The Ol' Shot Placement Argument

There is some disagreement among hunters as to what's the best spot to shoot a big game animal. Grandpa likes neck shots, dad likes the high shoulder shot and bowhunters like to put their arrows and bullets behind the shoulder into the chest cavity. Who's right?

The late great Finn Aagaard, a professional hunter in Kenya and one of the best gun scribes to pound a typewriter, sorted this all out for us years ago.

“When the animal is standing exactly broadside, one should bring the sight up the front leg until they are almost halfway up the chest and place the bullet there. It will pass through the shoulder muscles but just behind the actual shoulder joint, and quite likely in the angle formed by the upper leg bone and the shoulder blade. Without striking either, thought that depends on how the leg is being held at that moment. Alternatively, imagine that the animal has a grapefruit suspended in the center of its chest, above the front legs. Given that the bullet performs as intended (needed) a shot that strikes that imaginary grapefruit will hit the center of the lungs, or the upper chambers of the heart, or the major blood vessels leading to and from it. Such a hit will totally disrupt the circulatory system and the beast, whether African or American, will usually be down well within 50 steps.”-Finn Aagaard, Aagaard’s Africa, National Rifle Association, 1991, p 78.

Now I’m sure some of you are throwing your hands into the air or pounding your keyboard. I know, you heard before that African animals are made different than American animals and they are tougher. Yes, they are made different but that spot that Aagaard identified will work superbly on them. I should know; I’ve shot more than 30 African animals as small as a mountain reedbuck and as large as a Buffalo. I’ve also shot hundreds of big game animals in North American and other continents and in many cases the shot placement that Aagaard explains will result in the animal dropping it its tracks.

The beauty of this shot point of aim on big game animals, regardless of their nationality, is that it provides the most room for error. If your shot goes a little high, your bullet still hits the lungs, if it goes a lot high you get the spine and this will generally allow for a follow up shot. If the bullet goes a little low you center the heart, if it goes a lot low, you break a leg. Poor range estimation is generally the cause of low and high shots and this hold provides insurance.

If the bullet ranges forward it will hit the leg bone / shoulder blade. This usually results in bone fragments being driven into the lungs and at worst, slows the animal down substantially. If the bullet drifts to the rear there is still plenty of lung their to hit. Wind is the primary course of lateral bullet dispersion, particularly when shooting at extended ranges.

Of course, the shakes and the natural wobble of the rifle can sometimes cause bullets to stray off our intended mark. The correct solution for this problem is practice and few hunters do enough of it, especially away form the bench and from positions they will likely use in the field. And, rifle hunters, unlike bow hunters, rarely if ever shoot at life like targets. This of course is a mistake; you need to create the visual image or trigger in your mind that tells you when to pull the trigger.

Utilize one hold for all big game animals with obvious exceptions for brain shots, follow up shots and shots at wounded animals. Also practice shooting from field positions while shooting at life like targets. Do these things and you’ll kill ‘em where they’re standing.

North American Hunter Top Stories