

As I said, this is a personal decision, and those are my views based on my research and the experiences I’ve had. If you have to use a mechanical, I highly recommend a head with very relaxed blade angles and with rear deploying blades since they use the least amount of energy. The SEVR 1.5 (allows you to practice with blades locked) or the Rage Hypodermic Trypan would be my two picks if I had to use one.

Your arrow’s energy

The best broadhead for elk for me is far different than it is for my wife. My setup delivers over twice the energy hers does! If she used a wide, four blade broadhead with a flat blade angle, she would probably only wound elk instead of doing lethal damage.

It’s essential to match a broadhead’s design to your arrow’s available energy if you want to get good penetration. Your bow’s IBO (speed rating), your draw weight, and your draw length can be very different from that of other archers.

Here are some general guidelines based on some rough specs:

  • Low power
    • <50lb draw weight, <27” draw, <315fps IBO
    • You need to use extremely efficient broadheads. Any broadhead designed for trad bows (two blade, very relaxed blade angle, narrower width) would be a good choice
  • Medium Power
    • 50-60lb draw weight, 27-29” draw, 315 to 330fps IBO
    • Avoid wider broadheads, many blades, or aggressive blade angles. A 1 ⅛” two blade w/ bleeder is a great choice.
  • High Power
    • 60lb+ draw weight, 29”+ draw, 330fps+ IBO
    • You can probably use multi-blade or slightly wider (1 ¼”) heads if you want, but you’ll be trading some accuracy

Those are rough guidelines, but hopefully that helps. I personally use a 1 1/16” two blade w/ bleeders even though I have a high power setup. I love the accuracy and always get great penetration… and great results. Why go wider?

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Critical: Reliability & Strength

While I’ve been fortunate to never have a broadhead fail, the internet is littered with pictures of broken, bent, and twisted broadheads. Shot placement is everything but there are times where even the best archers let an arrow stray. Elk shoulder blades and bones are far stronger than those on deer, so it pays to make sure your broadhead is strong enough to survive impact. Even elk ribs are serious obstacles: I’ve seen them deflect perfectly placed shots with even the most bombproof and narrow heads.

Steel or titanium ferrules, thick blades (at least 0.035”), and short, stout construction are the name of the game. Don’t risk your entire trip or, even worse, the life of an animal on a poorly constructed head.

Somewhat Important factors for the best broadhead for elk hunting

These are factors that might be important (depending on your situation) but aren’t essential like the features above:

Somewhat important: Weight

This might be obvious for experienced hunters, but you need to use broadheads and field points that weigh the exact same. Otherwise your arrow will react differently and have poor accuracy. Even 25 grains will lead to crooked arrow flight and different impact points.

100 and 125 grain broadheads are by far the easiest options to find. That’s important if you lose your broadheads on a trip or need replacement blades. Also, most commercial spine charts only go up to 125gr so tuning arrows can be pretty difficult (and expensive).

I generally recommend a 125gr head because they’re generally stronger than 100gr versions. Many broadheads have significant cutouts or milling to get down to the 100gr threshold. That’s not always true and some manufacturers do add more material in places that lead to bad accuracy. However, if you want a heavier arrow (highly recommended), a stronger broadhead, and slightly better FOC (which isn’t that important, see the arrow guide) a 125gr is a good place to start.

Somewhat important: Replaceable blades

This one is a personal choice because it depends on whether you want to (or know how to) resharpen your broadheads. I’d say the majority of hunters don’t, so replaceable blades are nice to have. Swapping out blades is far easier to do and is also a benefit for backcountry hunters who don’t want to carry heavy sharpening gear (… and might have hit a rock, not an elk…)

A word to the wise: replacing blades and unscrewing broadheads can change your point of impact. That’s why I like broadheads that allow you to resharpen blades (even disposable blades) while the broadhead is installed. This is a place where straight edges are really nice to have since they touch up easily.

Three blade broadheads are often the easiest to resharpen since their 120 degree spacing allows you to simply push them along a stone and rotate the head. They won’t be quite as accurate as two blade options but it’s a good compromise if you also shoot a lot outside of elk season.

Factors that are not important for the elk hunting broadheads

These are factors that really don’t matter unless you have a truly unique situation:

Not important: Price

Wait, what? Well, this is one area you can’t really save money. Almost all broadheads are $30-40 so price usually isn’t a deciding factor. One thing to pay attention to is how much replacement blades cost… that can add up fast if you hunt year round.

One reason so many guys pony up for premium ($90+) broadheads is that they last longer since the blades are high enough quality to resharpen. Also, if they’re designed like the Day Six Evo or Iron Will, the ferrule is protected by the replaceable blade in case they hit something hard. That means they’ll last for years to come.

You get what you pay for when it comes to broadheads and it’s hard to skimp. Saving a few dollars is definitely not worth watching an elk walk away wounded.

Tips & Tricks

You’ll need an arrow spinner to tell if your broadheads and/or your arrows are spinning true. The best value option I’ve found is the Pine Ridge Archery Arrow Inspector.

Make sure to test your broadheads at your hunting location. Altitude, humidity, and transport can dramatically change your point of impact, so always sight in right before your hunt. I take a shot or ten every time I come out from a trip.

Store broadheads so the edges aren’t contacting anything (or each other!) or you’re in for some resharpening work. It’s hard to beat the inexpensive MTM Broadhead box unless you want to spend the dollars on a high end case.

I’ve never taken more than 4 broadhead equipped arrows into the backcountry (and never used more than one) but I usually do 2-4 day trips. If you are going for longer, or just feel uncomfortable, take more. Just make sure to put a blunt on at least one arrow for grouse! The best i’ve found is the VPA Thumper… it’s solid, accurate, and very durable.

It pays to have a full dozen hunting arrows in the car in case something happens to the ones in your quiver. Generally a few arrows won’t spin true with broadheads, and you’ll need one for a bareshaft for tuning, so that means you’ll only have 8-10 anyway.

Save old replaceable blades for high volume practice sessions. It’s easy to keep track of them by marking an inside edge with a Sharpie.

Still have questions? Have feedback?

Drop me a line in the comments below and I’m happy to help you find the best broadhead for elk hunting for your individual situation.

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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>