High-Lung Hit?

Posted on August 14, 2012

My 15-year-old son shot his first bull elk while on a once-in-a-lifetime hunt in New Mexico. It looked like a good shot, just behind the shoulder but a few inches high. The shot was across pretty flat ground, and he used a 1-1/8-inch-wide fixed blade head. While tracking the animal downhill, and across a meadow, we found a sparse blood trail with bubbles and even a couple pieces of lung tissue. We found the broken arrow with bubbled blood, and from my calculation, the remaining piece of arrow and broadhead stopped on the opposite side of the ribcage.


The elk went about 200 some yards before blood and tracked petered out. It started getting dark, so we walked out, making sure we didn’t bump him. Unfortunately, the rain didn’t help that night, and we didn’t find him after doing a strenuous search the next day. We had to leave on our 9-hour drive home, so my son wouldn’t miss anymore school. My friends said they would look some more and watch for birds and coyotes but they had no luck. It was a real heartbreaker and a hard lesson. I didn’t think a double-lung-shot elk could go that far. But since then, I have talked to others that have had the same experience with a high-lung hit. Can you shed some light on this? Thanks.


Jim C. Tyler, via email


hunting arrow

Arrows that hit animals high in the chest usually result in a one-lung hit or a hit to the muscle band, which lies just below the spine. In both cases, the animals usually gets away and heals completely. Scientific evidence actually shows that cloven-hoofed herbivors (elk, deer, caribou, etc.) can live on only one lung.

A: I would assume a couple different things on this scenario. For starters, I doubt both lungs were punctured, otherwise the animal would’ve expired within 250 yards. My guess, from the evidence of lung tissue and bubbly blood, was that only one lung got laced, and elk can live on only one lung. According to Randy Ulmer (a veterinarian and a great bowhunter), cloven-hoofed herbivores (elk, deer, caribou, etc.) have a patent mediastinum, meaning that if one lung collapses, the other lung remains functional, as no air can travel through the mediastinum (the memebrane that separates the two pleural spaces).


The arrow also probably passed through the muscle band above the lungs and below the spine. A cut here often bleeds a lot but then seals rather quickly, not affecting the animal enough to cause it to bed down.


I once shot a big wild boar “high lung” using a big 1 1/4-inch 125-grain fixed broadhead. It penetrated to the fletch. The blood looked exceptional, and I trailed him quite easily for 400 yards or so, and then things just petered out. It was steep country, too, so I can only assume I skewered one lung and the muscle band. He never bedded down.  I hope this helps.

– Joe Bell, Editor


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