Help.... What did I do wrong?

by Shanon
(Snohomish, Wa.)

This has been my worst nightmare of hunting ever... I have been a hunter for 32 years, I have ALWAYS put pride in making the "ethical shot". I practice, practice, practice all year long so that I can make that shot when presented. This Elk season. I took a 238 yard shot on a 5x4 raghorn bull, with a .300 Win Mag/ with 180grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip ammunition. I have had a great deal of luck on big mule deer with these bullets, but have yet to put one into an Elk until this season.

I took a good rest, waited for the perfect broadside shot, put my crosshairs just behind the shoulder, touched it off, and THWACK, hit that bull, which turned downhill and crashed out of sight.

I then gather my thoughts, made to trek up the hill to where I shot at the bull, I find blood, bright red blood. LOTS OF BLOOD. I then start to trail the animal. I walk about 60 yards and find a large (4" chunk of bone)in the blood trail. In the dense forest covered in snow I can literally see the blood trail 30 yards ahead of me. I find areas where the bull had fallen over and keep following the trail. I have now gone almost 3/4 of a mile, and no bull. Darkness falls upon me and with no elk I back out and return early the next morning fully expecting to find a dead elk within a 100 yards or so from where I left off.

Instead I find where the bull had bedded up and bled like crazy (still bright red). I continue following still on blood. I have now gone up hill, downhill, side hill, and covered about 2 miles. I spend 9 hours that day searching covering about 4 1/2 miles of mountainside. I caught the bull once and could not get a shot off, so once he bolted on 3 legs, I waited about 45 minutes and started on the trail again hoping he would become exhausted from the blood loss.

Eventually the blood stopped and I could not find the bull. I am completely heart broke knowing that I drew blood and could not or did not recover the animal.

What could I have done better (other than the obvious) of making a better shot) to have recovered the animal. I went slow, I gave it time, can anyone give me some constructive advice?

Comments for Help.... What did I do wrong?

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Sep 05, 2013
Lost Elk!
by: moutain walkerAnonymous

Do not beat yourself up about this. It could be a bad thing mentally on yourself. It is a hard thing to get under control, when you lose game! I'm sorry, but I'm not a big fan of Winchester p.p. bullets, as I shot a 4x4 buck deer with my 300 win and the bullet came apart. The copper jacket was like a long 2 inch sting, lead blew up to small chunks. I'm glad I used something else solid on my Elk! It looks like you might have hit him in the shoulder and the bullet came apart. You were a good hunter and tried to do everything you could to find him! Maybe having a few others with you could have helped you find him. Do not beat yourself up about it. Carry on, stay focused, be positive, and most of all enjoy the outdoors. Good hunting! Be safe!

May 21, 2013
Since he got away
by: Don

You will never know, too many possibilities. It would be my guess that you didn't hit where you were aiming. Did you pull the shot? Was this the first shot after the barrel was cleaned, factory ammo or reloads or some other factor? You stated about bone loss, about it going on 3 legs, could it have been hit in a front leg? Bright red blood is not a sign of a lung shot. Blood from the lungs will have some foam in it and they don't go far.

As for bullets you might want to try Remington Core lokt, an old standby. Use a heavy bullet. Whatever, you got to make sure they will shoot accurate in your rifle. Good luck on the next one.

Dec 01, 2012
Kill Shots on Elk
by: Dave,

I won't approach until at least a half hour to an hour on a downed elk. If I can see it and it looks dead, I use my binoculars to look for breathing. If the chest is still moving I back away. If you suspect a poor shot give it more time. If you know it is a gut shot, give it four to six hours!

Pat, thanks for the great advice. I like your thinking on the shock factor not being as relevant on elk. I've seen it many times. Elk are incredibly strong animals. They are done if you make a double lunger. I've seen them run farther after a heart shot than a lung shot. Same with deer. They go down, but they run out the adrenaline in a 100 yards or so, just enough to get piled up in the nastiest spot for retrieval possible. With a lung shot, they often just walk away and lie down. Particularly with an arrow double lung shot. It amazes me how quickly they just walk away and lay down after being arrowed through the lungs, rather than running at full tilt like they often do with a poorly placed bullet.

Dec 01, 2012
THE one thing...
by: MarDee McDougal

When I was a Jr. in high school...60+ years ago...I went with my dad & our neighbors on my very first elk hunt. I had my perfect shot at this BIG bull. As I remember it, probably 30 yards away. I dropped him in 1 shot. NOW...what I did wrong, & I'm thinking that maybe you did the same thing...I did NOT wait 10 to 20 minutes after he dropped to go over to him. I was excited & didn't even wait 5 minutes. I went right over. This did not give him time to tighten up, for the adrenalin to come out of his body & him to "stay put". He took off for parts unknown...we followed the blood trail but never did find him. That has bothered me all these years. As a motto has been to wait at least 15 minutes. It's amazing how much adrenalin an animal that size has & how far they can run on it. Good Luck next time you go out!!

Nov 22, 2012
Answer for Dave
by: Pat Cassidy

To answer your questions Dave, I am speaking from 45 years of Elk hunting and a lot of autopsies and bullet testing.

First of all let me say that lung shots are best. Second, I hunt in very brushy country and shots are close. I use a Remington Model 600 in .308 Winchester.

My personal target on an Elk is just over the heart no matter what the angle that is presented. That requires a very tough bullet that will penetrate most of an Elk's body, bone and all.

I have had a quartering to shot through a front quarter with 2 different bullets, a 220 gr Sierra RN and 2 Barnes X-bullets, and penetration was completely through the animal except for one that presented an uphill shot. That one went through the shoulder joint, sheared off 2 ribs, went through a lung and 3 spinal vertebra, lodging in the 3rd vertebra. It weighed 174 gr out of 180 and was only about .35 expanded diameter.

When I first started Elk hunting I used a variety of bullets from several calibers...all with high velocities and rapidly expanding bullets. And lots of blood-shot ribs or meat to clean up.

All died, but often after running a ways. About 30 years ago I started using the Sierra 220 gr RN at 2100 fps and have never had an Elk go over 30 feet. Then I decided to try the X-Bullet and guess what? The 180 X penetrates just as far as the 220 Sierra, with better bullet shape.

Both of these bullets have accounted for many Elk and the amount of meat loss wouldn't make a small rabbit.

As to shock value on Elk I will continue to maintain that bullet placement and bullet construction that provide penetration without rapid expansion kill very rapidly. My use of an arrow as an example illustrates the low level of shock necessary for Elk.

All you have fun now.

Nov 22, 2012
Losing an animal
by: WisLRH

I want to compliment you on your efforts, both before the shot and after. You are doing exactly what you need to do, review, analyze and adjust.

Back about 35 years ago, I lost an elk using those very same Winchester Silvertips in a 300WM. It was a solid hit, but the silvertip bullet construction was not up to the task, the bullet completely fragmented on the shoulder instead of going through it into the vitals. If I were to venture a guess, that is exactly what happened to you. I never used them again. You always need target shells right:)

I then studied bullet design and performance. I was lucky enough to find the then, brand new Nosler Partition Bullet and a couple other A framed bullets that I could hand load. They do an extraordinary job of opening up on initial impact causing great trauma if you do not hit any bone at all and yet retain 80 percent or more of the bullet weight if you hit the biggest and multiple bones.

I have also used variations of the barnes copper bullets. All of them are excellent for weight retention. However I have gone back to the Partition style bullets for the reason an ealier poster pointed out, if you do not hit a bone at all, the copper bullets MAY not expand on some game (not elk) leaving a small entrance and exit hole, making tracking more difficult. This does not happen with the partition design, since expansion WILL occur on skin/vital organ only contact with these bullets. They give you the best of both worlds regardless of where you hit the vital area.

As for bullet placement, I could not agree more with the poster that advocated for the lung shots!! I wish this was taught more prevalently. Always go for the lungs, instead of the shock and awe of the shoulder, head or neck shots no matter what the distance is period. I have taught my kids and grandkids to only aim for the lungs and have NEVER lost an animal of any species. Proper bullet construction (based on the game in this case A frame, due to it being Elk) with that bullet placement (lungs) equals ethical kills that never go very far.

One last thing, don't be afraid to go up in bullet weight, 180 grains in a partition bullet is sufficient minus the 20 percent if you hit massive bone as in your case. However, I have never heard any hunter worth his salt, say I wish I used a lighter bullet. Also that extra weight will reduce the affect of those nasty winds the mountains are famous for.

Those high quality constructed bullets are now in premium cartridges from almost all manufactures and all are up to the task. I hope this helps and may your next elk be a big one with a short track:)

Nov 21, 2012
if it makes you feel any better...
by: Alan

I just got my first elk last weekend and he'd been gut-shot (twice!) earlier that day. When I spooked him he still had a lot of fight, but wore down after a few miles. Somebody is out there feeling terrible, as would we all, but if you gut-shot a 4x4 bull near Ovando, MT on the morning of 11/17/12, know that he ended up in a good freezer.

Nov 19, 2012
shot placement
by: Oregoncoast

I have recently been researching the best shot placement after a friend lost his heart-shot blacktail. He gave it time to bleed, it had a good blood trail that dried up after about 100 yds, where it bed down until we came upon it. Pushing its way further into thick coastal woods, dark and raining we retreated till first light. Spent the next two days with looking with dogs, nothing. If you just hit heart, according to an M.D.'s post, blood pressure in the vitals remains high enough for the animal to move hundreds of yards or even miles depending on the shot. A double lung shot will guarantee a major drop in blood pressure. As the heart works harder to keep pulmonary pressure up, bleeding continues until the majority of the blood supply is pumped into the chest cavity.
Taking a shot just ABOVE the shoulder and back slightly will get plenty of lung and a shot at the top of the heart as well.

Nov 18, 2012
Elk Bullets
by: Dave,

Pat, I always listen when you speak ballistics. So, it sounds like you're saying, "forget about shock on elk, go for a pencil hole with copper bullets." (I know it would be bigger than a pencil hole.) Correct me if I'm wrong.

If that is the case, would that not require a lung shot (preferably double), small target heart shot, or nearly impossible brain or hard to hit spinal shot? In other words, always make a lung shot? If you have a quartering to shot through a front quarter, how would that copper react if it has to go through that leg before going into one lung behind it?

Nov 18, 2012
New bullets for Elk
by: Pat Cassidy

Elk need a bullet that does not expand quickly. They are very tough (as you know) and not particularly susceptible to shock (an arrow has little energy but kills fast).

I would recommend one of the all-copper bullets that Barnes, Nosler, Winchester and maybe others make. I have used these and seen them used and they are very effective and ruin very little meat.

My favorite test for Elk bullets is to shoot them through two 5-gallon buckets of water laid end-to-end at 100 yds. If they make it through in one piece they are good enough for Elk. Have fun!

Nov 18, 2012
Animal Rights
by: Dave,

No animal rights activists allowed to post on this site. I delete their comments and ban them!

Nov 18, 2012
Thank you
by: Shanon

I want to Thank all of you for your comments... I totally expected some "rough" treatment and a few how could you's, maybe even some crazed animal rights people.... I have played the scenario out in my head over and over, I do believe I did as much as I could to recover this animal, and although I will never "let it go" so to speak, I will take the knowledge of others included with the school of my hard knocks to heart!!! I fully believe that I gave every effort possible, and I went out again yesterday and spent another entire day searching... Although again, I did not recover the animal, it did help put my mind at ease a little. I will spend the year practicing more, and I am looking into changing the bullets I am shooting.. I shoot a .300 Win Mag, with Winchester Ballistic Silver tip 180grain ammo... I truly believe that these bullets are not "mushrooming" but rather exploding or coming apart on impact not giving the blunt force trauma that they should... I may be wrong, but Im trying to look at avenues of improvement... Again Thank you all!!!! Shanon

Nov 17, 2012
Excellent Comments/Car Damage
by: Dave,

These are all great comments and we'll probably hear from more folks about this painful issue.

Larry, I hit the elk on the Interstate 2 miles from my exit in my Mercury Milan. It is in the body shop now getting over $7,000 in repair work done. Luckily, I only owe the deductible.

I was spitting safety glass for an hour! Safety glass is good stuff! (Well, not in your mouth.)

A truck driver stopped behind me to check on me. He was whining about not being able to kill an elk yet hunting. He looked down at my ElkHuntingTips.Net magnet on the back of my car and said, "Oh, now that's a coincidence!"

Nov 17, 2012
Lost Elk Help
by: Heath

When big bulls get to the point where they are out of blood, then they can still go a few hundred more yards maybe even 1000 more yards, tough animals. I would keep looking. Get help, the more people looking the easier you will find it.

If yours was still running around the next day like he was just fine on three legs it is possible he will heal up and may live with just three legs.

If he was down and you jumped him the next morning and he was struggling then he could have been close to dying and he could be just a few hundred more yards from where you last saw him or from where you quit looking.

I lost my first bull this year during the 2nd week of the archery hunt, after searching for days I called the fish and game, they said I could still use my tag to get another bull, but if I did get another bull and the first one was ever found I would not get to have it.

I shot my second bull on the final night of the hunt... hit him in the lungs and he still went over 2 miles, once he had completely bled out he still went hundreds of yards on no blood. By the time we got to him he was standing there 10 feet away in the trees as if he had gone blind from blood loss and was standing there basically dead, I put another arrow in his chest and he went over 200 more yards and finally laid down and after another hour he finally died.

By the way, we found my first bull two weeks ago, over two months after shooting him, he was just a little further than where I had previously given up. My broadhead was still wedged in his spine, my first bull was 370 6x7 and I cannot have him now and unfortunatly his meat went to waste, his head will go to auction, I will try to buy it, bitter/sweet still excited and aching over it at the same time. Glad we found him, sad we did not find him sooner after shooting him. I felt the same way you did when I lost him. I could not get excited again until almost two weeks later. My dad came with me for the final two days of the hunt and I got my second bull, 350 5x6.

I wish I had gotten more help and just kept looking for the first one... I had thoughts playing in my mind though that maybe I just scuffed him and he was fine, but had I gotten more help and kept looking we could have found him within 4 or 5 days of getting him, meat still would have been bad (August), but would have found him.

Nov 17, 2012
by: Skip Shephard

A few years back, I hit a deer with my bow. The arrow almost was a pass through. I was sure he was dead! I waited an hour and started to locate my deer. When I got to where I hit him, no blood, hair, nothing? I spent hours looking. No luck. A few days later, I was at the archery shop telling my story. One of the guys said I probably hit the deer in an area he called "The empty triangle". He said there is an area just above the shoulder where there are no vital areas and that an animal hit in this area can go a long way before expiring. Maybe you hit that elk in this area? Believe me I know the feeling of not finding the animal after you make a decent shot.

Nov 17, 2012
Was a second shot possible?
by: Elkwisperer


Everyone who hunts long enough will have a story like yours. There are many factors that go into making the perfect shot. Add an arrow into the mix and the odds of having situations like this go up.

On opening day this year I was fortunate to get a nice bull. It was a 213 yard shot. He only went about 60 yards with both lungs deflated. The reason I am telling this story is because I shot twice. The first shot was quite easy. He was stopped facing to my right. I did not have a rest other than my left knee. I was sitting. I shot. The bull turned and started back the way he came from. He stopped again about 10 feet from where I shot at him the first time. Since he presented a second shot, I took it.

After examining him after his 60 yard travel and gutting him out I determined that he was only hit once with the second shot. I have no idea what happened to the first bullet which I thought was good. I suppose it is possible that the two crossed exactly thru in the same entry and exit holes however that's a million to one shot.

So, if you had any opportunity to have taken a second or third shot before he was gone I would have tried to get them off. I treat rifle elk like a grizzly bear. Put your best effort into shot placement on the first shot. Then keep shooting till he's down if you can.

If you have ever pheasant or duck hunted you know that a crippled bird can out run, out swim and outsmart three guys and two dogs. Crippled birds running/swimming will get most of my shells in a typical day in the field.

Closing note: If you can go back and look for the ravens, magpies and coyote trails and try to locate the elk. It might help to bring you closure and to determine where the bullet hit the elk. Plus being in the woods is spiritually healing in and of itself.

Don't be to hard on yourself, if you hunt long enough it is going to happen.

Dave, did you total your truck hitting the elk? Was it the Titan?

Nov 17, 2012
We are Human
by: Pat Cassidy

My attitude is just like yours. I believe in "one shot". I have lost an animal.
We do our best in life but are not perfect.
Dave is right...move on and do your best. I greatly respect your efforts to find that Elk. Most would not have worked that hard for so long.

Nov 17, 2012
Wounding Elk
by: Dave,


I know how you feel. I know I wasn't "there", but I've been there. First, elk are VERY tough. Even with loss of bone that elk kept going because its lungs were intact. Lung shots, particularly double lung shots, are always fatal and fast.

I know you didn't hit that elk in the lungs. We just have to make sure we are taking lung, or heart shots on elk. They will die, if we do and quickly, although "quickly" can still put them in hard to find spots. I dropped one with a lung shot this year and it wormed its way into tight jack pines, hard to find.

So, the only answer is what you already said, "make a better shot".

Under the circumstances it sounds like you did your best to recover that elk. It just was not going to die so soon. Maybe not at all, although the bone loss was not a good thing for it.

It happens! Let it go. I hit one with my car the other day at 75mph. I gave the dead elk no second thought. Worse things happen to lots of elk, including wolves gutting them while they are standing on four feet. It's OK. Let it go. Go back and try again with your new knowledge.

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