Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Learn anatomy, kill efficiently, hunt ethically.

In yesterday's post, we discussed how to properly sight in your rifle in preparation for deer season. Tonight, we learn how to put that round to work.

Shot placement is critical. Step into the WayBackWhen machine for a moment, and think back to the children of the Great Depression who lived "in the sticks". I am lucky enough to have many relatives who lived it, including an uncle who remembers being able to go into town and buy a single shotgun shell because most people were too poor to buy the whole box.

That was back in a time when every round fired potentially meant the difference between eating dinner, or hoping you got another shot at it tomorrow. Now that hunting has become more of a hobby than a necessity, the art of shot placement has been lost on folks who think a 7 Mag instantly turns a person into the Great White Hunter.

The amount of deer killed with a cleanly-fired .22LR is just about the same as deer who have been wounded and lost in the woods due to a poorly-placed shot from a .300WM in the hands of an overzealous dentist-turned-wanna-be-hunter.

On the interwebz you'll find all manner of armchair killers whose knowledge of hunting comes from a combination of Call of Duty and the sporting goods section of Walmart, and they all have their opinions about the "proper" rifle to use, the proper type of ammo, the proper place to aim, etc.

Of course, it's all bullshit. Within 300yds, there isn't a centerfire rifle on the market today that won't drop a deer dead in its tracks with proper shot placement.

There are three general "kill zones" on any animal...head, neck, and chest. They aren't supernatural, it's just basic mammalian anatomy. There is not a game mammal hunted in America today that does not have a brain, spinal column, heart, or lungs.

1) Head.
Don't get it twisted, you're not trying to take out the brain. Even if the brain is severely damaged, an animal still has the ability to not only live but also run like hell. Also, if you're aiming for the center of the head when facing an animal broadside as pictured in the diagram above, you're likely going to do nothing more than blow the deer's jaw off and watch it run back into the woods where it ends up bleeding to death two hours later in a spot you'll never find.

The headshot has the benefit of providing an instant kill when performed properly, but has the downside of being the smallest target area. The reason for this is the actual portion of the head you're shooting at. You're trying to destroy the base of the brain, where it meets the spinal column. If done properly, you will quite literally separate the mind from the body without spoiling any meat.

The brainstem is what connects the brain to the rest of the body, and tells the heart, lungs, muscles, etc what to do. Shutting down the heart instantly halts the flow of fresh oxygen to the brain, which kills the brain in a matter of seconds. In reality, it's no different than literally severing the head.

In the diagram, you'll see where the spine meets the skull. Just above that union is where the brainstem is located. No matter what direction the deer is facing, aim for the brainstem. Any centerfire round, within typical hunting distances, will slam into the head with enough force to drive the bullet into its target. If you are facing the deer head-on, as opposed to a broadside position shown, be conscious of where the neck meets the head. For instance, if shooting at this deer from a tree stand at a 45 degree angle while head-on, you would go in through the top of the head between the antlers. If facing the deer while on the ground, you would aim between the eyes. In a similar position, with the deer looking straight at you, you would aim directly for his nose.

2) The neck.
Much like the brain stem, the spinal cord housed inside the spinal column is an integral part of the nervous system that will shut down vital organs. Ever hear of someone being killed instantly because his neck was broken? This is why.

The two major benefits of the neck shot are being able to preserve the skull if one wants to mount the head & antlers, as well as preservation of meat. If you're able to get a broadside shot, find the center of the neck and put a round into it. Even if you don't actually impact the spinal cord with your round, you will more than likely destroy enough of the spinal column that the shattering of bone will sever enough of the cord for you.

3) The pump station.
Imagine that the deer is a car. The head is your ignition switch, the neck is the wiring, the lungs are your intake manifold, and your heart is the carb. If you turn the key off or sever the wiring, you're going to kill the engine. If you crack the manifold or smash the carb, the engine is still gonna's just gonna take a bit longer, depending on how bad you smash it.

We all remember Arnold in Predator..."If it bleeds, we can kill it." An animal requires oxygen as its most basic need, cut off oxygen and it begins to die. Oxygen is, of course, carried in the blood. If you destroy the link between the brain and the heart, the heart stops being told to function and stops pumping blood. If you wound the heart, the heart's ability to pump blood to the brain is inversely proportional to the severity of the wound.

The downside of the heart shot from the broadside position is that you will likely screw up some meat on the shoulder. As shown in the diagram, the heart is located behind and below where the deer's front leg meets the spinal column. Aiming through the front leg will result in a more severe wound, with more severe meat spoilage. Aiming behind the leg will wound the lungs and save the meat, but will be a less severe wound. Either way, it's highly unlikely that the shot will result in an instant kill or completely immobilized deer, and you will likely be tracking the deer after the shot.


One other thing I would like to add here is proper post-shot behavior.

Use the "cigarette rule". After the shot, don't immediately go after the deer. Wait a few minutes, about the time it takes to have a smoke. The purpose of this is to not spook the deer any more than necessary. Even though the deer may have dropped in its tracks, there exists a strong possibility that it is still very much alive. Waiting gives the deer a chance to die in peace, slowly bleeding out where or near where it was shot, while minimizing the distance you'll have to track it.

When you get to the deer, you'll likely notice that it's not quite completely dead. It is probably mortally wounded and will die on its own if allowed to, but it's just been shot and is suffering. This is where you slit its throat. Don't shoot it again. It's messy, and excessive shooting scares away animals that someone else may otherwise get a chance to shoot. There's no need to be cruel to the animal, you're just cutting off its' blood supply so it dies a bit quicker. Use a sharp knife, and do it quickly.

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