Effective Game Killing - Part 2

The speed of incapacitation or what we call fast killing is one method for which the hunter is able to measure a cartridge’s effectiveness on game...
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    Effective Game Killing - Part 2

    The Abdominal Cavity
    The gut is a slow killing zone. Gut shots may take hours or days to kill depending on the extent of wounding. Death may be caused by infection as well as general ‘blood poisoning’ as a result of digestive acids passing into the blood stream. Other factors may include severe pain trauma which then eventually leads to coma after several hours. Following this, the animal may remain in a coma until its eventual death.

    Visible indicators of a gut shot include a deep audible ‘whock’ sound as the bullet strikes and game will often rear up on hind legs before running, although it is not uncommon to see no sign of a hit at all. Potent cartridges loaded with very soft fast expanding projectiles can sometimes anchor game through the destruction of such a large amount of the gut that the body is forced into coma quickly. Beyond these exceptions, many cartridges allow game to escape leaving no blood trail and often no gut fiber trail either, leaving the animal to endure a slow painful death.

    The Neck
    From the lungs forwards, arteries, veins and nerves of the chest cavity taper into the neck. The vital systems of the neck includes the spine and spinal nerves, the carotid artery transporting blood to the head and the jugular vein transporting blood back to the heart. Destruction of any of these causes a fast kill and even if the spine is not hit, suitable projectiles will often transfer shock to the spine causing instant collapse. That said, during the roar or rut, the neck of a male deer can become very swollen and shots to the neck may result in flesh wounds only. This is largely due to the fact that the arteries and veins are incredibly elastic; sometimes remaining intact after the bullet has passed through the neck.

    Typically, projectiles that create an explosive wound destroy both the spine and circulatory system however; it is often impractical to hunt with such loads. The neck shot should be limited to ranges for which a margin of accuracy can be guaranteed. Broadside shots are best placed to strike just below the spine which, for rifles sighted three inches high at 100 yards, means a hold on the bottom line of the neck on medium sized game at ranges of between 50 and 200 yards.

    It is worth noting that in an accident where a human breaks their neck, the human may live on. In contrast to this, a rifle shot will generally completely destroy the spine, circulatory system, nerve ganglia and surrounding tissues. The damage is so severe that regardless of variations to this description and mechanisms, life simply cannot be sustained. A shot which destroys the spine (from the chest forwards) will generally cause instant coma followed by death. A shot which destroys the rear section of the spine may not cause coma / collapse (although the animal has no control over its rear extremities). If blood loss is slow, life may continue for some time, resulting in a slow kill.

    The Head
    There are two aspects of the nervous system. The Peripheral system refers to all of the branches of nerves throughout the body acting as sensory organs monitoring internal and external environments, responding to stimuli and conducting impulses. The central nervous system (CNS) refers to the brain and the highway of all information, the spinal cord. The destruction of the brain or spinal cord as far back as the shoulder causes instant death by simply shutting down the vital systems of the body (apart from the self-regulating heart).

    Far from the ideal shot due to the accuracy required, the head shot is best suited to close ranges and for finishing wounded animals. Suitable points of aim include the ear or between the ear and eye as viewed broadside. From the front aim between the eyes if the rifle is sighted to shoot high or slightly above the eyes if the rifle is sighted dead on. Pigs are one of the toughest animals to head shoot front on because of both the shape and density of the skull.

    As an example, a .308 bullet of any weight and style of construction may simply bounce of the skull. This may result in a cut and mild bruising or it can cause instant collapse with severe internal hemorrhage. It is always difficult to predict exact results. If you do shoot a pig in the head front on and the animal collapses, be sure to check the wound quickly to make sure the bullet has actually penetrated the skull. The pig may only be rendered unconscious and if this is the case, you need to bleed the animal quickly to ensure a fast and humane kill (and to bleed out the meat). This also helps prevent any impromptu incidents of highland dancing.

    If head shooting game at very close ranges (inside 15 yards), you must understand that your bullet will be traveling at least 1.5 inches below the center of the crosshair on a scoped rifle due to the physical height difference between the scope and the bore below. If this is not taken into consideration, there is a severe risk of a low strike, resulting is an immensely cruel, slow killing wound. Although scopes have given us superior accuracy over open sights their added height can cause confusion for close range head shots. A simple method for close range or coup de grace shots out to 15 yards is to place the horizontal crosshair flat across the top of the head.

    While certainly a fast killing shot, a lot can and does often go wrong with head shots. Jaw shots are the most common mistake and game do run long and hard with a jaw shot which can make tracking extremely difficult. A cattle beast can present us with a relatively large target area but a deer or antelope is an entirely different story. The head shot is certainly one of the least ethical points of aim.

    Game at Varying Angles
    The quartering away shot describes a shot taken at an animal facing partially away from the hunter. In order to destroy the lungs for a fast kill the shot may have to be placed to pass through the paunch or rear ribs. Solidly packed gut fiber or in-line ribs may be encountered as the bullet makes its journey to the lungs therefore bullet construction is a vital factor. Long for caliber bullets, offering high sectional densities and straight line penetration win out over light super explosive bullets on this shot and the more powerful of cartridges will often transfer shock to the spine, after passing through the lungs and impacting the frontal ribs of the offside.

    A quartering on shot describes a shot taken at an animal partially facing the hunter. When angling shots through the front quarter into the lungs, the point of the shoulder (ball joint) is often the best place to aim. However if the animal is facing slightly more toward the hunter the point of aim can be placed on the crease between the brisket and the shoulder muscle. This shot if true will strike the main nerve centers as well as the lungs, pole axing the animal for sure.

    From the front, even at close ranges, shots placed squarely in the middle of the chest can sometimes pass between and fail to destroy the lungs. A large wound channel can minimize such failure however, as a power level example, it is not uncommon for some brands of .270win factory ammunition to cause slow or unrecovered kills on animals as light as 40kg (80lb) when hit this way at close range. Where doubt exists, a more reliable result can be obtained by either aiming slightly off center or aiming higher towards the neck and spine.


    Tail on Shots
    Also known as the Texas heart shot, the tail on shot refers to the common occurrence when deerstalking of finding an animal facing directly away from the hunter but usually looking back towards the hunter, poised for flight. This shot is considered unethical in Europe but is from time to time regarded as acceptable in the USA Australia and NZ.

    There are two distinct methods of applying the tail on shot relative to cartridge power. With lighter cartridges, one method is to angle the shot to destroy the spine and follow through quickly with a finishing shot. Another method is to use a cartridge of great power with wide wounding projectiles to completely destroy one ham, causing the femoral artery to bleed out while also employing a finishing shot to the neck or head.

    With potent calibers and bullets of sound construction, it is possible to achieve full length penetration, destroying the lungs as well as the autonomic plexus causing instant poleaxe. Bullet construction is much more important than sectional density for this shot and many projectiles fail under these circumstances, even those seemingly purpose built for the job such as heavy round nosed bullets. Optimum projectiles for this task should be of a premium controlled expanding design and boast a high sectional density. The Barnes TXS and TTSX are ideal; the Nosler Partition can be useful in certain combinations (where weight and SD are very high) as well as some core bonded bullet designs.

    A heavy and potent chambering can certainly achieve a fast kill with tail on shots however there is still a lot that can go wrong leading to slow and cruel kills. Furthermore, tail on shots can render a carcass un-edible after it has been fouled from end to end with gut contents. Nevertheless, there are times when you may have to take a tail on shot in order to finish a wounded animal.



    Nathan Foster has a long established background in the gun industry, recognized for his extensive research and for educating and supporting hunters around the world. Nathan has taken over 7500 head of game, testing the performance of a wide range of cartridges and projectiles, and is a worldwide expert in the field of terminal ballistics. His ongoing research has been carefully recorded, analyzed and documented in his online cartridge knowledge base for the benefit of all hunters and shooters (www.ballisticstudies.com). Rifle accurizing and long range shooting are among Nathan’s specialties. For many years, Nathan has provided both rifle accurizing services and a long range shooting school. Nathan is also the designer of MatchGrade bedding products and has assisted many 1000's of hunters worldwide to improve their rifle accuracy, shooting technique and hunting success. The Practical Guide to Long Range book series is one of Nathans hallmark achievements, primarily focused on fast, humane harvesting of game at long ranges.
    Jul 31, 2017 | Updated: Jul 31, 2017

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