Working The Shot Angles
Working The Shot Angles

Working The Shot Angles

To be effective in the field, hunters must remember that…

To be effective in the field, hunters must remember that the vital zone of their quarry is a three-dimensional mass of internal organs located inside the chest cavity. The hunter cannot merely hold anywhere on the animal, or even hold center of mass, and expect to deliver a shot capable of cleanly dropping big game. To improve the chances for success, it is critical that the shot pass cleanly through the center of the vitals. In order to center the vitals the hunter must “pick a spot” to aim at somewhere on the animal’s body. How the animal is positioned at the moment the decision to shoot is made will determine where the projectile will impact the target’s body to center the vital zone inside.

To quote George C. Nonte, Jr., from Firearms Encyclopedia, “Shot placement may be considered the most important single aspect of hunting marksmanship.” Where to aim (shot placement) is just as important, if not more so, than how to aim (accuracy/precision).

Applying Angles

This issue is more than semantic. Having a thorough understanding of target angle is second in importance only to raw marksmanship skill itself. Once a hunter has developed a useable level of shooting skill, as determined by shooting standardized position courses of fire on the range, such as through a maximum range drill, he should practice applying angles on a realistic silhouette in simulated hunting conditions before the hunt.

One particular guide failed to take this lesson to heart. He put his client on a trophy animal and whispered, “Shoot behind the shoulder” as a reminder. The client’s bullet gut shot the animal, forcing a lengthy tracking session. The guide reflected on the incident and couldn’t understand how the shot went so far awry, because the client had demonstrated fine marksmanship the day before the hunt started. When the guide inquired, the client replied that he had hit the animal “behind the shoulder, just like you said.” It was then that the guide realized that some 80 percent of the animal’s body is behind the shoulder. Gun selection, bullet selection, accuracy or any of the other minor details harped on month after month in hunting magazines wasn’t the issue. The client had even proved by actual demonstration to have more than enough marksmanship skill, the lack of which is normally the primary cause of lost game. The problem in this case was a lack of understanding of shot placement.

The spot on which you hold should differ as the position of the animal changes relative to you. From a field marksman’s perspective, shooting from the correct target angle is just as important as marksmanship skill, raw precision, ballistics and the bullet’s terminal performance. For a crude but effective demonstration of target angle, place a small sport ball, tennis or similar on a table or counter top and cover it with an upside down square or rectangular clear plastic or Pyrex baking dish or loaf pan over the ball. Imagine that the side of the pan represents the outer surface of an animal’s body and the tennis ball the vital zone. Standing perpendicular to the pan, place a mark over the apparent center of the tennis ball with a water-soluble marker. Now, take a step to your left so you are angled 45 degrees to the left of the pan and mark the apparent center of the ball again. Take two steps to your right moving to 45 degrees to the right and repeat. Lift the dish and examine the marks.

Even though the center of vitals was always the aim point, you will have three distinct marks on the pan. How can that be? No, you didn’t screw up. Each mark was the ideal point of impact to bisect the ball (vitals) from that specific angle. As your relationship to the target surface changed, so too did the ideal point of impact. In order to properly bisect the vitals, your hold point on the target altered. It was your angle to the target that made the difference.

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