Originally published in Outdoor Canada Magazine, Hunting 2007 With only one photograph by Ken Bailey - Copyright©2007 - All rights reservedwww.outdoorcanada.ca
Sometimes you only get one chance to take down a big game. Here are 7 ways to make sure it really counts.
Please note: Some parts of the article directly related to moose and deer hunting have been removed.
While the average black bear is no larger than the average white-tailed deer, they are much heavier boned. And oh yes, he can eat you when he's angry, which is his typical behavior when he's hurt. That means you want your first shot to count. Avoid the head - the target is too small and will ruin the best part of your fireplace mat. It will also make your bear unfit for official scoring. For spine or neck shots, it can be difficult to visualize exactly where the spine is due to the bear's long hair and thick body. Again, lung injections are the best choice. Trace the back of the front leg about a third of the way down to the chest. A bear's lungs are set a little further forward than an ungulate's, so you don't have as much room to maneuver when shooting backwards from your crosshairs. For the shoulder/heart beat, popular for anchoring bears in their tracks, follow the midline of the front paw to the third of the body. Be careful not to shoot low or forward, or you'll soon have a wounded animal on your hands.
Lost and injured big game animals are one of the downsides of hunting. None of us are familiar with the subject, but if you have any measurable hunting experience, you've undoubtedly seen examples. You may even have lost an animal or two over the years, as much as I hate to admit it, I know I did.
It is a certainty that as long as there is game, the game will be wounded and not recovered. It is just as certain in such situations that the bullet did not hit the animal in the right place. Exactly why can be attributed to a number of variables, but in most cases it's safe to say the photo shouldn't have been taken in the first place.
As hunters, our number one priority is to do everything we can to ensure a clean, quick, and humane kill. It is our moral obligation every time we go into the field. Here are some important considerations to achieve this.
Much has been written and discussed about choosing the best rifle, cartridge, bullet and optics for hunting specific species in different conditions. Most of these tips are wise as they help hunters learn and understand the limitations of their gear. But when it comes to a quick kill, the most important factor is bullet placement. For example, a .243 to the heart or lungs of even the largest wild animal is more likely to kill you than a .500 Nitro Express to the leg. Just think of the hunting legend Karamojo Bell. It was his zeal for bullet placement, coupled with an understanding of his prey's anatomy, that enabled him to take down so many elephants with his skinny .275 Rigby, a cartridge equivalent to today's 7x5 7.
The first step in ensuring accurate bullet placement is deciding to pull the trigger. Before you flip the switch, you must have an extremely high expectation of putting the bullet exactly where you want it, and that means understanding your own limitations as a shooter. I've never been overly impressed by stories of 450-yard kill shots at deer or other animals. While such shots are possible, not many hunters can execute them consistently. With few exceptions, I cringe when I hear hunters talk about their long shots like a gambling addict bragging about his one win, for every success story there are probably ten times as many unspoken failures.
The longest exposure I've ever taken was with a 7mm rem. Magazine about a bull five-pointed moose in the Muskwa Valley in B.C. It was 360 meters away. I had a solid break, a reasonable time and a light albeit gusty wind. The bull was dead when we got to it, it had never moved. Still, I'm not sure I would take the same photo today if it shows up. Maybe I don't feel the need to do it anymore, as I might have when I was a much less experienced hunter. Experience has taught me that many things can go wrong in such a situation, not to mention that few animals can travel as far or as fast as a cubit injured.
No, I'm much more impressed by the hunter who tells me he's snuck up on a herd of moose within 75 yards or never shoots at running animals or any game beyond 150 yards. This is the hunter I admire because he clearly understands that steady hunting and cool aiming should be the norm, not the exception. This is the hunter who believes that 20 bullets can equal 20 deer and will only wait to shoot if he is very confident in placing a bullet accurately.
SHOT TO THE HEAD AND NECK
So where on an animal should we try to place our bullet to ensure a clean one-shot kill? There's no denying that the surest fatal shot is to the brain or spine. Both slaughter an animal almost instantly and result in very little spoiled meat. For the most part, though, this isn't a shot I would recommend. The brain is a relatively small target to begin with, and even a minor mistake can result in a broken jaw, a missing eye, or some other similar injury that will doom the animal to a slow and very unpleasant death. I once shot an antelope that had a fresh gunshot wound on the bridge of its nose. Whether the hunter who hit it first aimed for the brain I can't say for sure, but the deer was clearly working, nearly choking on blood, and would have suffered greatly if it hadn't found it.
Shots in the neck are also unsafe, as the spinal cord must be severed to ensure instant death. Fail even a little and you probably have an animal with a muscle injury from which it is likely to recover, but not without considerable distress. At worst, it can cut the trachea; The animal will likely escape, but will suffer a prolonged death. When shots to the neck are not directly connected to the spine, an animal often falls to the ground almost immediately, but quickly recovers and runs. If you shoot an animal in the neck, either intentionally or accidentally, it's important to keep a close eye on it until you've confirmed it's dead for good.
Head and neck shots have their merits under the right circumstances, but should only be performed by skilled, close-range marksmen who know the anatomy of their prey. They are also acceptable in the rare emergency when a dangerous animal needs to be tripped quickly.
SHOT IN THE SHOULDER
Some hunters prefer shoulder slams because they incapacitate game and fatally damage the heart or lungs. Even if there is no collateral damage, a broken shoulder or two will topple an animal and render it helpless. In my opinion, this shot should be reserved for dangerous animals, especially bears. While some hunters use shoulder shots on larger animals like moose and elk, I think the resulting scattering of bullet and bone fragments ruins too much meat. Having shot a whitetail in the shoulder last year, I can speak firsthand of the meat that was wasted. Another thing to consider with shoulder slam is that if you shoot too high or too far forward you'll have a clean miss or an animal with dying wounds. And if you shoot too low, you have an animal with a broken leg that still manages to escape, only to later succumb to its injuries or predators.
SHOT IN THE HEART
Heartshot gets a lot of attention, although I suspect most hunters don't really realize how deep the heart sits on the chest of big game. While undeniably fatally damaged if hit, the heart offers little targeting accuracy and is often obscured by the thigh. There's little room for error: too far forward and you have a non-lethal chest shot; too low and you've pulled a muscle or broken a leg without expecting the animal to recover quickly. And if your bullet hits too far back, you've hit an animal in the stomach. The only practical margin for error is when you shoot high and take out your lungs. While many believe that a shot through the heart is almost instantly fatal, most seasoned hunters will tell you that an animal shot through the heart generally flies farther before collapsing than one shot through the lungs was shot. .
I believe the lunge shot is the appropriate shot for 90 percent of Canada's big game hunting situations. First, a bullet through the lung results in an almost certain one-shot death. In most cases, the animal does not fall on the spot, but rarely travels more than 100 meters before falling. The damage that a modern bullet does to the lungs is devastating.
The lungs also provide a relatively large target, larger than any other sure-lethal zone in a wild animal. This allows for a good margin of error. Shoot low and you'll get the heart out; a little high and you will cut the spine. Too far forward and you have a debilitating shoulder shot. It's only if you shoot too far backwards that you have a problem: animals that get shot in the stomach usually die for a long time, and if you get one back you're in big trouble when it comes to clothing it. . However, if you shoot a little too far back, you might get lucky and hit the liver. Animals hit on this vital organ usually don't get very far before lying down.
A wild animal's lungs generally cover about two-thirds of its chest area when viewed from the side, roughly midway and slightly down. A professional hunter in Africa once told me that he believed North American hunters tended to shoot in the center of an animal's chest. He believed the most effective shot was in the upper lower third of the chest. He may have been right, but I still maintain that allowing as much room for error as possible is the wisest thing most of us can do. Therefore, when my prey is lying on its side, I generally aim for the center of the chest, just behind the shoulder. Often an animal will not respond immediately to a lung shot, leading some hunters to believe they missed when in fact they made an excellent shot. I remember shooting a moose three times within about 10 seconds. He didn't take two steps during that time and he couldn't understand how he could miss such a big goal. However, the animal fell shortly after the third shot, and when I skinned it, a plate of lettuce would have covered the three holes in its chest and lungs. (See “Primary Goals” on page 48 for species-specific advice on lung injections.)
While we all prefer side shots, we are mostly faced with shooting opportunities from an angle. However, you still want your bullet to enter the chest cavity, so it's important to visualize the path your bullet must take. When an animal moves toward you, your target should be somewhere between the base of the neck and the top of the facing shoulder. If an animal is directly in front of you, the center of the neck is the preferred target. The hardest shot to imagine is when an animal is slaughtered. Make your shot with the intention of breaking the shoulder on the other side and you will usually send your bullet through the intended lung region. Note that in this situation there is a tendency to shoot too far backwards, resulting in an unwanted gut shot. I recommend not photographing when the animals are at extreme angles or quartered with their backs to you. While we all know that good old "shot in the heart of Texas" from behind can be deadly, the bullet will most likely break or be deflected on contact with bone, hindering its ability to penetrate the vital organs. I know some disagree, but I'm just not going to take this opportunity and I encourage others to follow suit. If you absolutely must count that shot, at least make sure you're using a well-designed bullet, designed for maximum weight retention and penetration. Remember that when placing shots, the goal isn't just to have a freezer full of meat, but to get the job done quickly and efficiently.
Our precious wild animals deserve no less.