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Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power #14132372 09/17/19
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Mule Deer Offline OP
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SHOT PLACEMENT AND KILLING POWER

Whenever big game hunters start “discussing” what’s generally known as killing power, one item often discounted (if not ignored) is shot placement. Most hunters aim for what they generally call “the chest,” but there are two kinds of chest shots—those hitting only ribs, and those hitting the heavier bones of the legs and, sometimes, the spinal column.

Many hunters call hitting heavier bone “shoulder” shots, regardless of exactly which portion of the leg bones get broken. Quite a few call them “front shoulder” shots, even though big game animals don’t have rear shoulders, and the same hunters never mention any sort of shoulders when discussing rear-end shots.

Various “chest” shots result in considerably different results. Rib shots can drop animals right there, but the usual reaction is to run a ways before dropping, because it takes a while for blood pressure to drop, depriving the brain of oxygen. How quickly rib shots kill depends on many factors, not just the cartridge/bullet but the size of the animal. Obviously larger animals have larger lungs and hearts, so usually won’t fall as quickly to the same shot placement, because blood pressure takes longer to drop, but whether the animal was alarmed before the shot can make a difference.

The amount of tissue damage is also a major factor, the reason many hunters believe “softer” expanding bullets kill quicker with rib shots. That’s why many hunters aim behind the shoulder when using softer bullets, which might be defined as any bullet losing at least half its weight on a typical rib shot: With most expanding bullets, the majority of tissue damage occurs within the first few inches of bullet impact, when the bullet’s traveling and expanding fastest. Soft bullets ruin less meat when placed behind the shoulder.

Obviously this damage varies somewhat with impact velocity and the particular bullet, plus other factors such as expanded bullet diameter and rifling twist. But my hunting notes from the past 50 years indicate the highest percentage of drop-right-there rib shots comes with bullets losing considerable weight. These tend to be recovered more often than bullets retaining more than half their weight, providing some hard numbers for this conclusion, despite applying to soft bullets.

Shooting shoulders tends to require harder bullets, usually the type called “controlled expanding,” here defined by the bullets always retaining over half their weight. I’ve recovered quite a few controlled-expanding bullets over the decades, including partitioned, bonded, monolithic and simply heavy-jacketed, usually but not always on shots angling through the chest. Those in my collection retain anywhere from 55% of their weight on up to 100%.

Many hunters believe more retained weight always results in deeper penetration, but just as important is the frontal area of the expanded “mushroom.” Wide-expanding bullets slow down quicker than bullet with relatively narrow “mushrooms,” not only resulting in less penetration but the likelihood of stopping under the skin on the far side of the animal. Skin’s tougher than internal organs or even muscle, and also somewhat stretchy, and a rounded mushroom from a lead-cored bullet’s more likely to stop under the hide than the smaller, sharper petals of most monolithics. That said, controlled-expanding bullets with wider mushrooms tend to kill quicker with rib shots, because like softer bullets they make a bigger hole in heart/lung tissue.

Now, it probably needs to be emphasized that these tendencies are averages, not absolutes. I’ve seen a few big game animals dropped instantly with rib shots from controlled-expanding bullets. One example was a medium-sized Texas hog taken with a 100-yard, behind-the-shoulder shot with a 115-grain Nosler Partition, started at 2900 fps from a .257 Roberts. Usually pigs run a ways with lung shots, but the boar dropped instantly, apparently dead on impact.

Those, however, are among the few exceptions to the general rule that with rib shots, controlled-expansion bullets don’t kill as quickly as softer bullets. This is exactly why many hunters who use controlled-expansion bullets place bullets through the shoulders, especially if they want to drop animals quickly.

Both Eileen and I have done this deliberately many times, especially with whitetails on the edge of heavy cover, but I also put a 150-grain Nosler Partition through the shoulders of a big mule deer buck in Alberta. The deer stood near some very steep badlands, and if he’d gone over the edge, recovering his 300-pound carcass would have been a real PITA.

One example of many animals taken with softer bullets was a feral goat in New Zealand, during an early field-test of Berger Hunting VLD’s. Goats are considered among the toughest of “deer-sized” game but we’d already dropped several with VLD’s ranging from 115-grain .25’s to 185-grain .30’s. However, all those shots hit some “shoulder” bone. We wanted a pure rib shot to see if the bullets killed quickly with that placement too.

Eileen got the first opportunity at around 200 yards on a big billy, putting a 115 from her .257 Roberts a hand’s width behind the shoulder. The goat dropped right there, rolling down the steep mountain for several yards before hanging up in some brush. That sort of instant drop from a rib shot’s not unusual with softer bullets, especially on deer-sized game, but we also saw quick rib-shot kills on red stags weighing at least 500 pounds.

I’ve heard many hunters claiming such-and-such bullet (or cartridge, often a “magnum” of some sort, or bigger-bore round) always drops whitetails right there—but the hunter doesn’t mention using shoulder shots. Well, gee, I’ve taken part in a number of whitetail culls over the years, in places as widely scattered as eastern Montana, South Texas and several southeastern states. The cartridges and bullet have varied widely, but I haven’t yet found a combination that wouldn’t drop smaller Southern whitetails right there with a shoulder shot. (Yeah, some Southern whitetails get pretty big, but in general they’re a size or two smaller than typical deer from the upper Midwest or southern Canada.)

My preferred placement for instant drops with “shoulder” shots is the classic 2/3 to ¾ of the way up the chest, directly above the leg. This normally also cracks the spinal column , and often cuts the spinal cord, along with one or both shoulders. The smallest cartridge used (and probably the softest bullet as well) has been the .243 Winchester with 100-grain Federal “blue box” factory ammo, used on a South Texas cull. The high shoulder shot dropped them all right there—and the bullets all exited.

Of course, those were relatively small deer, but the .243 will do the same thing on bigger deer with controlled-expanding bullets. Eileen took her biggest-bodied whitetail buck a few years ago in northeastern Montana, up near Saskatchewan, using her Husqvarna .243. The buck appeared along the edge of some heavy cover at dusk, looking for does, so she put a 100-grain Partition through the shoulders and spine. The buck dropped right there, and yes, the Partition exited. She’s done the same thing with the 100 Partition on other Montana whitetail bucks, so dropping whitetails with shoulder shots isn’t limited to magnum cartridges.


[Linked Image]
Eileen Clarke dropped the biggest-bodied whitetail buck she’s ever taken with one 100-grain Nosler Partition, using the shoulder/spine shot.

A common variation on the shoulder-shot theme involves an animal quartering toward the hunter. Unless there’s some reason not to, the highest-odds shot placement is aiming at the big joint of the near shoulder. The bullet continues on into the chest, traveling through both lungs and, depending on exact placement, perhaps the top of the heart. I’ve used this shot, and seen it used, hundreds of times over the decades on animals from deer-sized up to over 1000 pounds.

The one-shoulder quartering shot doesn’t usually drop big game as quickly as breaking both legs, or the shoulder-spine shot, but they do typically fall quicker than with a pure rib shot, probably because bone fragments result in more tissue destruction than just the bullet itself. I’ve found plenty of splinters and even good-sized chunks of bone throughout the chest cavities of animal shot with quartering-on shoulder shots.

The animal that might have traveled farthest was a 6x6 bull elk shot at 75 yards in thick cover, using a .300 Winchester Magnum with 200-grain Nosler Partitions handloaded to 2950 fps. At the shot the bull crashed forward through some brush, but stopped after about 35 yards. I put another bullet into the chest as the bull stood there swaying, but it wasn’t necessary, as the first Partition had smashed the shoulder joint, gone through both lungs, and exited the rear of the ribcage on the far side.

But chest-shot placement can make a difference with even larger cartridges, perhaps as much or more than the particular cartridge and bullet. On a Tanzanian safari I used a 9.3x62 with 286-grain Partitions as my “plains game” rifle, while my partner used a .300 Winchester Magnum loaded with 180-grain AccuBonds. We shot the same basic variety of animals, from impala and hartebeest to zebra and blue wildebeest, and the 9.3 put them down noticeably quicker. In fact my partner bought a 9.3x62 for himself after we got home, for that very reason.

But was the bigger bullet the reason for the quicker kills? For some reason the shots on every one of my animals involved at least one shoulder, while his all turned out to be rib shots. The two that really impressed him were Burchell’s zebra and a blue wildebeest, both considered among of the toughest animals in Africa. Both animals were quartering toward me, and the bullet broke the big shoulder joint both times. They each went less than 25 yards before falling, obviously staggering and done for from the moment of impact.

[Linked Image]
My hunting partner on an African safari was very impressed with the way the 9.3x62 dropped tough animals like this blue wildebeest, so bought own 9.3 upon returning home. However, each shot from John’s rifle broke at least one shoulder, which tends to drop animals quicker than rib shots.

But I’ve seen quite a few other blue wildebeest taken. One in South Africa, during a month-long cull hunt where several hunters took close to 200 animals, was shot deliberately as it quartered toward me, during an early field test of the Nosler E-Tip monolithic bullet from a .300 Winchester Magnum. The results were just about identical—a stumbling run of around 25 yards, ending in a spectacular dust-tumble.

Interestingly, the majority of the testimonies I’ve heard or read illustrating the great killing power of some larger cartridge have involved shoulder shooting. In fact, I’m beginning to suspect fans of certain larger cartridges (including me) tend to shoot for the shoulder more often. But I’ve seen plenty of smaller cartridges drop the same array of animals just about as quickly with various shoulder shots, using controlled-expansion bullets.

Many hunters fail to recognize more subtle reasons for an animal dropping quickly. Many animals quickly dropped by rib shots have had the bullet pass closely under the spinal column, or even strike it slightly. Either can drop an animal temporarily, and in the meantime bullet holes through both lungs complete the job.

A good example was a medium-sized cow elk Eileen shot with her New Ultra Light Arms .257 Roberts a few falls ago. We encountered the cow across a draw, quartering away at what later proved to be 123 yards. The bullet was a 100-grain Barnes TTSX at around 3150 fps, the load she’s used for close to a decade in the NULA .257. She put it in the middle of the ribs on the right side, the vertical crosshair aligned with the far leg, and at the shot I expected the elk to run maybe 50 yards before dropping.

Instead it dropped instantly, right there, flopping around briefly before lying still. During the field-dressing we discovered the bullet had knocked a half-inch chunk of bone off the bottom of the spine. This chance encounter didn’t appear to affect the path of the bullet, which we found in the meat of the far shoulder, but I have no doubt it’s why the cow dropped on impact.

I’ve seen the same sort of “spine-tick” on other animals over the years, when otherwise the shot looked like a typical rib placement. Yet how many hunters would consider the “instant kill” proof of the killing power of their cartridge? Which usually isn’t a .257 Roberts?

Due to my job, I tend to be more inquisitive when field-dressing animals than many hunters. All of these instances, and hundreds more, are why I tend to be skeptical of single examples of the supposedly superior killing power of any specific cartridge or bullet. Instead most quick kills involve the right bullet, placed correctly, even if the exact path is sometimes slightly accidental.


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Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14132506 09/17/19
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Good article, JB. It all makes sense. Your comment about the difference in deer size is why I wish people would divulge their location when touting a particular cartridge and bullet. Plus, tell what the shot placement was. I lived in Texas many years and what worked well for me down there doesn't necessarily work up here in NW Missouri.

Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14132624 09/17/19
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Thank you for the Column Mule Deer it was an excellent read!


Good bullets properly placed always work, but not everyone knows what good bullets are, or can reliably place them in the field
Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14132787 09/17/19
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Hey MD: very good column.
One additional factor I've read about (but don't remember the reference) but which sounded credible, came from a study conducted during Cape Buffalo culls in S. Africa some years ago. A veterinary pathologist tried to differentiate what happened between chest-shot animals that dropped-right-there, versus same shot that ran-then-died.
During necropsy he reportedly detected evidence of cerebral stroke in animals that dropped/died quickly, and credited that phenomenon to bullet strikes as the moment of peak systolic pressure (heart contraction) rather than at the lower diastolic pressure (heart relaxation). His theory went that when a Cape Buffalo died instantly (or at least was incapacitated instantly) the cause was a pressure spike causing internal brain bleed or profound neurological stunning. And given the impossibility of timing such a shot to cause cerebral stroke, the outcome of each shot was random, and couldn't be perfected (at least not with a chest shot).
What do you think of this theory to explain any of your observations?

Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: GrouseChaser] #14133116 09/17/19
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Mule Deer Offline OP
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That theory (or something very much like it) has been around for quite a while; have read other "studies" suggesting the same basic thing.

I always wonder, first, how somebody could prove it. Second, I also wonder, if it's true how a hunter could time their shot to take advantage of it!


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Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14133693 09/17/19
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A good article John. Thank you.

For my part I like the shot through the shoulderblade on deer, when it is on offer, as a means of putting the animal on the deck right there. As you say, you tend to have bone fragments augmenting the effect, and there's a number of important structures behind the shoulderblade on a deer, including spine, major blood vessels and the nerve junction just below the spine here (axillary plexus). Sure, you do damage a bit of meat, but that is better than having an animal run off and possibly be lost, or at least take some finding.

Through the cervical spine in the neck's another. I think you might have said previously that you aren't a fan, but I've found it very effective on a range of game up to buffalo.There's rather less margin for error than a chest shot though, so it isn't always the best option. I prefer the base of the neck more than the head end for most purposes, but sometimes higher is what is available - a deer bedded down with its head up, or going away with its head up, for example.

For game the size of pigs, goats and deer I prefer bullets which open fairly fast. Winchester Power Points and Remington CorLokt and that sort of thing. The ones I've used seem to have enough integrity to do the job, even on shots through bone on animals up to the size of red deer, and they'll cause impressive amounts of damage even if just slipped through the ribs. I've found tougher bullets can perform rather less effectively. I don't expect them to go through a deer from stern to stem, nor do I much care whether they exit or not. Exiting is a bit moot if the animal's down and dead right there.

Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14133774 09/17/19
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Dan,

Thanks!

I am not exactly a non-fan of neck shots, but in most animals they depend very much on hitting the spine. In many of our deer the spine is a very small part of the neck, especially with a big buck during the rut. Consequently you can aim for where you THINK the spine is, but may not hit it. Have also seen some relatively tough cup-and-core bullets not break the spine. One was 150-grain Hornady Spire Point pre-Interlock that was shot into the neck of a 300-pound mule deer buck as a finisher. I found it expanded but resting against the spine.

In my experience the most reliable neck shots, with animals with relatively long necks, either standing directly facing or away, where centering the neck also centers the spine. The other is with pigs, which have short necks, with the spine pretty much centered between the shoulders and the skull--and the major blood vessels pretty much right alongside.

Have also done very well on "softer" game, such as deer, with the Core-Lokt and Power Point and rib shots, even at modest muzzle velocities. One of the more interesting was a mule deer doe, weighing perhaps 140 pounds live weight, shot with a .30-40 Krag and a 180 Power Point at around 2400 fps. The bullet landed in the ribs as the doe stood broadside, right behind the shoulder. At the shot the deer took off running--and ran right into a big tree maybe 20 yards away, obviously dead on its feet!


“Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”
John Steinbeck
Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14133786 09/17/19
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Great article, don't have much to add, but I have found shot placement trumps diameter, and velocity. I have taken about 12 Whitetails and Mule Deer with a 9.3X62, most were neck shoots. A couple where shoulder shots and one an ass shot at a running doe, none of them made 10 yards other than rolling down hill. I have also taken about the same amount with a couple of 6.5's, 6.5X55 and 6.5X57. About the same result with similar shot placement. I would expect similar results with about any caliber with sufficient size and velocity. I am a on old school guy, I do like the heavier calibers for woods hunting.

Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14134000 09/17/19
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Spot on JB.I like to shoot really tight to the rear of the shoulder,just an inch or two above the middle of the chest for those under the spine DRT shots.Not only does it send the shock to the spine,it can also rupture the huge thoracic artery too.It seems to be like a double wammy.Shock to the spine and total loss of blood pressure.Quartering shots I prefer tight behind the onside shoulder and try to exit just in front of the offside shoulder.That shot will usually put them down very quickly too.
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Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14137089 09/19/19
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Originally Posted by Mule Deer
That theory (or something very much like it) has been around for quite a while; have read other "studies" suggesting the same bas!ic thing.

I always wonder, first, how somebody could prove it. Second, I also wonder, if it's true how a hunter could time their shot to take advantage of it!


I think the pathologist may very well have been on the way to proving it, by systematic scientific observation. And as I recall, his sample size was hundreds of animals. His conclusion was that the chest shot outcome was random as to speed of death. Just because the world sometimes is random, doesn't mean it is irrelevant!

Bravo

Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14147361 09/23/19
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Good article John. It goes well with the mono bullet discussion. I have heard this before, but never can quite bring myself to do it because of one thing, meat loss. I am a meat hunter, and depend on deer for my meat supply for the year. Having inadvertently hit the front shoulder before, I saw how much damage a bullet can do when you add bone fragments to the mix. And I really do not like throwing away an entire front shoulder. But this got me thinking, with a hard cast bullet with a wide flat meplat, meat damage should be minimal. But would the effect be as dramatic? Sorry to bring cast into the mix!! I plan on using a 358 Winchester this year with a 230 grain cast bullet with target velocity of 2100 fps.

I guess basically what i am asking is how much does velocity affect this quick killing. Most of the examples you gave involve velocity of 2500fps +. Have you seen many examples of slow moving/heavy projectiles breaking the shoulders, and were the results as instantaneous? I am thinking that my above mentioned bullet will do a good job of drilling through both shoulders of a white-tail, but I am not sure it has enough speed to produce the shock that a fast moving, expanding bullet will have.

Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14147799 09/23/19
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Good article John,
I'll just relate one exception and stress exception to the usual DRT I have experienced.
Blacktail buck approximately 125lb and 150 yards distance. 270 Win with Barnes 130gr TTSX @ 3060fps MV. Shot placement was high ribs tight behind the shoulder and skinning showed very similar to baldhunter's pics above. At the shot he dropped on the spot. No surprise as this has been the case with countless deer in the past. I leaned my rifle against the carcass and grabbed the horns to position him for gutting and he woke up. I was standing in front of him with a horn in each hand as he began to get more lively with each passing second. By the time we had waltzed around a few times , moving downhill and getting closer to a brush choked canyon, I realized if I let go to grab my rifle (now several yards away) he would be in the brush and be a very difficult recovery. The only thing to do was twist his neck until his feet were out from under him and get out my pocket knife to finish him.
Sometimes stuff just happens.


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Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14151922 09/24/19
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great article!Enjoyed it very much.

ripshin

Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14244791 10/31/19
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This reminds me of a talk I had with an old friend many years ago.

He showed me about a dozen sets of elk horns he had on the wall of his den and I asked him what he used to kill them all.

He replied, ".243 Winchester". I was a bit flabbergasted, and said, "That little 100 grain bullet did all this? Did you always try to slip it in between the ribs?"

"Nope. I load a 85 grain hollow point boat tail just as fast as it will go. I shoot them right in the shoulder, and you should see the mess it makes inside! Bone fragments are scattered throughout the lungs and heart."

Then he grew serious, and said, "I've only lost one, and that was on a shot i always told myself I wouldn't take - he was moving through the timber, in the rain, but I was so close I felt I just couldn't miss. He showed no sign of being hit, but that's normal for an elk. He just kept moving away behind the trees, and I went after him, but it was getting dark fast and the rain washed away any blood there might have been. I went back the next day but never found a trace."


All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing -- Edmund Burke
Re: Mid-September Column: Shot Placement and Killing Power [Re: Mule Deer] #14279492 11/14/19
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Where's that "like button" ?

Yup. Another well written, useful article. Thanks!

Something I've seen a couple of times - folks trying for that "high shoulder shot" - placing the bullet a tad too high & forward, actually missing the spine and not hitting much else of value. Animal drops - and either requires a finisher, or is quickly back up and trying to leave, necessitating another shot. Both instances I'm thinking of were whitetail bucks, shot at 125 yards or less. One with a 308 Win & 125 gr Ballistic Tip, the other with a 30-06 & 165 gr Nosler Solid Base soft point. Both deer were recovered, one right where it dropped, the other within a couple of yards, but both needed that second shot.

Regards, Guy


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