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Take Aim: Shot Placement, by Prey

Be the most ethical hunter you can possibly be when you take aim with DSG. We teach you the proper hunting shot placement by prey & body type here.

As hunters, we’re not often presented with “the perfect shot.” However, accurate shot placement is not only strategic for preserving the most meat, it is also the most ethical approach to taking down game. By landing your shot in the animal’s heart and lungs, you are most likely to take it down with a single, lethal shot. The alternative is a sloppy shot, which can result in injury instead of death, lots of blood trailing, and potentially being unable to recover the animal. That would be the worst-case scenario, for both hunter and prey.

Get to know the anatomy of the animal you’re after. This way, when the pressure is on, you can execute the most efficient shot. In general, you will improve your accuracy through practice, but also by taking shots that are close in range and by steadying yourself with some careful breathing. You should also be prepared to take a second shot in quick succession after your first, in case of an error. Technically speaking, the head is also a vital area, but this area is often small and can result in jaw injuries that cause a lot of added suffering for the animal. Therefore, in this case, we’ll focus on the heart and lungs. These organs are the most likely to cause death instead of injury, and they are the largest vital area to aim for. If you think of the anatomy of an animal, these organs are in the chest cavity, but the clearest shot to these is a broadside shot with an extension of the front leg. When an animal extends the front quarter that is closest to you, the shoulder clears the vital organs. In comparison, if the leg is back, as the animal walks, the shoulder is more likely to be fragmented when hit and destroy the surrounding meat.

Time and patience can feel limited when your prey presents an opportunity to take a shot. However, sometimes waiting for the best shot can be the most ethical action, and that would be a broadside shot. Below we detail the vital locations on various North American prey. Depending on the animal’s position, you’ll have to modify your shot placement accordingly, or wait for the broadside to increase your chances of accuracy.

  • Bear: Locate the middle of the animal’s mass (horizontally and vertically centered on the body). Look forward, toward the back of the front leg, until your aim is merely 4-6 inches behind the front shoulder. Alternatively, if that front leg is extended, follow the line of the back leg up the body mass about halfway up the body mass. While hoofed animal vitals are tight to the shoulder, a bear’s are slightly farther back.
  • Big Cats: Envision a line up the body mass traced upwards from the front elbow. A couple inches up the body (midway up the mass), that’s your shot.
  • Big Game (Elk and Moose): Behind the front leg, look for the crease of the shoulder and trace it ⅓ of the way up the body mass. The hearts of these animals are just slightly lower than those of deer.
  • Bison: Above and slightly behind the “elbow” of the front leg, you should be able to place a double lung shot. Don’t aim too low on the body--you’re looking to land ⅓ up the body.
  • Coyotes: In contrast to most hoofed prey, the heart of a coyote is further forward. Therefore, your shot placement will need to be practically right through the front shoulder. Follow the front leg up, halfway up the shoulder, and take your shot.
  • Deer and Pronghorn: Visualize a horizontal line midway through the body mass. Then, find the crease of the shoulder, where it connects to the body and imagine a vertical line upwards from that. Where those two lines intersect is your best bet.
  • Hog: The heart of a hog is directly above the front leg, midway up the body mass, while the lungs overlap and extend backward in the chest cavity. Therefore, it’s best to aim for the back crease of the front shoulder, ideally ⅓ up from the bottom of the body.
  • Turkey: Contrary to our recommendation to avoid shots at the head, birds are just different. You’ll be shooting with a shotgun, and you don’t want to pepper the breast meat with shot. In this case, shoot for the head and neck. On a tom, sometimes the head and neck are too tight to the body, so wait for their extension during his strut. If you’re shooting with a bow, aim your arrow for the heart and lungs, where the wing joins the body.
  • Upland Birds: Similar to the turkey methodology, shoot your shotgun at the head of the bird. In flight, this means being slightly ahead of the path of flight. Birds flying away from you could obstruct your aim with their body mass.

Finally, if you’ve ever had an impulse to give archery a try, here’s an added reason to give it a go: bullets inflict a lot more trauma to the animal than arrows, increasing meat loss. On the flip side, that’s why accuracy in archery is even more essential (those arrows could cause injury before death if poorly placed).

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