Shot placement is probably the most important part of hunting in a responsible and ethical manner. It is however one of the most neglected aspects when it comes to hunting. Some people focus so much on rifle calibers and other things that they don’t pay enough attention to shot placement at all.
Now whilst adequate rifle caliber is indeed very important (and in most places a legal obligation) caliber will not make up for poor shot placement on an animal. If you do not damage the vitals of an animal it will not expire in a quick and ethical manner.
Ethics are off coarse what separates hunters from poachers amongst other things. We as hunters have an obligation to make sure that we treat the animals that we hunt with respect and it is our duty to promote, educate and ensure the conservation of those same animals that we hunt, to ensure the survival and well being of those animals and their habitat.
Now as this is an article about shot placement and not about ethics, I will refrain from saying too much about ethics, but the whole purpose of shot placement is to harvest an animal in the quickest, most humane, pain and stress free manner as possible for the animal. Whether you are hunting a trophy animal for the record books or whether you are hunting an animal for the pot, the animal should be treated with the same respect.
Now for this article we will exclude dangerous game and we will handle that at a later stage. The focus here will be on plains game.
The most effective and lethal shot placement is a brain shot. This is however the most dangerous and irresponsible option as the chance of wounding the animal is very high. Only certain individuals who have years of experience and adequate equipment opt for head shots, but even so it is not always possible for a brain shot on an animal as there just too many factors influencing the shot and making it too risky. The same goes for neck and spinals shots.
That brings us to the heart and lung area, which is what we will concentrate on. Now without getting too technical, the heart and lung area is the engine room of the animal. If these organs are damaged the animal’s engine will stop running and the animal’s vehicle which is its body will come to a standstill.
The lungs take in oxygen and the heart pumps the blood to all the vital organs. If an artery or organ is damaged the blood pressure drops as the blood escapes and so the lungs and the heart will eventually shut down. This all might sound very grim, but it the harsh reality and something that is important to understand.
With bowhunting the projectile (which is an arrow with a broadhead) cuts through the organs, whereas with rifle hunting the projectile (a bullet) induces a hydro static shock, thus creating much more of an exploding effect. Both projectiles will create a wound channel with a temporary and permanent cavity but the bullet will cause a bigger temporary cavity and because of that more internal trauma.
This does not mean that the broadhead is not as lethal; in fact in some cases an animal shot with an arrow goes down much quicker and bleeds much more that when shot with a bullet. This is however something that can be contributed to the heart either being full of blood or empty at the time of impact (systolic and diastolic) and it will vary from animal to animal as well.
There are so many things that can influence effective shot placement on an animal such as the position the animal is facing, vegetation in front of the animal, rifle caliber, distance of the shot being taken and other animals behind the target animal to name just a few. To keep its simple we are going to stick with the basics and focus on the shot placement and the position of the animal only.
As a rule of thumb and with all other factors being equal, the quickest reference for shot placement on an animal standing in a broadside position is to go up on the front leg of the animal with the crosshair and to stop and take aim approximately one third up from the bottom of the animals chest.
When an animal is facing quartering away the safest shot is to go up between the two front legs of the animal with the crosshair and to stop and take aim approximately one third up from the bottom of the animals chest. The same will apply for a frontal shot, but this only applies to rifle hunting and with an adequate caliber. It is not advised to take frontal shots with archery equipment, except for Giraffe perhaps where a frontal shot in some cases can be the most effective of shots to take.
Remember that animals won’t always stand still when you are taking your aim and it is important to study their behavior to better anticipate their movement. This might sounds strange but bowhunters who often hunt Impala and Warthog (notorious string jumpers) will know what I am talking about. Sometimes people also take aim and instinctively pull the trigger as soon as the animal starts to move, in fear of it “getting away”, causing an almost 100% chance of wounding the animal.
Let’s have a look at a few Southern African plains game species and the suggested shot placement for them:
*Please note that the blue and red “vitals” illustrated in the above images are merely an indication of where the vitals are situated and they do not necessarily reflect the true anatomy of the animals.
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