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Old December 7, 1999, 04:08 AM   #1
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What is the optimum shot placement for a shot on an elk or deer? It has been a subject for debate where I work with several hunters. I would think that a solid shot to the body would help to bleed out the animal, especially if it takes off running. A coworker of mine argues that he shoots to the neck, shoulder area. What are your experiences? Mike
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Old December 7, 1999, 10:16 AM   #2
Jack Straw
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I think the best target for most people is the heart/lung area. It is the biggest target on the animal which allows for a slightly misplaced shot, and if you hit shoulder bone you help take out some front running gear. If you can get a good neck shot though, it will put the deer down (it works on whitetails, I've never hunted elk). Somewhere in the last year or two I read an article by Larry Weishuhn(sp?) in which he said that the most effective shot (and he has taken a LOT of deer I'm sure) is one straight up the wazoo. The bullet's energy is completely absorbed in the animal's body cavity with no bone to deflect the bullet's path and with devastating effect. The problem is that you have a very small (but well defined ) target, and how often do you get a chance at a straight-away shot on the same level as the deer?

Personally, I opt for a shot low and on the rear edge of the shoulder.

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Old December 7, 1999, 11:50 AM   #3
Robert the41MagFan
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When shooting at a animal, there has to be some sort of three dimensional thinking. The heart of a deer sit somewhere between the shoulder. Best shot is one that breaks one or both shoulder (a side silhouette). A bullet entering that area of the chest cavity is sure to destroy the heart or at least the arteries. If you are under gunned, that is the only shot that can be made. When shooting animals, target the heart from all angles. That way if you miss, there are lots of other vitals that will be damaged by the bullet.

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Old December 7, 1999, 05:07 PM   #4
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I've found the best way to learn about shot placement is to grab a hunting magazine & sit down with an experienced hunter and discuss shot placement on all the pictures of game.

Here are the "Guidelines" that work for me:
on a "cake" shot, say under 75 yards, on a deer that is moving very slow, or still, the upper neck, just behind the ear is the way to go. The biggest benefit to this shot is it is an all or none deal. There is very little room to wound the deer. It will either drop like a stone, or run away. Both of these options are far superior to a wounding shot.

Quartering away, or broadside with head moving too much for a neck shot, I aim tight behind the near shoulder. Generally I try to take out the far shoulder. This puts the bullet in the lungs. It's been my experience that they'll run about 25-50 yards, but that's it.

I've had a few bad experiences with head shots. You MUST hit the brain, or the deer may run off. I've seen two deer run off with half their jaw/face gone. Definately not a pretty site, nor an ethical kill. One I shot, was finished up fairly quickly, but certainly wasn't something I was happy with. I haven't tried a head shot since.
The other was a fiasco. An older man we used to hunt with made a head shot, and thinking she was down, set his rifle down. As soon as he did, the deer miraculously jumped up & ran off. Dad & I tracked this deer for over a mile, jumped her up several times, until Dad finally took her down with a 150 yard running shot(the ol' man can't read a newspaper, unless it's out to his fingertips, but can still shoot the ears off a tick ). I have no doubt that she'd have gone a few more miles. That was certainly the worst successful track I've ever worked (obviously the unsuccesful tracking of a wounded animal are far worse)

Tracking Sucks! Pick your shots carefully and avoid it as much as you can.
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Old December 7, 1999, 10:56 PM   #5
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Holding tight behind the front shoulder is probably the best way to go. Head shots are a no-no and I personally feel the same way about neck shots. I wounded an elk a few years back and my brother, who also had an elk permit, followed up with a neck shot as the critter trotted off. The elk went until it encountered a fence it couldn't get over and laid down. I finished it off at fairly close yardage.

My brother had hit the animal with his .270 in the wind pipe. Missed the spine and managed to miss the major blood vessels. Yet, I am sure his shot would have led to a slow lingering death. It served as a "wake up call" to both of us.

I shoot a .30-.338 with 180 grain Nosler Partitions. I can tell you when that monster bull of a lifetime steps into my crosshairs I will body slam the brute through BOTH front shoulders. To heck with my meat processor, I want the critter for the taxidermist.
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Old December 11, 1999, 01:40 AM   #6
The Mohican Sneak
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I personally follow the back of the front leg up to where it meets the body cavity. There's a "divet" there. Settle the crosshairs right there, squeeze the trigger and it's "good night Irene"...


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Old December 12, 1999, 09:26 PM   #7
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Heart and lung area or pass on the shot. I don't like tracking a wounded animal either.
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Old December 12, 1999, 09:52 PM   #8
4V50 Gary
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I agree with heart & lung. Unless I'm not shooting offhand, I don't want to risk missing with a head shot.

Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt

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Old December 12, 1999, 10:52 PM   #9
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You are getting good advice from the heart/lung guys - especially the lung part.

What's missing is a hunter/rifle/ammo skills assesment. When I hunt big game I sight in on sandbags and usually get groups around 1 MOA with hunting loads. That way I know the mechanical limitations of the rifle and load. Then I shoot from a good support position like resting against a post or prone or a solid kneeling stance. That gives me a good evaluation of my potential from a tree stand or firing at stationary deer with time to rest against a tree. That's usually about 2 MOA under good conditions.

Now I double that to allow for the stress of a hunting situation with the adrenalin flowing and I've got a 4" group at 100 yards and that's with a rifle that groups 1" mechanically!

A deer's heart is a small target, as is it's neck (and bung hole), but they can be hit under optimum conditions. The rest of the time I shoot for a spot vertically centered in the chest cavity and at the rear crease of the shoulder muscle. If I miss 5" forward I bust the shoulder and major arteries. If I hit my spot or up to 5" to the rear I get both lungs. 5" high and I get the lungs and spine, 5" low is the heart/lung. This margin for error works out to 200 yards. After that you gotta know your stuff!

My best shot to date was 285 yards from a prone position with a rifle that shoots 1/2 MOA. The shot hit 4" above my intended point of aim and the deer went 18" straight down.

I've been doing it this way for 25 years and more than 100 deer later I've never lost one (knock on wood). Most fell where they stood, a few ran a short distance and I can count the tracking jobs on one hand (most due to poor bullet performance). Over half these were taken with a .243 using 100 gr factory ammo. The rest were a mix of .270, .308, 7mm mag, 20 ga slug and four with 44 mag in a pistol.

For elk, omit the .243...

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Old December 13, 1999, 09:08 AM   #10
Long Path
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For years my answer was simply: "heart-lung shot, just behind the shoulder."

After a couple of tracking incidents in which my margin of error was tested (even though the shot was pretty good), and the deer made it a distance into the brush before completely expiring, I've moved my optimal shot a tad.

The first thing I did was to move that bullet placement about 2" further forward. It's very difficult to hit the deer too far forward, and if there is likely to be a lateral drift, it is going to be toward the rear of the animal, given that they tend to move forward. [profound, I know.]

I'm on record in saying that I just don't think it's much of a loss to bust a shoulder of a deer-- there's not much meet there, and what is there is hard to get at. I try, every year, but it just goes into the sausage grinder. Big loss of maybe 2 lbs on a TX whitetail, and you positively ANCHOR him.

My next move in shot placement came after some serendipitous high shots. I set my sights to shoot about 2.5" high at 100 so that I'm dead on at 225 and 8" low at 300. One year, the scope was a tad high, say 3.5" at 100 with the given load I was using. 3 deer walked in front of the rifle before I lowered the setting, and all three had spectacular kills. What happened? The bullet, in all three cases, just barely kissed the ridge of bone that runs beneath the spine, imparting HUGE shock to spine on the way through. Deer's total travel? 2 feet. Straight down. This aim point is just about 2" higher than I used to aim at 100, and I must stress that I don't try for this shot at longer (250+) ranges, due to the fact that the margin of error is somewhat (but not greatly) diminished. I'm a big believer in margin of error. For this reason I can NEVER reccomend a head shot or high neck shot, unless as a coup de gras or to try to bring down a wounded animal that only presents that shot. Very slight movements change a killer head shot into a terrible crippling jaw shot off, and the resultant starving over the next 2 weeks.

Remember that the neck of a deer is strong and muscular, and moves incredibly quickly and unpredictably. Oh, you say, it can't move the head before my laser-fast bullet gets thered! Really? If you have a rifle that fires the bullet at an honest 3000 fps, at 100 yds it will take that bullet over 1/10 of a second to reach the deer, and that doesn't even count reaction time, should the deer begin moving before the shot actually goes off. At 200 yards, it's more like a quarter of a second. A good sprinter can move 7 feet in that time. Think maybe a spooked deer can move his spinal collumn 4" in that time?
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Old December 13, 1999, 10:07 PM   #11
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Excellent post Long Path...I like it.
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Old December 14, 1999, 10:49 AM   #12
Paul Revere
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The problem with shooting a bullet through the chest cavity of a large game animal is that the animal will not always act as though he's been hit, and typically run for the hills. Many hunters make the mistake of not looking for an animal that has reacted in this fachion, thinking they simply missed. Blood trails may be non-existant, or begin 50 yards or more from where you shot the animal. However, if you are shooting an arrow, this is a perfect shot. You'll have a definite blood trail.

However, with a bullet, it is my opinion that you want to avoid having to trail the animal. You want to drop the critter in its tracks. And that is done with careful shot placement with a rested gun, and a calm trigger finger. The shot is placed centered slightly high in the shoulder, so as the bullet penetrates you will take out one or more of the following (with the primary or secondary projectiles); 1) shoulder(s), lungs, 3) heart, and/or 4) spine. The animal will fall down on itself if made properly. End of story.
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Old December 14, 1999, 11:05 PM   #13
Jeff Thomas
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Guys, thanks for all of this great advice - this is invaluable discussion. Not quite the same as sharing a campfire, but close.
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Old December 15, 1999, 10:41 AM   #14
Paul B.
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I like to use a heavier bullet. It will penetrate on "raking shots"(Elmer's term, not mine) and on a brodside shot, punch through and leave a good blood trail, should one be necessary. For years, I followed jack O'Connors adavice and use the faster, lighter bullets. (150 gr. 06, 130 gr. .270 etc.) No more. I'll use a 165 gr. in a .308, 180 in the 06.
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