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shot placement

14 Sep 2011
@ 12:40 am (GMT)

Bruce Holler

I try to think of the chest cavity of an animal as having an 8 inch ball located inside. I study pictures of animals and try to visualize placing my shot thru the center of the ball tucked in the chest of game animals, as it were.

I have always read dangerous game should be shot to break them down and stop them before they can do you harm. Since it works on dangerous game it will work on non-dangerous game. The wonderful videos on this website shows the same results, correct?

The following study has shifted my shot placement from behind the shoulder to include the shoulder when possible. Break some bones.

In the mid-1990s, Charles Ruth of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources conducted a study of whitetail deer killed on a 4500 acre intensively managed hunting area owned by the Cedar Knoll Club on the South Carolina coastal plain. The terrain varied, but included swampland and very thick brush. All deer were killed with centerfire rifles using telescopic sights by hunters sitting in elevated stands. The sample size is such that definite trends are apparent.

A total of 493 deer were killed in 602 shots, for a one-shot success rate of 81.9 %. Of these 305 were antlered, requiring 375 shots (81.3 %) to kill, and 188 were antlerless, requiring 227 shots (82.8 %), indicating that there was no significant difference between the kill rates for these two populations.

Roughly half of the deer shot (253 of 493, or 51.3 %) traveled less than 3 yards after being hit or simply dropped in their tracks. Of the instant incapacitation kills, 87.7 % (222/253) were definitely attributable to spinal or shoulder shots. Hit location is not known for the remaining 31 kills. Among the known hit locations, the mean distance traveled for clear spinal hits (52/222, or 23.4 %) was less than 1 yard. For shots that struck the shoulder (170/222, or 76.6 %), the mean distance traveled was 3 yards. Since the scapula lies directly over the neck / back junction it would be all but impossible to hit the shoulder without causing a paralyzing trauma to the spine (despite not directly damaging it) and the probability of causing serious trauma directly to the spine would be very high.

Roughly half the deer shot (240 of 493, or 48.7 %) ran a significant distance after being hit. Nearly all of these deer (221/240 or 92.1 %) were found dead; however 19 were discovered to be still alive, suffering from inadequate wounds (shot in the abdomen, legs, neck, etc.) and dispatched (a trained tracking dog was required to locate all of these deer). The distance traveled for those found dead was recorded, but no record was attempted for those which remained living since they pursued evasive paths in their escape. The mean distance traveled by deer that ran when hit (neglecting the 19) was 59 yards. No shot placement is known for 16 of the 240 kills that ran when hit. Those hit in the heart (14/224, or 6.3 %) traveled an average of 39 yards, those hit in the lungs (152/224, or 67.9 %) ran an average of 50 yards, and those struck in the abdomen (presumably hitting an artery or the liver, as opposed to only stomach and intestines) (58/224, or 25.9 %) ran an average of 69 yards.

Although no cross-correlation is available between trailing sign and hit location, most of the deer (155/240, or 64.6 %) left a good blood trail and traveled a mean distance of 46 yards, permitting easy recovery. A further quarter of those that ran (61/240, or 25.4 %) left relatively poor sign, little or no blood at the point where the deer was hit by the bullet, and only a weak blood trail that in many instances had to be found by the dog. These deer traveled an average of 83 yards. Five of those that ran (2.1 %) gave no indication that they had been hit by the bullet, left no sign whatsoever, and traveled an average distance of 152 yards; yet each was discovered dead.

Some information is known regarding the weapon used in 444 of the 493 kills. The weapons used are grouped by caliber against the mean distance traveled for all kills (including instantaneous kills). In general, trends by caliber are weak, as might be expected. However, there are differences that must be considered significant, statistically speaking (if in no other sense). The smallest bore, .243 (6 mm) caliber, accounted for 10.8 % (48/444) of the documented kills, with an average distance traveled of 40 yards. This compares with 31 yards for .277 caliber (84/444, or 18.9 %), 26 yards for .284 (7 mm) caliber (160/444, or 36.0 %), and 33 yards for .308 caliber (116/444, or 26.1 %). Clearly, there is a slight increase in the mean travel distance for the .243 bore. Surprisingly, there is also a significant (statistically) difference between the .284 caliber and the .277 and .308 calibers, which are essentially the same. I am at a loss to explain this, particularly given the sample size. Even more striking is the case of the kills involving the .257 caliber, which make up only 8.1 % (36/444) and which have a mean travel distance of a mere 14 yards! Now to a certain extent this can be attributed to the small sample size. But it also clearly reflects some bias of behavior by the shooters or the weapons used in this caliber. Unfortunately, no further information is available on specific cartridges used or cross-correlations between calibers and hit locations.

The bullets used were loosely grouped into "soft" (e.g., Ballistic-Tip, Bronze Point, or light for caliber bullets) and "hard" (Partition, Grand Slam, X-Bullet, or heavy for caliber bullets) categories. There is a bit of a problem here because testing has demonstrated that the Nosler Partition is certainly not a hard bullet and produces very expansive wounds. Nevertheless, some trends are evident. Soft bullets, as defined, were used in 81.1 % of kills (360/444) and resulted in instantaneous kills 58 % of the time, with a mean travel distance (including instantaneous kills) of 27 yards. Hard bullets were used in 18.9 % of kills (84/444) and dropped the deer in its tracks only 40 % of the time, for a mean travel distance for all kills of 43 yards. Extracting the instantaneous kills from the total, the mean distances traveled by deer which ran when shot are 61 yards in the case of soft bullets and 70 yards for hard bullets. In other words, the soft bullets produced expansive wounds with a 50 % greater probability of dropping the game instantly, but if it ran the bigger wounds reduced the distance only by 13 %. Southern whitetails are not the appropriate game for the use of controlled expansion bullets. I have gotten complete penetration with Ballistic Tips on shots through the shoulder and spine at close range. Nothing more robust is called for.

-Sex does not affect the toughness of deer
-Bullet shot placement has a far more profound influence on terminal effect than does bullet caliber or style
-Trauma to the spine anchors deer instantly; all other wounds allow some reaction
-Deer shot well in the throracic cavity will drop within 50 yards or less, on average
-Fully 1-in-4 deer will give little or no sign of being shot and will travel roughly twice as far as well hit deer
-"Soft", expansive bullets are more likely to drop a deer instantly given a hit proximal to the spine, but only slightly reduce distances for deer that run

Has this been your experience?



17 Sep 2011
@ 10:19 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: shot placement
Hi Bruce, thats a pretty good summary. There are a few other factors to consider. The knowledge base within this site was created to help hunters understand all of these factors in great detail, to help hunters achieve fast killing as well as being able to predict outcomes.

In NZ, as with many other areas of the world, a 50 yard dead run can be too far. Even a 10 yard dead run can be too far. This is most important when climbing high, hunting bluff systems surrounded by ravines- both in open country and in bush country. Quite often, hunters are targeting game feeding or resting on small terraces, perhaps only 20 yards in length. If the animal runs after the shot and then falls, the animal can become trapped in a ravine or simply fall a great distance, smashing the trophy horns or antlers that were so carefully sought after.

Therefore, where possible, it is imperative to achieve the fastest possible goal through shot placement as you mentioned, but also by matching bullet weights to game weights and bullet construction to the job at hand. If bullet weight and bullet construction is largely mis-matched, the dead run can be as long as 300 yards. In Africa, many species of Antelope are able to cover distances of up to 500 yards where wound channel diameters have not been sufficiently traumatic. This can occur with the basic .270Win 130 grain Remington Core-lokt ammunition used at ranges of 275 yards and beyond. Very frustrating, especially if the hunter has previously had great results at closer ranges.

Of the mechanisms relative to speed of killing described in the Game Killing section of the knowledge base, you can perform your own tests using your BLR .308 to great effect. Using a basic 150gr soft point (your ballistic Tip factory ammo you mentioned will be the same)-if you go into the field with the intention of studying hydrostatic shock (for no other reason than to study it), you will find the results very predictable. Muzzle velocity for 150gr factory ammo will be around 2750fps in your rifle, based on its age and barrel length. The 150 grain hunting bullets tend to produce hydrostatic shock (as described in the game killing section) at impact velocities above 2650fps which for you, means getting right in for a 10-50 yard shot. In this instance, you will find a center shoulder shot will drop your Whitetail on the spot. It may try to rise to its knees, but will fall straight away. Next time around, take a shot at an impact velocity of 2600fps, next time around, a shot at 2400fps. Following this, the use of a heavy for caliber frangible projectile used at a low impact velocity will show yet another set of results. With the 168gr A-Max for example, we are talking about immensely wide, highly traumatic wounding produced by a frangible bullet in the absence of high velocity. You will eventually be able to see, measure and predict results.

So, there are several factors involved. A 50 yard dead run may be common, but it doesn't always have to be that way and in some situations is to be considered unacceptable and to be avoided if possible. We can alter performance and shot placement to effect results and this is why I have gone to such great efforts with the research and with the uploading of the knowledge base. I must be up to around 8000 head of game now and with the site generating feedback emails from all over the world, these very kind and helpful people doubly ensure that the information given is correct and can be repeated in the field.
18 Sep 2011
@ 12:54 pm (GMT)

Bruce Holler

Re: shot placement
Hi Nathan,
Glad you enjoyed it. I know it is a limited study. However there are truths that ring true. As Jack O'Connor wrote that, you got to shoot them "where they live" meaning the vitals.

So how close does rating system for bullets come to matching bullet to game? for example: Winchester's CXP, Fereral's 1-4 and Hornady's HITS.

30 Sep 2011
@ 04:25 pm (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: shot placement
Hi, yes, I do find that the game usage indicators on factory ammunition are fairly good. There is a definite attempt to help hunters optimize performance.
07 Oct 2011
@ 02:32 am (GMT)

Bruce Holler

Re: shot placement



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