Shot placement: Which shots kill best, and when to use them

... and what shots you should never go for

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Hunting shot placement

Head shot, heart shot or hole shot? Here’s a guide to the best places to shoot an animal to get a clean kill. We’ll tell you why some are better than others, and which shots to avoid. Comment below to let us know what you think and what experiences you’ve had with bullet placement, good and bad!

1. CHEST SHOTS

The chest shot should almost always be your first choice of shot placement for several reasons. First, it’s the biggest target of all the kill zones. Second, you can be pretty sure that any hunting projectile placed into your quarry’s chest will be fatal within seconds. 

Essentially, it’s the most humane and certain option.

Hunting shot placement
When aiming for a chest shot, slightly lower than centre results in a hit to the heart and/or lungs

The chest contains most of the vital organs, including the heart and lungs. Pierce them and the animal dies very quickly with little or no pain. Even if you don’t manage to do serious damage to the organs, there are plenty of major blood vessels to rupture. 

And because the chest is a large and forgiving target, your shot only has to be good, not perfect. 

My advice is to simply aim for the middle of the chest. If you want to be a bit more precise, try aiming about a third of the way up from the brisket, just in front of or behind the leg bone (through it if you’ve got the right projectiles). That’s about the right spot for a heart shot. 

Keep the shot low-ish in the chest and you probably won’t damage any meat. Aim too high and you may ruin shoulders and even backstraps. Either way, you’ll ensure a clean kill.

2. NECK SHOTS

A well-executed shot to the neck will drop on animal on the spot, dead instantly, without any risk of damaging good meat. Unless you like neck stews. 

Ideally, you’ll hit the spine but if you’re a fraction lower you’ll rip through the oesophagus and blood vessels. 

Hunting shot placement
Neck shots can be a quick, clean kill without damaging meat but don’t aim too high!

Even if you don’t make in instant kill, the shock to the nervous system will often render the beast unconscious while it dies, and it’ll die quickly. 

Aim just forward of the base of the neck where it meets the chest, and about halfway up in the vertical axis. Do not aim high, as there’s a lot of muscle above the spinal bones and a bullet in there will not produce the good result you want.

3. HEAD SHOTS

Don’t try a head shot unless it’s a dead-set easy one and you’re a good shot. We should really call this a brain shot, because the brain is your actual target, as opposed to the whole head.

Hunting shot placement
Head shots are good but only if you’re good enough to hit the brain. A near miss of the brain can be quite inhumane

It’s too easy to stuff it up and see your target run away with its nose shot off or a smashed jaw. That leaves it to die a slow, nasty death.

I know professional roos shooters and others are obliged to make head shots by law, and fair enough, but those shooters are way better than you and me. Well, they’re certainly better than me, anyway.  

The brain is too small a target for most of us to hit with any certainty, and a near miss can do a lot of inhumane harm, so give them a miss unless it’s a shoo-in of a shot. Aim for the base of the ear, or level with the bases of both if it’s a front-on shot.

4. SHOULDER SHOTS

If you put a shot through both shoulders on any animal drop like a stone and probably be dead in a few moments. Even if they survive a little longer, they won’t go anywhere while you come over to deliver the coup de grâce. 

Don’t expect to get any good meat from the front half of the backstraps or the shoulders, though. You’ll destroy it. 

Hunting shot placement
A shoulder shot will drop an animal on the spot. Make sure you don’t aim too high; the spin is lower than it appears

Aim high on the chest at the very top of the leg to make this shot work best. Don’t aim too high, though, or you can hit above the spine. The vertebrae in this part of the spine have tall spinous process, those pointy bits of bone. The bullet can completely miss anything of value and leave a minor wound; your animal will run off and live to tell the tale of your lack of shooting prowess.

Those very slightly high shots can also knock an animal out cold with shock. I’ve done that and thought the deer was as dead as a border crossing during lockdown. As I was about to take a trophy photo it jumped up and ran away as if nothing had happened.  

5. GUT SHOTS

Give yourself a punch in the guts if you shoot an animal in the gut. Any shot into the lower abdomen inflicts severe pain and a lingering death if the animal gets away, which they often do. 

Hunting shot placement
Gut shots are not on! Don’t just aim for the centre of the mass and hope for the best

If you do manage to eventually kill the poor beast, its meat will likely be contaminated by the gut contents. Butchering it will be a stinky task. 

An animal’s gut begins under the lower ribs, so you want to keep your aim not further back than the front legs to be sure. 

There’s a school of thought that says you can put a rear-quartering shot (ie, an angled shot from behind) in under the ribs to send the projectile into the chest. However, those shots are fraught, as you’re generally aiming into a narrow kill zone and it doesn’t tae much for the shot to go wrong. Instead, wait for the animal to turn.  

6. TEXAS HEART SHOTS

I don’t why Texas cops the naming rights to the act of shooting an animal up the arse but that’s the way it is. Maybe Texas is an arsehole of a place after all. Either way, you’ll make an arse of yourself in my book if you try this shot. 

Hunting shot placement
Dunno what it’s got to do with Texas but don’t go there unless it’s a last resort on wounded game

Oh, sure, it can kill very emphatically. Sometimes. Smash the hip, sever a femoral artery or send the projectile all the way up into the chest cavity and you’ve done a good job. The animal will either drop dead or at least be anchored for an easy finishing shot. 

But crack the pelvis or a thigh; leave a spent bullet in the gut; or shoot wide and tear apart the thigh muscle and your quarry will run into the bush and die in agony, slowly. This is at least as likely as making a good kill. 

If you expect a Texas heart shot to work, make sure you’ve got very stout, heavy projectiles that will shatter bone and penetrate deeply. 

Having said all that, you’ve got nothing to lose if you try a Texas heart shot on a wounded animal that’s running directly away from you, giving you no real choice. 

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