Shot Placement for Big Game

Shot Placement for Big Game

If you have the time, it is always best to let the animal turn and offer a broadside shot.  Broadside means the animal is perpendicular to you, facing left or right, not looking at you or away from you.  In a broadside situation, a shot placed behind the crease of the shoulder will result in the bullet traveling through both lungs.

The arrows represent quartering away, broadside, quartering to, and head-on shot angles from both sides of the animal. With proper penetration, the bullet will go through the lungs and often the heart in each scenario.

The lungs and heart are your primary target when trying to kill an animal.  A hit in the liver can also produce a kill, but it is not quick.  Shooting just behind the shoulder hits only minor bones in the ribs, preserving most of the meat.  When major bone in the shoulder is struck by a bullet, bone fragments destroy much of the surrounding meat.  Quartering shots are also valid, but the meat of one of the shoulders will be jeopardized.

Anchoring the Animal
In some instances, it is necessary to drop the animal in its tracks, also known as “anchoring.”  In alpine situations, where steep rock faces and cliffs exist, this might keep the animal from tumbling thousands of feet.  Other times, when hunting a small parcel of land, stopping the animal instantly keeps it from jumping onto the neighboring property where retrieval might be difficult.

Dangerous game also requires shot placement that anchors the animal.  Bears, known for not bleeding well, are good to try to anchor which will shorten the tracking job.

In a broadside situation, aim square in the center of the shoulder if you want to anchor the animal — imagine you’re hitting it in the center of the scapula. On an elk, for example, your only change in aim is moving the crosshair left or right about a foot, depending on which way the elk is facing.

By shooting the shoulder, you accomplish three things that help in bringing down the animal quickly.  One, the shoulder itself is broken, making the animal less mobile.  Two, the shock moving through the area disrupts the spine/nervous system.  Three, the bullet along with bone fragments from the shoulder travel into and sometimes through both lungs.  All this combined usually results in a very fast kill. The one downside to this approach is that a good portion of the shoulder meat can be lost to damage.

This buck has his left front leg positioned forward. This makes for an unobstructed path to the vitals and minimal meat loss.
When an animal is quartering away, like this whitetail buck, aim for the front leg on the far side of the body. This will likely send the bullet through both lungs.
This sheep is standing perfectly broadside; the shot placement will send the bullet through both lungs and the heart.
Broadside but slightly quartering, this mule deer requires shot placement that is tight to the shoulder. Being a few inches off could result in a shot that misses the lungs entirely.
Big animals such as moose require careful shot placement. The target area is big, but so are the bones and muscles in the shoulder. Animals such as this call for high-quality ammunition and hard-hitting rifles in addition to good marksmanship.
By placing the shot high on the shoulder of this mountain goat, the hunter will anchor the animal in place and help prevent it from going over a cliff and landing in a place where retrieval might be impossible.
This bull is slightly quartering away, but not enough for major adjustment of shot placement. Placed right behind the shoulder, the bullet will travel through both lungs and possibly clip the heart.
At this moment the doe’s left shoulder is blocking the vitals and a shot would ruin meat. By letting the doe take one more step, the bullet will have a clear path through ribs and both lungs, avoiding unnecessary damage to the shoulder. But if there’s no time to spare and the shot needs to happen now, this placement will kill the doe almost instantly.
A black bear’s heart and lungs are positioned a bit more forward than in members of the deer family. Even though this bear is broadside, the hunter would be wise to let the animal move its right leg forward before taking a shot. That way, the vitals would be more vulnerable and the meat loss in the shoulder would not be as catastrophic.
This antelope is facing the shooter. A shot that lands a few inches to the left or right of the bulls-eye will certainly kill the antelope, but there will be substantial meat loss in the shoulder.
The antelope is quartering to the hunter. Any shot placement here is likely to ruin one of the shoulders.

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