Effective Game Killing - Part 2Shot placement and vital zones
Deer vitals courtesy of my wife and lifelong research partner Steph.
The Lungs - aim here!
All of a mammal’s blood must pass through the lungs where it can be released of carbon dioxide and enriched with oxygen to fuel the body. Blood leaves the heart situated below the lungs through the pulmonary artery which becomes a network of arteries feeding into the blood capillaries of the lungs. Once enriched with oxygen, the blood then travels back to the heart, then out through the aorta artery to be pumped throughout the body. Although associated with the respiratory system, destruction of the lungs is one of the fastest ways to bleed out the circulatory system ensuring a quick clean kill. On top of this the lungs present the largest, safest target for the hunter.
As viewed broadside, a deer’s lungs begin at the intersection of the scapular and humerus bones of the foreleg. In height, the heaviest portions of the lungs are situated at the center of the chest, in line with the lower foreleg. The lungs reach to within an inch of the spine, which is not to be confused with the top of the fur line because above the spine, the dorsal vertebrae may extend upwards by three or more inches. At their lowest point, the lungs are again around three inches above the line of the brisket and are thinner at their extremities to accommodate the heart. Behind the foreleg the bottom of the lungs extend little more than 2 inches before tapering upwards sharply, running out to thin edges just short of the last few ribs.
Based on a White Tail deer sized animal viewed broadside, head to the right and using the straight lower leg as a center line, a shot to the center of the chest will destroy the heaviest portion of the lungs ensuring a fast bleed and therefore fast kill. A shot 3 inches above center at 12 o’clock will destroy the upper lungs, an equally fast kill. However, it is possible to strike too high between the lungs and spine or the dorsal vertebrae above causing instant collapse followed by recovery after a few seconds leading to escape and a slow kill.
Approximately two to three inches forwards of dead center (foreleg) at 3 o’clock is the ball joint intersection of the scapular and humerus bones. And from the front line of the front leg through to the ball joint intersection lies the autonomic plexus. This is a major network of nerves which when hit soundly, causes instant collapse and death. A shot in this area has the potential to destroy the autonomic plexus along with the forward portions of the lungs and locomotive muscles and bones. The autonomic plexus (sometimes called hilar zone) is the most useful aiming point for fast killing. This shot placement is also particularly useful when using cartridges that have enough bullet weight to penetrate bone but not enough velocity to initiate hydrostatic shock or extremely wide wounding.
It is important to understand that shot placement involves cultural traditions. For example, some cultures (particularly USA hunters) prefer a meat saver shot, striking the lungs behind the foreleg in an attempt to save meat. In Europe, the traditional method has been to aim forwards and although this does cause more meat destruction, this shot placement helps ensure rapid killing. Also, if you look more closely at this subject, you can see how small changes in POI may affect the hunter’s perception of a cartridge. One hunter may state that X cartridge is a very fast and emphatic killer while another may call the same cartridge abysmal - each assessment based on differing traditions or habits relative to the hunter’s point of aim. It is up to you to decide which method you wish to employ.
Much will depend on the power and penetrative abilities of your cartridge. Ideally, you should be aware of both points of aim and should be able to switch from one to the other depending on the individual situation. If for example you are hunting with a high velocity cartridge using soft bullets that have the potential to suffer shallow penetration, then a meat saver shot will enable adequate penetration and hydrostatic shock can be counted on for a fast kill.
On the other hand, it is very unwise to apply the meat saver shot when hunting large heavy bovines because even if you are using the likes of a .375 caliber rifle, this really is still quite a small bore diameter relative to the size of the animal you are hunting. Instead, a long heavy for caliber bullet of sound construction should be driven through the forwards portion of the chest where it can do the most damage.
As yet a further example, let’s say that we are using a .308 Winchester for a wide variety of game. On very large animals it can again be good to aim to strike the forwards chest with a long and heavy bullet of sound construction in order to affect a very fast kill. I can promise you that on large African plains game, your guide will be very happy if you hunt in this manner and achieve a fast kill without any need to track your animal for minutes or hours.
Having said this, there comes a point where the size of the animal will overcome the wounding potential of our cartridge. If for example we are suddenly confronted with an angry bovine, our .308 bullet may not be enough to penetrate ball joints. By the same token, it will lack the wounding potential for a meat saver style shot. So in this example, we must look to the neck and head as our point of aim. All I wish to convey here is that while the forwards chest is an optimal point of aim, we do need to exercise some common sense.
Unfortunately, many people - including those with vast past experience, lack the confidence to aim forwards. Instead, in a halfhearted attempt to break bone, the point of aim is brought forwards to the center line of the leg but no further forwards for fear of a forwards miss. And while this point of aim can be quite sufficient, it does not produce the same instantaneous results on the likes of African game as the forwards shoulder shot, destroying tissue, bone and the autonomic plexus.
The key to the forwards shoulder shot is to use the front line of the front leg. This may sound like nit picking relative to the center line of the front leg but I can assure you that there are differences which you will discover. If the shot goes further forwards, you will still achieve a fast kill. If the shot goes to the rear, you will still achieve a clean kill via a center lung hit. If you strike true, well you will see the results for yourself.
Although slightly quartering, this photo shows the point of aim for an autonomic plexus (forwards shoulder) broad side (and slightly quartering) shot. Note that the crosshair is aligned with the front line of the leg- not the center line. Many hunters lack the confidence to aim in this manner.
If you wish to study this for yourself, you can replicate my research if you hunt with a low velocity rifle such as a .30-30 or like velocity cartridge loaded with hunting projectiles (6.5x55 with factory ammunition is another good example). If you are used to utilizing the meat saver shot, try now to utilize the autonomic plexus shot and see what happens. Note how quickly the animal drops when using the front line of the front leg as your point of aim. Once you have an understanding of just how effective this shot placement is, you will never use your low velocity cartridge as you once did.
Getting back to other areas of the lungs, a shot striking a deer around three inches low at 6 o’clock strikes the bottom of the lungs and the arteries feeding into them from the heart, a reasonably fast killing shot but if it is slightly too low the shot may severe the heart (see heart) or simply the brisket, both slow killing shots. A shot striking three to five inches to the rear of the chest at 9 o’clock from dead center is a slow killing shot unless the cartridge used has immense wounding potential.
High power cartridges may damage the rear portions of the lungs as well as rupturing the diaphragm however, animals usually run at least as far as when heart shot. The rear thin portions of the lungs, directly behind the foreleg tapering up and along the ribs, are considered a slow bleeding area and therefore a larger amount of tissue must be destroyed to effect a fast kill. High velocity cartridges such as the .270 .280 and .30-06 win out over smaller, milder calibers for fast killing in this area.
The greatest method of creating Spinal shock transfer is through shots that strike the upper half of the chest. Below center, the ribs are a long way from the spine therefore mid to low shots sometimes fail to produce shock, such as the heart shock and game may cover considerable ground after such a shot.
A true rear lung shot or ‘meat saver’ should be taken with the foresight or crosshair aimed snugly behind the foreleg. If the aim is taken any further back (as is common amongst inexperienced hunters these days), the shot will strike the tapered region of the lungs. The cross body meat saver shot is especially important to .22 center fire user as it allows the projectile to deliver more energy to the lungs, avoiding bullet failure on the shoulder. But again, keep shots tight! The other point of aim suited to .22 centerfire users is the soft junction between the shoulder and neck, giving access to the lungs when game are quartering on as well as the nerves and arterial system of the lower neck when broadside.
In pigs, the layout of the lungs can be very deceptive; the curvature of the spine at the shoulder is very low with the top third of the chest as viewed from the side consisting of dorsal vertebrae, cartilage and muscle to power the head. For this reason, it is important to consider the lower two thirds of the pigs shoulder as a vital zone. The lungs are completely protected by the shoulder, tapering up almost vertically at the rearmost line of the foreleg with the diaphragm positioned directly behind the foreleg. Therefore not only is the vital zone limited to the lower two thirds of the chest, but also from the foreleg forwards including the arteries and veins of the neck.
That said, a shot high (below the spine) and flush behind the shoulder will strike the rear lungs and can be a good killer but slight error may result in either a liver or a gut shot. Bear also have a ‘low profile’ and again, it is important to avoid making the mistake of aiming too high, striking fat, dorsal vertebrae (or just fur) while missing vitals. A high hit boar (pig or bear) can be a nightmare in that the animal will be knocked unconscious via hydrostatic shock, but is for all intents and purposes only ‘sleeping’. The wound may even look thorough. Then suddenly our quarry awakens and all hell breaks loose and we seemingly become instant experts at highland dancing. This is also why I carry a good long knife!
Steph's pig anatomy 101.
Upon gutting any game animal, it is worth studying the causes of death and condition of each organ. A good lung shot will leave the chest cavity full of congealed blood; the meat will be well bled out for the table negating the necessity to bleed out the arteries of the neck.
Please note: if you are a long range shooter, more on the subject of shot placement can be found within my long range book series (Particularly Long Range Cartridges and Long Range Shooting). Techniques do vary when long range hunting and there is a great deal to consider.
At the bottom of the chest, starting in line with the foreleg and ending three to four inches behind, lies the heart. The heart is responsible for pumping oxygen and nutrient rich blood to all parts of the body. Despite popular belief, the heart is not a good target for a fast killing shot. A heart shot without complete destruction can allow oxygen rich blood to be locked in the brain and locomotive muscles, allowing an animal to run long distances before collapsing. Shots falling low into the heart may allow some species of deer to run several hundred yards often making tracking difficult.
Viewed broadside the liver appears roughly in the middle of an animal. The liver hangs from the spine descending roughly halfway down, between the paunch and the diaphragm. The liver is responsible for metabolizing fats, proteins and carbohydrates into the blood. It also detoxifies the blood as well as performing many other functions. The Hepatic artery and vein pass through the liver although most of the liver can be considered a fast bleeding area.
The liver is a very small target and difficult to hit deliberately and for this reason the liver should not be regarded as an aiming point. However, the liver is often hit when game step forwards as the hunter takes the shot, or are running when the shot is taken, or when angling shots are taken. If the liver is destroyed an animal may run someway (usually quite stiffly / bunched up) but will succumb quickly. Sometimes, less experienced hunters will simply divide the animal into four quarters with their scope crosshairs and pull the trigger, the result is either a fluke hit to the liver or else a wounding gut shot.
Long range hunters can make use of the liver as a secondary target however this is a subject I will not delve into here. These specialized topics are covered within my long range book series.
Directly behind the liver and attached to the spine are the kidneys, responsible for filtering waste from the blood. The kidneys are slow bleeding organs and if wounded result in a slow death.Jul 31, 2017 | Updated: Jul 31, 2017