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Effective Game Killing - Part 1

Effective Game Killing – Part 1

By Nathan Foster

How bullets kill

A projectile kills by causing either one or a combination of the following:

1. Blood loss.
2. Damage to the nervous system.
3. Destruction of vital tissue and organs.
4. Septicemia or asphyxiation.

Each causing the effect that life can no longer be sustained.

For hunting purposes the primary task of the projectile is to provide a fast humane kill. This minimizes suffering to the animal and simplifies location of the carcass. Destruction of the major nervous centers such as the brain or forwards portion of the spine cause the fastest killing but such targets are often difficult to hit.

The most reliable method of killing is through causing blood loss. Blood loss is categorized as either fast bleeding or slow bleeding. Fast bleeding refers to the destruction of the major arteries of the chest and neck creating a fast kill while slow bleeding refers to the muscles and arteries that feed them, such as the femoral artery. When slow bleeding areas are destroyed, the result is a slow kill.

When a projectile destroys vital organs such as the lungs, liver or heart, death occurs in the first instance through blood loss, not through the destruction of the organ itself. This is simply because these organs are major carriers of blood therefore kills are relatively fast.

Slow kills can also be caused by asphyxiation as a result of minor wounding to the lungs or neck. Gut shots cause a slow death through infection (septicemia) along with the introduction of digestive acids into the bloodstream and any surrounding damaged organs. A commonly used term for death from gut shots is ‘blood poisoning’ which although gives little away in its description, does at least partially indicate that gut shots do not produce an immediate kills. Put simply, a gut shot can cause immense suffering.


The modern high power sporting cartridge relies on high velocity loaded with soft expanding type projectiles. As the projectile strikes flesh, it mushrooms (or tumbles) causing displacement of tissue through both physical contact as well as pressure. The projectile transfers its kinetic energy to the surrounding tissue causing acceleration of fluid particles in and around its path. This creates an explosive temporary wound channel that subsides to a wound channel far greater than the diameter of the projectile. The temporary wound channel reaches its maximum size within one millisecond, collapsing to its final size within several milliseconds. The size of the temporary wound channel is proportional to how much energy is delivered and can be given numerical values. In both military and sporting applications these two types of wound damage are referred to as the temporary wound channel and permanent wound channel, both having the effect of causing blood loss, organ and nerve damage relative to shot placement.

At this point I would urge readers to ditch the temporary versus permanent wound channel terminology. Such terms may make us sound like experts in the know of such things but help us little in the field. A hunter does not walk up to a kill and state, “boy, you should have seen that temporary wound channel, lucky I didn’t blink”. I do not believe any human has the ability to see such things frame by frame and therefore, a wise man should drop such intellectual pontification. There are far more important factors to focus on…

Fast Killing

To begin with, please understand that much of the information presented from here is unique to my own research. You will not read the same in other places unless the information has been derived from my research. Although there are many people who work as experts in the field of terminal ballistics, I firmly believe that there is still a great level of misunderstanding within this subject.

Fast killing is an important factor for two reasons. The first is with regards to humane killing. Compassion must always be at the forefront of the hunters mind, at least in my opinion. The second factor of importance is the ability to secure game quickly, without losing the animal. In bush hunting situations it is not uncommon for a dead run animal to be lost after traveling between 100 and 300 yards before expiring, falling into a gut or hole, never to be seen again. Frustrating, isn’t it? For the tops hunter, it means securing an animal on the ledge it was perched on. Dead running game on the tops can very easily expire when traversing a ravine, the animal falling, becoming stuck in a position that is neither recoverable from the top or bottom of the bluff system. Been there, done that, don’t want to go through it again.

In order to get the best results it is important to understand the mechanisms of killing and how a fast kill occurs.

A common misconception when witnessing game collapses at the moment the bullet impacts is that the force of the projectile has physically knocked the animal to the ground. We tend to call this an instant kill. Newton’s law suggests that for every force there is an equal and opposite force. To this end the force of the bullet impacting game is no greater than the recoil of the rifle. So what causes the instant collapse or poleaxe as it is often caused?

Instant collapse occurs when the central nervous system (CNS) is damaged or electrically disrupted as a result of one of two mechanisms, either direct or indirect contact.

Direct contact refers to a bullet directly striking and destroying one of the major nerve centers, including the thoracic and cervical vertebrae, the brain or the autonomic plexus, regardless of velocity, this will result in instant death.

Indirect contact refers to the effects of a high velocity bullet imparting its energy, creating a hydrostatic shock wave. In terminal ballistics, the terms hydraulic shock and hydrostatic shock both refer to kinetic energy transferred as shock waves through flesh, however, each term describes different results.

Hydraulic shock is the civil engineer’s term also known as water hammer but in terminal ballistics context refers to the pressure of accelerated fluid particles that create the temporary wound channel.

Hydrostatic shock transfer refers to the effect when shock waves travel through flesh to distant nerve centers, disrupting their ability to emit electrical impulses.

Be very much aware that the terms hydraulic and hydrostatic shock are quite often misused by both hunters and professionals - including ballisticians working for bullet making companies.

Effective Game Killing - Part 1

Wide, disproportionate to caliber wounding (hydraulic shock) thanks to the 162gr Hornady SST combined with high velocity which also caused hydrostatic shock (instant collapse).

The reason why game animals drop instantly with chest shots that do not directly strike the CNS, is due to hydrostatic shock transfer to the spine which passes through to the brain. A high velocity cartridge well matched to game body weights imparts over half its energy within the first 2cm of penetration, creating a shock wave. This electrical shock wave travels outwards via the rib cage until it reaches the spine and then continues through to the brain (CNS). The result is an immediate loss of consciousness as the body shuts down for diagnostics.

Along with the loss of consciousness, the projectile has also created a large wound channel, draining all of the body’s blood within several seconds. The loss of blood and damage to vital organs cause death to the animal before it has the chance to regain consciousness. This action creates the illusion that the projectile has knocked its victim to the ground, killing it instantly. More careful examination shows that the shot caused coma, followed by blood loss, followed by death. The hydrostatic shock created by a hunting bullet is identical in action to when a boxer is struck on the jaw by his opponent, disrupting the functions of the brain with a resulting loss of consciousness.

The Stasborg tests also revealed that a large wound cavity can cause a blood pressure spike to the brain, inducing immediate coma, though this is relative to hydraulic shock, not hydrostatic shock as described here. This phenomenon also helps produce ethical killing.

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