When a hunter pulls the trigger with a living creature in the rifle sights, there is a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that death is swift and efficient.
Proficiency in the skills of bushcraft and hunting will get you close to your quarry. From there your shooting skills briefly take centre stage. To achieve a safe, quick kill the following is essential.
• The target animal is in a position that does not pose a risk to third parties, or objects, in the event of a missed or exiting shot.
• The target animal presents an opportunity to deliver a fatal shot.
• Your firearm and ammunition is of adequate calibre for the shot on offer.
• You are capable of hitting the target area on your quarry.
Being a safe, successful hunter with a well-deserved reputation for one-shot kills is a lot more about discipline than being a particularly good shot or having the latest big magnum in your hands. It is all about knowing where to aim and when not to shoot.
There are three principal target zones on an animal that will deliver fast, humane death with good shot placement. These are the chest, the neck and the brain.
A high velocity projectile delivered to the brain will cause instant death.
Likewise, a well-placed neck shot will sever the spine and/or the major blood vessels that supply the brain. The aim of the chest shot is to destroy the heart and cause rapid death through loss of blood flow to the brain and massive shock to animal.
The chest shot offers a bigger target than either the neck or brain shots and is the most common shot taken when hunting. The ideal target zone is essentially about a third of the distance up from the bottom of the chest directly between the front legs.
A shot placed here will wreck the top of the heart where all the major blood vessels connect. It will also take out the lungs at the same time.
A hit that is a little off the exact centre of the target zone will still be very effective because the heart, its radiating blood vessels, and the lungs present a relatively large target zone.
A shot that is high has a good chance of damaging the spine, which dips down surprisingly low in the body at that point.
A potential mistake for inexperienced hunters taking side-on chest shots is a tendency to aim a bit too low and a little far back behind the shoulder.
We draw some distinction between hunting and shooting, which is relevant to choice of calibre and shot placement. In our terms, hunting implies stalking through the bush on foot seeking to find and kill your quarry.
Shooting implies taking your shot under much more steady and controlled conditions, such as spotlighting from a vehicle, or other solid rest.
In hunting we would advocate carrying the most powerful calibre you are comfortable and proficient with. Projectiles would be slow-expanding and medium to heavy for the calibre to ensure deep penetration. This is particularly the case with big game creatures.
In a shooting scenario the same applies, however lighter calibres may be employed with care.