Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to take many hunters out in search of big game animals.. namely red deer but many other species have also been on the radar. One thing I’ve noticed is a real divide or confusion between many guys and girls as to where the best “kill shot” on large game species is.
We all know nothing drops like a clean head shot but realistically if your experience is limited I’d discourage any hunter from taking head shots without 1) knowing exactly how your rifle performs at different ranges and 2) You can shoot! I don’t mean you can hit a clay “sometimes” at the range; I mean you can shoot sub 1″ groups all day everyday. It’s an ethics thing really; it’s our duty to do our absolute best to kill that deer, tahr, chammy or whatever animal it is and bloody fast! That translates into doing your 100% best to ensure we put our bullet in an area that is fatal. No questions.
There are 3 main areas for fast clean kills
- Head – Brain – (Target area: 50mm – size of a gingernut biscuit)
- Neck – Spine – (Target area: 70mm – size of the bottom of a beer can)
- Shoulder – Heart & Lungs – (Target area: 150-300mm – size of a pizza)
Breaking each down bearing in mind head and neck shots are very risky and the chance of wounding severely increases each time you decide to pick this area.
The HEAD shot –
As mentioned above shooting big game animals in the head doesn’t mean putting the crosshairs somewhere on the deers face and squeezing the trigger. The head shot should be called the Brain Shot. Your kill target area is the brain not the cheek, not the jaw, not the ear. Plain and simple you need to hit the brain to effectively instantly kill said animal.. not that easy!
Avoid side on head shots, get in wrong and it will end up in the jawWaiting for the animal to turn means if you’re high or low it’s still a kill shotI have seen many situations where hunters are trying to head shoot and end up shooting jaws off or ripping the nose off. These deer 9/10 die no doubt, but will we find them after the shot? Very unlikely… Deer don’t need a mouth, cheek or a nose to run remember.. They will run like never before! Heading off to find a bush to tuck up under and slowly die. So here’s a few things to remember when taking head shots.
- Only take a head/brain shot when the animal is facing the barrel.
- Be very careful when head shooting animals that are feeding.
- Aim small
- Know where your rifle shoots at 25m, 50m,75m and 100m (the bullet only needs to be 1″inch out to miss the brain)
- Forget the head shoot the shoulder 🙂
The NECK shot..
The neck shot again quite popular with many hunters but again requires some skill and knowledge of your rifle set up. Like the head shot (brain shot) the neck is a small target and the area you must hit for a clean kill is the spine. So like above, the neck shot in my opinion should be called the spine shot. Sure the spine is long, it runs from the base of the head to the tail, and provided you hit it anywhere between the shoulder blade and the head it will kill very effectively. But.. that doesn’t make the spine a large target area. In-fact it’s very small; think of a tube about the diameter of a vacuum hose pipe – that’s what the projectile must hit in order to drop that animal.
Broadside neck shots can be trouble if the animal is feedingNeck or Spine works best with the animal facing the shooterGo above or below it and the result will be a lot different. Above will generally mean a miss, or flesh clip and below will be wind pipe or pencil through above the heart and lungs, dropping blood and appearing like a good trail but the animal will still have plenty of life in it. This will make tracking and finishing it off properly a real pain in the arse!
Again the best neck/spine shot like the brain/head shot is when the animal is facing you preferably looking directly at the hunter. Why? Because your margin of error is smaller provided the hunter can shoot straight. The hunter now does not need to take into consideration the trajectory path of the projectile. If it’s high or low it doesn’t matter you will still hit that spine. Where as if it’s broadside the hunter now needs to factor in the trajectory path to ensure the bullet lands on the spine not below or over the top making it again more difficult and the chance of actually hitting that bone has severely diminished. So here’s a few things to remember when taking spine/neck shots.
- Only take the neck/spine shot when the animal has its head up facing the barrel.
- Avoid neck/spine shots when animals are feeding.
- Always aim for bone.
- Avoid broadside neck/spine shots; wait for the animal to turn
- Forget the neck; shoot the shoulder 🙂
The SHOULDER shot..
The famous shoulder shot… This is where I see the biggest variation in actual definition of what a shoulder shot actually means. In definition the shoulder shot is either “lungs, heart or both”. I hear things like “in the crease” or “just behind the shoulder”. This is where I see the most mistakes taking place. Many hunters believe the place we should aim is directly behind the shoulder ie.. the “crease”.
Now in theory they’re 100% right provided you hit that spot. You place a bullet 1/3 the way up the crease and that animal is, as they say “dead on its feet” no questions about it. The projectile will hit heart, lungs and smash a hole out the other side creating a blood trail like someone turned a tap on.
The shoulder shot gives you a far higher chance of successfully killing your target clean and fast!The problem is unless your 100% confident you can land the bullet in the crease you risk missing the crease. Which if you get in wrong by 2-3″inches maybe more on bigger animals you’re hitting the gut. The old gut shot has probably accounted for as many deer as the trusty shoulder shot. But I’d bet my bottom dollar the recovery rate of gut shot deer vs shoulder shot deer is probably around the 10% vs 90%.
Remember when shooting down or up hill picture where the bullet will exit and adjust your entry to suit.Down hill and big mane like on this bull tahr highlights the importance of getting your projectile entry correct. Where’s that bullet going to exit?Now what I try to say to guys is forget the crease.. put your bullet straight into shoulder. Not the shoulder blade but the shoulder which is the muscle area between the front of the brisket and the crease. The crease being the back limit of your target kill zone and the neck where it meets brisket been the front limit. What we do by doing this is lowering the margin for error meaning if we go left or right, up or down 2-4 inches (which happens) we still land in the target kill zone. However as many hunters use the crease as our aim point we have ultimately pushed back our effective kill zone meaning we have only 2 inches on back limit and 6 inches on the front limit meaning our margin for error has increased.
Avoid “walking” shots; often a sure way to put one in the guts.The shoulder shot should be the go to shot for all hunters wanting the best chance of success. Obviously some hunters out there with more experience have developed into very good shots and can pull off brain, spine and crease shots all day long. But if you’re someone that only gets to hunt once or twice a year why risk losing or wounding a deer to save some casserole meat? While its inevitable the shoulder shot will destroy some venison it’s alot better going home knowing a deer isn’t under a manuka bush dying from a crease shot that hit the guts… Here’s a few things to remember when lining up that next big game animals shoulder..
- Picture a line between the crease and the front of the brisket and aim smack in the middle.
- If a deer is quartering remember your bullet needs to break the opposite shoulder.
- Deer can’t run without front legs, break those shoulders
- Use the crease as the back limit not the centre point
- Land the bullet 1/3 the way up.
- Deer don’t normally run up hill with shoulder shots.
- I class front on chest shot the same; aim smack in the middle drive that bullet through the brisket into the heart and lungs.
So in closing as you can tell I like shoulder shots as it’s the money shot. Not crease shots but shoulder shots my reasoning is a) my margin for error is more forgiving b) the target area is far larger meaning success is higher and c) Deer don’t run away.
What shot is going to offer you the highest percentage kill?
I hope that helps a little, no hunter is perfect and we all make mistakes with shot placement but it’s a percentage game. Your highest chance of killing that animal is by shooting the largest kill zone area which just happens to be the shoulder shot. Remember on a quartering animal you may have to place that shot into the gut region in order to drive that bullet forward which is fine but always remember its more important where the bullet exits or finishes rather than enters.
Next time rather than aiming at that deer or any big game animal for that matter maybe have a think about what the best area to maximise a clean kill shot and refine the kill zone you’d like to hit. It might be the heart, it might be a small scar you can see on the shoulder.. The old saying goes aim small, miss small & it has never made more sense than when shooting living breathing animals.
Happy Hunting Ben