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Head shot

28 Aug 2020
@ 05:19 am (GMT)

Scott Struif

In reading the Knowledgebase, I’ve run across references to head, neck, and spine shots. Hunting deer and pronghorn, I’ve gotten lucky a few times and dropped animals in their tracks with spine shots. Head shooting never occurred to me, but now that I’ve recently taken up Elk hunting, the head shot is feasible, due to the bigger target. Where I hunt, the terrain is steep, the cover thick. Shots beyond 100 yards are a rarity. Absent a complete pass-through, I’d never find a runner. Plus, if it ran off a ridge, I’d never be able to get the meat out. I have a choice of calibers: 30-06, 7mm RemMag, or 243. Given the circumstances, the head shot is the only ethical choice available. Seems like the only downside is if the shot struck low, a wounded jowl or throat. Still, the head shot seems more ethical than a chest or shoulder shot in my particular case. With a chest or shoulder shot, even with the larger calibers, one never knows for sure whether the animal is going to go down or run. With a well-placed head shot, it’s going down, irrespective of the caliber.

Replies

01 Sep 2020
@ 05:51 am (GMT)

Scott Struif

Re: Head shot
I read-read the long-range book’s references to head shots. In it, Nathan mentions a client’s 280 yard head shot on a pig. A shot like that is way above my skill-level. I found some drawings of elk skeletal anatomy. The size of the cranium is deceptively small compared to the mass of the “head” as it appears on a live animal. Plus, the pate is protected by the antlers, so broadside shots are out. I couldn’t execute a frontal head shot, or one from the rear, with the gun zeroed 3 inches high at at 100 yards. My inclination is to zero at 50 yards, hold an inch low at 100, and pass on anything farther.
01 Sep 2020
@ 09:30 am (GMT)

Martin Taylor

Re: Head shot
Scott I started using head shots on Red & Sambar deer (including hybids of the two), chasing the "anchoring shot" with my LR win mag which is a 1/4 moa rig. Sick of seeing meat saver, broadside chest shots run of into the scrub needing to be tracked up.

Starting at 300 yards with the intention of moving further out as confidence & results allowed. Well this experiment stopped very quickly as very small head movements have a big neg result with as you say a very small target zone. Even with what l deemed extreme trauma, animals often needed quick follow ups and if in the thick stuff that shot may not present to you.

I now use the base of the neck as head movements give little change and the target zone is larger. I have found that this shot can be taken with lighter pills/cals with great effect and is now my go to placement.
01 Sep 2020
@ 09:32 am (GMT)

Magnus Vassbotn

Re: Head shot
Hi

Under such circumstances (short range, fairly large animals) I'd just use the 30-06 with semi-tough tough bullets (partition, accubond, scirocco etc) 180-200 grains. A good balance between velocity, fragmentation and penetration. I'm sure the 7 mm mag with the right bullets will be just as good, but I have no first hand experience with it.

Then stick to high shoulder shots. Yes, one can sometimes just nick the top of the lungs and miss the spine, but that is rare. Usually there is some damage to the spine, with bullets that shed some weight. And if you do hit just low enough to miss the spine, they usually drop anyway, and only sometimes get back up before bleeding out. Just be ready for a quick follow up, especially if the shot is high in the spine. Even though such a shot is more difficult than a normal center shoulder shot, it is a much larger and safer target then the head or neck. Especially off hand in the woods.

But in the case of head shots, I prefer to shoot from the front or back. Pretty forgiving on elevation errors, and the brain fills out quite well to the sides also. Head shots from the side is as you say, very risky with regards to jaw etc.
01 Sep 2020
@ 09:34 am (GMT)

Magnus Vassbotn

Re: Head shot
And what Martin said. We were cross typing here.
02 Sep 2020
@ 03:25 am (GMT)

Scott Struif

Re: Head shot
Thanks for the input. I see the merits of the high shoulder shot. With enough upset to the spine, even absent a direct hit, it’s lights out, hedging your bet on the upper lungs. For a frontal, or facing away shot, the neck makes sense, too. I really have to plan ahead and be selective. Nothing would be worse than an animal that big running off downhill around here.
02 Sep 2020
@ 09:18 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Head shot
Hi Scott, yes there are a few variables at play here, range vs target area, bullet designs, trajectories, rifle accuracy and stability.

The axis shot Marty talked about is quite useful, a bit of leeway all about. But still you need to be in a position where you can settle the rifle without too much error. Regarding your rifles, a 7mm Rem Mag loaded with a 160 or 175gr Partition will drop a cattle beast with this shot.

Mid neck can be tricky. If the shot placement is not sound and velocity low, one can miss the spine while missing the arterial system as this can move away from the bullet path, rather than being destroyed by it. that is to say that the stupid high speed camera / slow mo shots of bullets deforming gel blocks during the temporary phase, shows nothing of the elasticity of the arterial / venous system. One must either employ massively destructive hydraulic forces (beyond the strength of tissues) or a weight shedding bullet. But there is still much to go wrong, especially with low energy cartridges:

Time stamped: https://youtu.be/1PV-LgloYl8?t=591

Further down we find the neck shoulder junction. This is the shot that forum member Bob Mavin prefers. It is generally called the hillar shot. It strikes the root of the autonomic plexus nerve ganglia, the arterial system and if your shot is on the money, it will take out the spine. This shot takes some pressure off the bullet, avoiding the shoulder bones but without causing a dead run as per the meat saver shot. The bullet does not need to be too tough for this shot. Avoid aiming high as the spine dips down in this region.

A couple of inches back we have the forward shoulder shot. This is another instant poleaxe shot, but the bullet needs to be of sound construction for heavier animals. Use the front line of the front leg to effect this shot. Ideally, you should try to get into this habit with all rifles. Few people really understand the usefulness of this shot for general hunting or heavy game hunting. It could also be described as "how to make yourself look like a champion when hunting with a guide". Marty would point out that on Sambar deer, he has seen the .30-06 / 200 grain Partition turn off course with this shot. But I still believe this to be a good bullet brand choice / shot placement for Elk if the expected range is unknown (impact velocity) and if exact shot placement cannot be assured. A bonded bullet can be used for closer ranges.

A spine shot can be useful as Magnus suggested. It can for example be used to make the .223 more effective on medium game when loaded with a heavy bullet (not that I condone this). This shot can nevertheless go wrong. It is not a good shot for wild pigs as people tend to miscalculate the position of the spine. On deer, if the bullet is too tough and the animal too lean, the projectile can strike high or low without causing sufficient damage. So as Magnus said, some weight shedding action is useful. Those who do not understand the layout of the spine, especially the dorsal vertebrae should avoid this shot. The shot must be kept forward (in line with the front leg) in order to disrupt the CNS and cause instant death.

03 Sep 2020
@ 04:52 am (GMT)

Scott Struif

Re: Head shot
Thanks, Nathan. Even though I’ve read your Effective Game Killing knowledgebase article numerous times, the video was quite helpful, and, as usual, entertaining. (The “bullet points” at the end was a nice touch.) Being from the US, I, of course, was taught to aim for the proverbial “boiler room.” I’d never heard it called a “meat saver shot” - it was just conventional wisdom that there’s a 6-inch-diameter target (on a whitetail) behind the shoulder, where the “vitals” are. It usually works out, but often with a lot of head-scratching about how the animal could have gone so far after such a well-placed shot. I’d never heard of the autonomic plexus until I read your article. It is now my go-to shot on deer. I was worried it might not work out so well on an elk. But, as you said, an understanding of the location of the spine is worthwhile. There’s a good illustration of elk skeletal structure here:

http://app.fw.ky.gov/Elk101/courses/course1/images/anatomy2.png

It’s amazing how deceptive the location of the spine is! I had no idea that’s where it connects to the rib cage. It appears that the hillar shot would increase the odds, because disruption of the autonomic plexus, or severing the spine . . . either one is a winner. I appreciate your deference to Marty’s and Magnus’s preferred shots, both of which require a high degree of precision but I’m sure are equally effective.
04 Sep 2020
@ 01:10 am (GMT)

Anthony Marroy

Re: Head shot
I have adopted head shots on whitetail deer within 100 yards. I use Hornady 180g SST with instant one shot kills in 30-06. I practice with the same mindset as I hunt. I use extreme patience and don't mind not taking a shot if I'm not 100% sure of a hit. There is no suffering, no meat damage, (noticable better taste to meat versus what you get from a deer running and loaded with adrenaline.). The key is practice and confidence in your ability. After losing two deer by misplaced shots early in my hunting, I made a commitment to improve my skills or quit hunting. (Quitting not being the real option, honing and perfecting my skills was the only option.). I tailor my loads as a bench rest shooter would and practice, practice, practice. More time honing your skill puts better meat on the table, and causes you to shoot more, which in my opinion is a win win.
04 Sep 2020
@ 12:47 pm (GMT)

Martin Taylor

Re: Head shot
I should confirm that l do mean the “base of the neck” as Nathan has said. Back a little and it’s the Hiller, forward it smashes the wind pipe/arteries. Just don’t get sucked into shooting the small high void as others have pointed out, know your anatomy/angles. A great placement if the deer is standing it the thick stuff, which most of the time they are!

If at range l move either side depending on angles & wind to stay in the best zone, allowing for era as Nathan describes in his books. Making the margins work in my favour. You end up with a oval shaped kill zone length ways.
04 Sep 2020
@ 03:15 pm (GMT)

Scott Struif

Re: Head shot
Good point, Marty. In a perfect world the perfect shot probably presents itself, but how often does that happen? This discussion has been an eye-opener for me. Thanks.
04 Sep 2020
@ 07:46 pm (GMT)

Mike Davis

Re: Head shot
rightho folks Ive bit my tongue long enough ......
If Ive said it once Ive said it a hundred times...you take out the front wheels and its not driving anywhere.
Im a bush hobbit and normally shoot in a hurry from standing at 30-50 yards...I have one aiming point and one only in that senario.....take out them front wheels...from what ever angle Im presented with...if angled you will only get one...so make it good. looking back over 30 years the only times a deer has gone anywhere after being shot,its been when Ive aimed elsewhere...perfect meat saver shot with .270 WIN using ballistic tip 130 grn200ish yards..hind stood there....2nd shot slightly further forwards and INSTANT reaction....two steps forward on buckling legs then over she went.
I know what Nathan means by close miss on mid neck....mate put 150grn hornady from 30/06 through red hinds neck at hundred yards...she went down then stood up all wobbly...I did same shot with 130grn 270 same reaction for about 20 seconds before she fell over properly...both shots missed bone...entry and exits were 2" apart from opposite sides...
base of neck MUCH BETTER...there is lots of area for error with front of shoulder just back a bit....shoulder itself close too and drift too far back..still lungs.
I dont loose stuff all meat from shoulder shooting.....its stew/mince at best of times so loosing some of one or both front quarters is small price to pay for animal dropping on spot.
Ive used the Texas heart shot often enough to know it works but is messy...
Ive had bang flops at bush ranges using .270 .308 7.62x39mm and even the humble .223
take the front wheels and boiler room out ..its not hard to do...
funny about elk......more than once its been said they are EASIER to kill than reds...similar projectile resistance but bigger target area....and yes a yearling red and elk bull are chaulk n chees but both will go down when hit right.
I have headshot deer before..but shotgun and spot light probably dont count.
05 Sep 2020
@ 02:41 am (GMT)

Joshua Mayfield

Re: Head shot
In late 2017 and early 2018 we had a thread going titled "Neck Shots on Medium Game with Frangible Bullets." I think there was some overlap with this discussion. In that thread I explained my parameters for taking certain shots. I re-read them this morning. They still sound theoretically okay. I mentioned the stomach-sick feeling of taking a bad shot and wounding a deer in passing, but it was definitely a past tense mention. In fall of 2018 I got cocky and careless, feeling good about having snuck up on a buck in his bed, feeling good about my range time, and got cute (read: stupid) with the shot selection. I found out that however well thought out you think your parameters are, a bad shot still gives you the stomach sickness and being willing to track however far it takes doesn't un-wound an animal, or kill it. Today, I find myself more appreciative of Mike's approach than I was in 2018. Shoot wisely and shoot well, friends.
 

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