Making The Shot And After The Shot

Making The Shot And After The Shot


The only way that you’ll ever reach a high level of proficiency with your firearm is through trigger time. Not only do you need to know how to put your bullets where you want them, you also need to acquire an intimate understanding of your weapon’s capabilities and limitations. The more time you spend with your gun, shooting and hunting, the more you’ll understand it. There are no shortcuts. While training to shoot, make sure to familiarize yourself with a variety of shooting positions—not just from a bench equipped with sandbags. Of course, benches are ideal for getting your rifle sighted in, but once that’s taken care of, you need to explore postures and positions that are likely to be encountered in real-world hunting situations. By doing this, you’ll have a better understanding of which shooting postures work best for you at various distances. No matter what stance you’re using, ask yourself the following questions before you take a shot: Do you have a good rest? Is your breathing under control? Is your grip on your rifle secure, but not so strong that it’s torquing the rifle? What is your point of impact? Have you picked the exact spot that you want to hit? (You can practice this checklist in your spare time at home by dry-firing your rifle. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with your hunting weapon.)

making the shot

Each of the above positions would be improved by the use of a rest. A rest is anything that helps steady the rifle for the shot. When standing, you can rest the rifle against a tree to get more stability. When kneeling, a set of shooting sticks or a propped-up backpack can work. For prone shots, you can use about anything: wadded-up clothes, sleeping pads, fixed or detachable bipods, even a rock.

The prone position is inarguably the most stable position for use in real-world hunting situations. 


This shooting method is used by so few people that it qualifies as a secret. When a natural rest cannot he found, and when ground cover rules out shooting from a prone position, you can use the back of your hunting partner to get a solid rest and radically increase your effective shooting range. When you’re ready to fire, tell your buddy to hold his breath and plug his ear. Then run through your normal shooting routine. It’s deadly. (For the target, that is.)


If you have the time, it is always best to let the animal turn and offer a broadside shot. Broadside means the animal is perpendicular to you, facing left or right, not looking at you or away from you. In a broadside situation, a shot placed behind the crease of the shoulder will result in the bullet traveling through both lungs. The lungs and heart are your primary target when trying to kill an animal. A hit in the liver can also produce a kill, but it is not quick. Shooting just behind the shoulder hits only minor bones in the ribs, preserving most of the meat. When a major bone in the shoulder is struck by a bullet, bone fragments destroy much of the surrounding meat. Quartering shots are also valid, but the meat of one of the shoulders will be jeopardized. In some instances it is necessary to drop the animal in its tracks, also known as “anchoring.” In alpine situations, where steep rock faces and cliffs exist, this might keep the animal from tumbling thousands of feet. Other times, when hunting a small parcel of land, stopping the animal instantly keeps it from jumping onto the neighboring property, where retrieval might be difficult. Dangerous game also requires shot placement that anchors the animal. Bears, known for not bleeding well, are good to try to anchor, shortening the tracking job. In a broadside situation, aim square in the center of the shoulder if you want to anchor the animal—imagine you’re hitting it in the center of the scapula. On an elk, for example, your only change in aim is moving the crosshair left or right about a foot, depending on which way the elk is facing. By shooting the shoulder, you accomplish three things that help in bringing down the animal quickly. One, the shoulder itself is broken, making the animal less mobile. Two, the shock moving through the area disrupts the spine and nervous system. Three, the bullet, along with bone fragments from the shoulder, travels into and sometimes through both lungs. All this combined usually results in a very fast kill. The one downside to this approach is that a good portion of the shoulder meat can be lost to damage.

This antelope is facing the shooter. A shot that lands a few inches to the left or right of the bull’s-eye will certainly kill the antelope, but there will be substantial meat loss in the shoulder. 

The antelope is quartering to the hunter. Any shot placement here is likely to ruin one of the shoulders.

This bull is slightly quartering away, but not enough for major adjustment of shot placement. Placed right behind the shoulder, the bullet will travel through both lungs and possibly clip the heart. 

At this moment the doe’s left shoulder is blocking the vitals and a shot would ruin meat. By letting the doe take one more step, the bullet will have a clear path through ribs and both lungs, avoiding unnecessary damage to the shoulder. But if there’s no time to spare and the shot needs to happen now, this placement will kill the doe almost instantly. 

A black bear’s heart and lungs are positioned a bit more forward than in members of the deer family. Even though this bear is broadside, the hunter would be wise to let the animal move its right leg forward before taking a shot. That way, the vitals would be more vulnerable and the meat loss in the shoulder would not be as catastrophic. 

By placing the shot high on the shoulder of this mountain goat, the hunter will anchor the animal in place and help prevent it from going over a cliff and landing in a place where retrieval might be impossible. 

Big animals such as moose require careful shot placement. The target area is big, but so are the bones and muscles in the shoulder. Animals such as this call for high-quality ammunition and hard-hitting rifles in addition to good marksmanship. 

Broadside but slightly quartering, this mule deer requires shot placement that is tight to the shoulder. Being a few inches off could result in a shot that misses the lungs entirely.

This sheep is standing perfectly broadside; the shot placement will send the bullet through both lungs and the heart. 

When an animal is quartering away, like this whitetail buck, aim for the front leg on the far side of the body. This will likely send the bullet through both lungs.

This buck has his left front leg positioned forward. This makes for an unobstructed path to the vitals and minimal meat loss. 

The lungs and heart are the primary target. The arrows represent quartering away, broadside, quartering to, and head-on shot angles from both sides of the animal. With proper penetration, the bullet will go through the lungs and often the heart in each scenario. 

This mountain goat was shot up at the hunter’s fingertip. Had the hunter anchored it properly, it would have stayed up here. But faulty shot placement allowed this goat to make it to the edge and take a 1,200-foot plunge. Much of the meat was destroyed and the horns were lost.

The trigger was pulled, the bullet or arrow sent toward the animal. So what do you do now? If the animal has dropped dead in its tracks, you can take a few moments to feel grateful for your fortune and to thank the animal for the gift of its meat. If you scored a hit but the animal ran off, you’ll have to put your celebrations on hold. There’s an incredible amount of information that needs to be gathered in the immediate moments following a shot.

First off, watch the animal for evidence of the actual shot placement. Look for a spot of blood on the animal’s side indicating the location of the bullet’s entrance. This is sometimes magnified when archery hunting, because the fletching portion of the arrow might be visible at the point of impact. The animal’s reaction to the shot can reveal significant infor-mation as well. For instance, a leap straight into the air with a hunched back indicates a well-placed shot—likely to the heart. A slinking, hun-kering reaction points to a shot that hit too far back, probably in the stomach or intestines. A flailing limb can mean very bad news, as it could indicate a shot that has missed the body but clipped a leg.

If the rear end drops but the front legs are still pulling, the spine has most likely been hit. Sometimes spine hits will cause the animal to fold all four legs and fall straight to the ground. (If this happens, don’t expect the animal to be immediately killed. You might have to act quickly to avoid any suffering and put another round into the animal’s neck or through its lungs.) Although you should refrain from aiming for these locations, head and neck shots will also result in a dropped animal that will usually die much faster than an animal hit through the lower portions of the spine. Whether you’re hunting open or dense habitat, you need to mentally mark the precise location where the animal was standing when it was hit, plus the location of the last place you saw the animal. If you are hunting in a forest, visual contact may cease within fractions of a second; in open country, you might watch the animal for several seconds before it disappears. A wounded animal typically makes a fair amount of noise as it crashes off, so pay attention to that as well and try to get a mark on the location of the last noise you heard. Stay quiet and attentive. Sometimes, after a period of silence, a final crash or guttural moan might give you some valuable information about the animal’s condition and whereabouts. At this point, mark your shooting location with a piece of clothing or plastic surveyor’s tape. Then pull out your compass and take note of the directional headings to the various locations you marked and estimate the distances. If it was a long shot, study the area where the animal was standing with binoculars. Notice rocks, trees, logs, vegeta-tion, or any other identifying features that might help you pick out the exact area once you get over there. You can also use your range finder to mark the distances to various landmarks; once there, you can measure back to your shooting position to determine if you’re in the right spot. When you do leave your shooting position, go immediately to your mentally marked locations and mark them with surveyor’s tape or addi-tional clothes such as your hat and gloves. If you’re hunting with a partner, have him or her remain in the shooting position in order to help guide you to the necessary locations.

Generally, you should wait about forty-five minutes to an hour before tracking a wounded animal. That way, there’s less of a chance that the animal will get up and run after it lies down to die. You can add or subtract time according to how confident you are in your hit; if it’s a heart-shot animal, it’s probably been dead since a minute or two after you shot. If it’s hit through the stomach, you want to give it plenty of time before you start pushing it. So instead of plowing ahead, take a moment to replay everything that happened. Ask yourself: How confi-dent are you about your shot placement? Did you rush the shot, or did you calmly squeeze the trigger? Was the animal standing still or walking? What side should the entrance wound be on? Try to remember these details. They might come in very handy later in the tracking job, espe-cially if things go poorly and you can’t immediately find the animal.

Hopefully you’ll find blood right away, within a few yards of where the animal was standing. Also check for any hair or bone fragments. If you can’t find blood, look for the tracks of a fast-moving and startled animal. They frequently have a skidded appearance or are deeply bedded. These will often lead you to the beginning of the blood. When you find blood, don’t disturb it. The color, amount, and contents of the blood will give you clues about the type of hit and the condition of the animal.

1. A lung or lung/heart hit will produce a bright, almost pinkish blood. Often you will see foam or bubbles in the blood, which is a very good sign. The blood might be so profuse that it looks as though someone was running through the woods with two cans of red spray paint with the nozzles held open. If that’s the case, the animal is probably already dead and will be lying close by. If it was a quartering shot, it’s possible that only one lung was hit. This could mean less blood and an animal that might travel for several hundred yards or more—though it will certainly die and you should be able to recover it with minimal effort. 

2. Muscle wounds tend to generate a crimson-colored blood that is darker than pink lung blood. Heart shots can result in a similar-colored blood, but it’s so copious that there’s little trouble in following it to the dead animal. But when this bright crimson muscle blood comes in spatters and pin drops, you should be very worried. Small chunks of bone are often found with this type of blood, which could indicate a wound that may not be fatal. Common shot locations that produce this type of blood are lower legs, brisket, and neck shots that missed the spine. With luck on your side, a major artery might have been cut. This could cause the animal to bleed out and expire. In the case of a hit to the femoral artery, the animal could leave a strong blood trail and bleed out very quickly. But with a blood trail that starts strong and then peters out to pin drops that are spaced 10 to 20 feet apart, there’s a strong chance you’ve got an animal with a nonlethal muscle hit. It could certainly die from an infection in days or weeks, but there’s a strong possibility that the wound may clot and heal. There are always exceptions to the rules, though, and every blood trail should be followed until you’ve exhausted all possibility of finding the next droplet.

3. Blood with grass or other food particles or digestive material mixed with it points to a shot in the stomach or intestines. 132 This isn’t good, but it’s not necessarily entirely bad. A lot of different things could happen here, but you need to wait before proceeding along the blood trail. Give the animal at least four hours. This gives it time to lie down and, hopefully, expire. Since shots to the guts don’t tend to bleed much, an animal bumped from its bed and pushed becomes expo-nentially harder to find. If you start trailing the animal and find where it has repeatedly laid down and then gotten back up again, give it more time before you continue the chase. Patience may be the only thing that’s on your side. 

4. When the blood looks so dark crimson that it’s almost black, a liver hit should be suspected. Again, extend the waiting period to four hours. Shot livers do kill animals, just not as quickly as the other vitals. With due diligence, you should be able to recover this animal. 

5. If hair is present, try to match the hair color and texture to an area on the animal to help decipher the shot placement. A lot of hair at the shot site might indicate a grazing or raking shot. You may not even find blood, as the wound could be superficial or nonexistent. But you still owe it to the animal to spend several hours at the location doing a careful exami-nation for any other evidence of a more serious wound.


When blood-trailing a wounded animal, make sure to mark the last blood you found before advancing ahead to find more. You need to treat the area in the way an FBI forensics expert would treat the scene of a crime. Walk slowly and deliberately, and find every clue without destroying any evidence. Too much hurrying and tromping around disturbs the forest floor and could possibly hide that one drop of blood that might ultimately help you find the animal. Walk in a crouched position so that your eyes are closer to the ground. Crawl when necessary. Besides looking directly on the ground, look for blood on grass, on bushes, on branches. Check both the upper and undersides of vegetation. Note the height of the blood on standing vegetation; this will help you decipher the location of the hit. Keep your nose in the game. Many bears and rutty bucks have been found when the tracker passed directly downwind of the fallen animal and smelled the creature’s natural odor. Do not quit, even if it means crawling around on all fours for a day, and then waking up the next day in order to divide the area into a grid pattern and cover each and every square. This animal is your responsibility. You wounded it, and you need to find it. A blood trail is no place for quitters.

A recovered arrow can tell you a lot about your shot as long as you can read the clues within it. This arrow demonstrates good penetration, as it’s coated in blood along its entire length. The fact that the arrow is broken 6 inches back from the tip points to an exit on the far side of the animal, where it was broken by movement between the shoulder and the ribs. The bubbles in the blood indicate it was a lung shot. The same types of blood found on the ground along a blood trail may also be found on a recovered arrow, and they can be interpreted in the same way. (See blood sign illustrations in “After the Shot,” this page-this page) Another clue to look for would be a bent shaft or broadhead indicating contact with a hard material such as bone. An arrow that’s completely devoid of blood might indicate a clean miss. Any arrow recovered has a story to tell, even if it’s not the story you want to hear.

Good luck, bad luck. Each of these shots is the result of poor aim, but only one hunter lucked out. The whitetail deer on the left snapped its head toward the sound of the arrow’s release and caught a steel broadhead in its skull. The bull elk on the right had a broadhead miss his spine by 1/4 ” . The bone healed around the broadhead.

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