Shot placement for Big Game Hunting

Shot placement is one of the most important factors to consider when hunting African game. Well placed shots will not only greatly aid in finding your trophy, it will also ensure a humane and ethical hunt. In this short article, we will discuss everything you need to know.

The first thing to consider when it comes to shot placement is the anatomy of the animal you are hunting. The anatomy of African species differ somewhat from that of Northern hemisphere species as the lungs are smaller due to the differences in climate. Africa is a lot warmer than the typical hunting areas in the northern hemisphere. The placement of the vital organs within the animal also differ slightly from species to species and so does the bone structure.  Damage to any organ will lead to death BUT shots hitting the brain, heart, lungs and spine will ensure a quick and humane kill. We also know the heart and lungs forms the largest cluster of vital organs and hunters are well advised to focus on this “cluster” when hunting African Big Game. The shape of this cluster of organs is similar in all species, just remember that the size differ according to the size of your target animal. Another important factor to consider is the angle of the shot. Shots at animals facing the hunter be it at an angle or straight on, is more difficult than shots from broadside on or quartering away. The primary reason for this is the fact that heavy bone protects the vitals from a frontal angle while broadside and shots angled in from behind avoids heavy bone. This is particularly important for bow hunters as their equipment is not ideally suited to deal with and reliably penetrate heavy bone.  

The question begs, is there a simple solution to all of this? The good news is yes, there is! When you consider the typical triangular shape of the heart-lung cluster; you will find that one point is positioned at the bottom and the other two above. It is almost as if the so called “death triangle” is balanced on this point. This “bottom point” represents the bottom point of the heart. In fact, the heart basically makes up the bottom third of the “Death triangle” while the top to thirds are made up by the lungs (See the diagram). Logically the ideal place to aim your shot would be the centre of the “death triangle” as this would give you the best chance of humanely harvesting your trophy, leaving you with almost six inches room for error in any direction on even an animal as small as a Springbuck. So, great we now know we need to aim at the centre of the death-triangle or top of the heart but when you look at the animal, where is this point? The simple wat to explain is to go straight up the front leg, and one third up into the body of an animal standing perfectly broadside on (see photograph). On animals quartering away the shot can be aimed “in the crease” and one third up (from the belly line), while shots on animals quartering on should be aimed on the point of the shoulder or just in front of the closes front leg and one third up the body. Quartering on shots should ONLY be considered with heavy caliber rifles loaded with premium bullets and should NEVER be attempted with a bow!

While preparing for your African hunting adventure, remember to practice shooting with your chosen caliber and bullet, if you will be using your guide’s rifle use something similar. This goes a long way in making sure you will be comfortable and confident with your equipment. Also practice shooting from “shooting sticks” from the standing, kneeling and sitting positions. Finally, it’s important to be patient and wait for the right opportunity to take your shot. Rushing a shot or taking a risky shot can result in a wounded and lost trophy.

In conclusion, shot placement is a critical aspect of big game hunting in Africa. Marksmanship and good understanding the anatomy of the animal you are hunting will ensure a memorable hunt.