The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim dragon hunting guide

Melee Setup

In something of an inverse of what you might think, warriors have a hell of a time fighting dragons. If you’re playing a pure melee character without the benefit of spells or bows then you’ll have only your Shout attacks to battle the behemoths. As you might guess it’s not exactly peaches and rainbows when that dragon really wants to roast you alive from the sky without actually ever landing to battle you. That leaves you with one option, wait for it to land and…

Above: Get right up in its face

A melee character is best off avoiding dealing with the dragons as much as he can until acquiring the Dragonrend shout. When used this reduces a dragon's defenses while also forcing it to land. This Shout is obtained by following the main storyline until completion of the quest Alduin’s Bane. Upon acquiring this Thu’um you can force the dragon to never even take off, which allows you to just run up to it with your weapon of choice to beat its face in.

The above may sound simple but until you get that ability every fight with a dragon is going to be a trial of patience if you don’t want to use a bow or magic. Your best bet is to have a follower who does use magic or a bow and then put yourself under cover. Step inside of a tent, under an awning or just out of view with your shield raised (if you have the perk Elemental Protection). Once the dragon lands, charge in and beat on it, preferably before it hurts you too much. Rinse and repeat to end the fight.

Above: Chaaaarge!

You may find yourself using your Shouts a lot to get ranged damage in. If this is the case try to get an Amulet of Talos as it reduces the cooldown on your Shouts by 20% which is a huge boon. 

Thief Setup

A pure melee thief setup isn’t going to have a whole lot of success dealing with dragons. The problem is that you can’t use sneak attacks on them and you’re probably using daggers, which don’t deal damage fast enough to kill dragons with any expedience. For these situations you’re going to have to use a powerful sword to make up the difference. The best thing to do is use a bow for dragon, mammoth and giant battles to gain experience enough with it to do serious damage to dragons with your arrows. Equip the strongest bow you can get, give it a good enchantment and then buy the best arrows available to deal maximum damage.

Even if you are sticking to using your bow for all encounters you might want to bring a shield to any dragon battles. Stick a Fortify Health enchantment onto the shield to enable yourself to stand toe to toe with the beast if it gets right in your face. However you’ll want to pull back constantly to try to get some space, then use the quick change menu to swap back to the bow.  The video below is a pure thief character who has gained a huge amount of one-handed skill thanks to the dragon fighting involved in creating this guide.

Above: Late games fight using the Dragonrend to make the battle easier

Honestly a thief build should have some of the easiest dragon fights out there. The bow is an incredibly powerful weapon when trained up a bit and it can hit the dragon no matter where it hangs out. You might think a warrior wading into melee would have the easiest time but until you get Dragonrend that dragon may simply choose to never land. If that happens the archer can still yank down their health rapidly while a melee build stands there looking silly.

Mage Build

There are two distinct types of mages: the ones who run around in robes and use pure magic and the ones who use armor and weapons to complement their magical abilities. Both of them have a pretty easy time dealing with dragons so long as they’re given the right abilities to handle each dragon that comes after them.

The pure mage has a tough time since for the most part only destruction magic is helpful against dragons although summoning up an Atronach can help while the enemy is at a distance. Illusion just flat out doesn’t work without high level perks and Alteration is mostly useless. Having a decently leveled Destruction skill with the right perks will allow you to hammer on the dragons when they’re both at a distance and close by. 

Above: Burn the dragon!

A good strategy to deal with dragons is as follows, using an ice dragon as the example: Summon up a Flame Atronach and start pummeling the dragon with fireballs (one-handed to preserve magicka) until it moves closer. Once it does so dual-wield the Flames spell to burn the living crap out of the beast, guzzling down potions to keep your magicka up until the beast either dies or flees back up into the air. Note that since lightning spells fire instantly, they're great for hitting flying dragons since you don't have to lead your shots, and they work for getting a dragon to land, too.

One of the safest ways to kill dragons with a mage character is if you’re using a battle mage type of character. Slap on a strong suit of armor that you’ve enchanted to enhance your survivability (resistances or health increase) then get a weapon that will drain HP from your enemies - a sword works best as it strikes fastest. Circle strafe around the dragon using your spell of choice while hitting the dragon with your sword. The dragon will often get confused and keep turning to keep up with you while you’re pulling his health down and keeping your own up.

Above: Something like this

Frankly a mage has an easy enough time so long as you can get a bunch of equipment on to bolster both your base magicka levels and regeneration rate.


  • Xerxes667 - December 4, 2011 7:57 p.m.

    ok... maybe it's just because of my level; 32: i did a lot of smithing which leveled me up quite quickly, but during the Kathspire Encounter, it was not a Frost Dragon that spawned but an Ancient Dragon, the first i ever faced, not only does he kill me but he slaughters my entire party (i have Lydia tagging along too) and the entire Forsworn camp at Kathspire.... i've tried to get past about 20 times and i keep dying. I'm a Nord focusing on Melee and Destruction Magic and i don't have Dragonrend yes (obviously) so he's just flying and strafing everyone.... how screwed am i? any suggestions?
  • ThundaGawd - December 4, 2011 4:22 p.m.

    I play a stealth character, and I play on master, so just about any open encounter with any type of enemy is extremely difficult, but for the most part, when it comes to fighting any type of dragon, I just use literally any cover I can find (I've hidden behind a tree a few times) and hop out to shoot with my bow whenever the dragon stops to hover and breathe fire/frost. Another thing you guys should've mentioned is the use of Shadowmere, the horse form the dark brotherhood questline. I'm honestly not sure whether or not it's a glitch, but Shadowmere has an insanely high health regeneration rate, making it literally impossible for it to be killed by an enemy because it's health regenerates faster than it takes damage, making it the perfect tank during dragon fights.
  • Person5 - December 4, 2011 11:37 p.m.

    Its not a glitch, he's supposed to have a high regen and max health, but he CAN die, two bears killed him in my game which is weird cus he charges at dragons without a scratch on him, so while hes a useful horse, do be careful, and if he does die I heard he comes back to life in 3 days in the area he died at (unconfirmed for me though since I just reloaded my save)
  • bradmillow0 - December 3, 2011 7:16 a.m.

    When I first fought Alduin I didn't die at all, I thought he was fairly easy and I didn't even have any followers with me at the time, with the exception of Paarthurnax
  • jag0023 - December 2, 2011 11:12 p.m.

    i don't know why maybe its my game but i have only encountered one dragon the first main story dragon
  • D0CCON - December 2, 2011 3:03 p.m.

    I made two characters and they both deal with dragons very easily. My battlemage hits it with super fireballs of death until it lands and I use a bound/daedric sword to finish it. I'm guessing you can figure out what my archer does to it.
  • Maineiac - December 2, 2011 2:51 p.m.

    Sorry to disagree but you are wrong about sneak attacks not working on dragons. While it is a hard situation to reproduce I was able to sneak up on a dragon and one hit kill it with a dagger thanks to the sneak tree dagger perk and dark brotherhood gloves.
  • Boomer1992 - December 2, 2011 1:09 p.m.

    On master difficulty, I usually find a thick tree or rock and play ring around the rosie with it until finally my bow has brought it to the ground.
  • HeavyTank - December 2, 2011 12:53 p.m.

    Very nice guide, although the game's weird lack of scaling means that now my character can actually one-hit dragons even on Hard, so sadly now nobody poses a challenge to him anymore.. Also, the Blades tell you to kill Paarth?How?Why?
  • Manguy17 - December 2, 2011 12:34 p.m.

    As an archer ive found killing dragonsto be very easy most of the time due to the (glitch?) dragons prioritising everything else in the area as a target before me, including bunnies. And if theres cover i can normally just pop out and shoot an arrow and hide. This said (this is probally also a glitch) it seems that dragons arent scaling very accurately. the last few have just be plain old dragons and im lvl 42.
  • Manguy17 - December 2, 2011 12:50 p.m.

    also, ive had one game breaking backwards dragon, stuck flying into a wall. if i shoot it twice it would die, glicth around trying to find a place to crash, and thus would drop the framerates to unlayable, if it saw me it either flew backwards 100 metres and then froze, or flew sideways into a cliff and gets stuck dragon hunting is interesting.
  • ShowMeYourKitties - December 2, 2011 11:55 a.m.

    It's good to hear that the thief build gets easier, cuz right now it sucks for fighting dragons. I always have to lure the dragon towards a group of npc's to fight for me.
  • Y2Ken - December 2, 2011 10:57 a.m.

    This is quite a useful guide. I'm comfortable now fighting dragons, although I do have to be a little careful - that bite finisher is a pain if you let them get too close. The first two random dragons I "fought" were both killed by giants, which definitely makes life a little easier. I've been doing a lot of hunting Words of Power (asking Arngeir for locations and then visiting them) so a number of those point you directly to dragon roosts.

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