Shot Placement

Hitting the target on the aimed spot and aiming at the correct position is paramount to the success of any hunt. This of course means that the hunter has to be able to do fairly accurate (if not state of the art) shooting, combined with some refined knowledge about the vital organ positioning in the animal's bodies.

The right ballistics may be a helpful aspect, but is by no means nearly as important as the accurate placement of the shot. Most hunters will aim for the heart, which can be reached by aiming to the low, forward part of the chest cavity. This spot is situated almost on the front leg (slightly to the back part of it, vertically) and about 25% up the chest/belly (on the horizontal line). This has the advantage of not spoiling the head of the trophy. Although the telescope helps to spot the target, shortening the distance to the animal will by far be the best way to increases effectiveness. Only extremely good hunters take aim at the head or neck. The fact that you don't wound an animal that easy when aiming at the neck or head shouldn't be the deciding factor not to aim at the heart, because if wounding is such a great possibility, the shooting range must be the place to spent your time, and not the hunting ground. Your chance to get the trophy when aiming at the heart, is considerably bigger, not only because of the position of the vital organs, but also because animals will start most movement by head and neck mobility. Brain or neck shots naturally spoils the least amount of the skin and meat, but may, on the other hand, damage the trophy's head.

If the animal isn't standing at a right angle towards the hunter, compensation can be made until a certain point. If the angle becomes bigger, certainty about the effect of the shot decreases. It may be necessary to take aim in quite another way, or to hold back until the animal yields a better shot. No hope for the best shots should ever be taken, al the more when hunting dangerous game. A frontal standing of the animal also makes for a good shot at the heart. In this case the lowest position right between the front legs will be the perfect target.

If at all possible, move to a better position if the angle to the target poses a problem. Do remember that the animals usually can hear, see and smell far better than human. Also keep in mind that you will be having seconds, rather than minutes, to make the decision to shoot. The professional hunter may give the thumbs up, but the final decision to take the shot is the responsibility of the hunter himself. Many good hunters will only shoot with a clear picture of the animal, standing at a good angle towards the hunter, because previous experiences of wounding an animal when taking a risky shot have tempered the idealism.

Effectiveness increases if the following actions are taken:

  • Never set of to the hunting field before you've been on the shooting range with your rifle. After some handling or transporting of your rifle, sighting in is needed.
  • Don't use the telescopic view before you've checked that the line of fire is clear, because small branches or obstacles may deflect the projectile (or even cause danger to the hunter).
  • Be patient, very silent and don't get anxious
  • If you're aiming at a rhino/elephant/lion (and paying large amounts for the privilege), spare a moment to determine if you aren‚Äôt going to wound another big one standing behind your target!
  • Don't aim at the animal. Aim at one spot on the animal as your target.
  • Remember your safety drills

The moment a shot is fired, immediately chamber another round! This is the best time to make a noise, but, much more important, the safest way to secure your own life and your trophy. This must be done regardless of outcome of your shot.

As two exceptions, it may be recommended, provided that the position of the brain is well known to the hunter, to take down the elephant and the hippopotamus with a shot to the brain.A word of caution, however: many hunters uses soft-nosed ammunition to hunt with, which may be perfectly in order. But when hunting a thick-skinned animals, like the elephant, rhino or buffalo, solid (or hard-nosed) bullets must be used to penetrate the animal. This emphasizes the need to do a well-placed first shot. Even if the animal is taken down, give it a second shot in any case as well! If a buffalo is wounded, no matter what type of bullet was used, fit a hard-nose one for your second shot! And if the elephant is shot to it's head, but the bullets hits slightly too high or low, it will may take no effect. And if the shot isn't penetrating or the shot hits the scull or tusk, the trophy will be spoiled and the hunter may experience the wild fury the elephant!

Tracking a wild animal's spoor:

Tracking is the art of finding an animal by following the signs (called spoor) it left when it passed a certain place. This means that, by crossing a place that the animal passed earlier, and by carefully following the spoor of the animal, that animal can be caught from behind if the right spoor is followed.

An animal leave behind a spoor through:

  • its hooves/feet that makes tracks/footsteps on the ground which can be followed
  • its breaking of dry grass and small branches that can be monitored
  • urine or manure
  • its odour
  • its blood (when wounded)

It is important to strive to track down an animal when hunting in the South African bushveld, because of the density of the hunting ground. The animals aren't locked up in a small area, and the hunt is much, much more than a mere selection and target shooting. It combines a solid safari-experience, an eco-tour through the thickest of bush, an understanding of the geographical area, the time of year, the direction that the wind blows and the behaviour of the animals. If the area is known, the hunter will for example - not go to dry grasslands at the time that the animals may be expected to crunch their thirst at the waterhole. The movement of different animals also differs, meaning that it have to be taken in consideration that a lion may be expected at the waterhole at night, the kudu early in the morning or late in the afternoon, etc. The knowledge of the professional hunter will be very helpful in this regard.

But the person most likely to do the intensive study of the spoor will be the tracker. He may be the same person as the professional hunter. Usually, however, the tracker will be one of the native locals who have lived in the bush a great deal (or all) of his life. He have developed the art of sensing the slightest change in the field, realizing many things that the ordinary hunter won't see at all. He will know how to look for the fresh spoor following it like a hunting dog, yet not only having his nose on the ground but also his eyes out there. Usually, he will be the first to spot the animal you are looking for.

How does he do it? Some useful insights, which will help the hunter to enjoy the long, walk in the bush, and to appreciate the work that the tracker puts into the hunt, may be the following:

  • he knows that most animals will take the bush trails instead of forcing a way trough the thick bushes
  • he have spotted those animals quite a few time before in their habitat and knows most of their likes and dislikes
  • he knows at which times, more or less, they will be on their way to the water and he know where the waterholes are
  • he knows at which direction the wind are blowing and won't easily be heading into the wrong direction
  • he knows at what times the animals are taking shelter under the shade
  • he will be looking for a fresh spoor and will be avoiding the old ones. To many of us the two may look the same, but if you look carefully, you'll see that the fresh one is slightly darker/more moist than the other, or it have slightly less wind wear or less little leaves or grass into it, meaning it was made later than the other
  • he will not be discouraged by three hours of mere walking because the bush, to him, is alive and he senses the communicative value of birds, the type of trees, the wind and the sounds around him, enjoying a much richer dimension of the bush than most of us can dream of
  • he thinks like the animals and does so especially when an animal is wounded
  • he will catch the faintest spread of blood on a leave if in pursuit of an animal
  • he will watch the direction that the grass or branches have been bent
  • he appreciates the place where an animal (like the lion) was lying by taking for granted that that place was under the shade of a tree by the time the animal was lying there, and thus looking at where the sun would have been by then, guessing how far the animal may be in front of the hunting party
  • he knows what each animal feeds on at the different seasons
  • he will climb a tree or hill, spot a far off animal and then moves in a different direction than you though he should, but he have taken into account the direction of the wind, the bush trail and the geographical surroundings that, in the end, proofs to be the right decision
  • he not only knows each animal from their unique spoor, he will tell you the size and often the gender of the animal merely by looking at it. The good trackers can even tell you of the different walking styles of some of the individual ones
  • he knows which animals associates with one another
  • he knows how to pick up a spoor again if it is lost on rocky terrain or in shallow water, for example by doing a 360degree circle or because he has remembered the landmarks where it has last been seen (and working out the most likely route from there)
  • he can walk in dead silence, often bowing his head if the game is nearby (with the understanding that the rest of the safari-group ought to do the same)
  • he will use the moments after a shot has been fired in his own advantage, moving to a better, closer hideout (while the animals are bewildered in any case) without being seen
  • he knows when to stop following due to extreme danger, but may take a hunting party around the danger area, providing a new angle or line of fire
  • he knows that a wounded animal behaves differently than the rest of the herd, often following the one spoor that doesn't go with the bunch
  • he knows when to stop following a wounded animal, usually not far from a dense area in the bush and to wait, even for a substantial amount of time, before taking on the same blood spoor again, for this gives the bullet wound time to have effect. Otherwise, too much adrenaline may give the animal the energy to run for miles and miles around, even when wounded badly
  • he will seldom walk ON the spoor, for he may need to follow it back, make an adjustment and take another again by comparing the two
  • he will smile if the spoor had to be tracked shortly after a fall of rain
  • he knows how to read a spoor even if it isn't well-defined (as in very loose sand of very wet mud)
  • he knows that certain animals (like the bush pig or leopard, or certain antelope) may swim a few yards in a river, after which the trail may be picked up again at some distance on the other side
  • he senses the broken branch, the moved stone, or the patch of (even dried) urine that most of us will be missing
  • he knows that blood may quickly turns dark when it dries, but not necessarily
  • he can sense the speed at which the animal walked or run from the length between two of the spoor as well as from the depth of each
  • he will sense the atmosphere amongst the animals by the difference between the grazing spoor (those going to bushes, plucked trees, grass or vegetation) and those of animals that is alerted and wary (going passed the bushes, circling behind a hiding place, etc.)
  • he will be able to tell if a spoor was made before of after sunrise by the night- or daytime signs going over the spoor (like nocturnal animals which passed after the spoor was made indicating a night walk)
  • he knows that the bush is alive and that the wind, the dew, the small pieces of leaves or grass all alter the impression of a fresh spoor into an old spoor.
  • he doesn't necessarily jump to the conclusion that a spoor is old simply because insects or birds have superimposed their spoor on the one that is being followed, but too much of that definitely indicates in that direction
  • he's aware of colour chances as a spoor gets older, fading away from a position of strong contrast to a point of very little contrast to the surroundings over a period of time
  • he knows that even a very fresh spoor may seem to be old if some rain have fallen in the meantime
  • he knows the time it takes insects, ants or a cobweb spinner to dig or spin their labours over or between two bushes above a spoor and will judge the time laps accordingly
  • he remembers when he himself or other people have walked the same route and will be more interested in those markings that is superimposed on the footprints of those humans
  • broken ticks or trampled vegetation will indicate to him if the animal passes that place long ago or not, for if it still is white or green and wet, you can't be far behind
  • he will be very alert if the urine is still wet and more so if it is still warm (yes, he sometimes touches it) ; he may do the same with very fresh dung
  • wet mud patches against tree trunks may be an indication to him that the hunter's elephant or bush pig is about to be seen
  • he will be very alert to sounds and signs (some herds can be very noisy or kicking up dust, even if they are only grazing, like elephants and buffalo's)
  • he knows that wounded animals will shortly be followed by the hyenas, the jackals and the vultures and he don't mind their navigational offers at all
  • he knows what the birds, flies and insects have the habit of following a big herd of game and will know when they announce the presence of the game
  • he can smell a lion from a zebra, a waterbuck from a giraffe, a buffalo from an elephant, etc. (to learn this, the internet won't help much!). This knowledge is particularly helpful when hunting on horseback
  • he understands the warning cries from the birds like the rhino birds or knows how to avoid instigating some of these birds to warn the animals. He will also uses these warning signs to stop in time before he crash into the bush where the wounded buffalo or lion is lying
  • he can distinguishes between the normal sounds animals makes and their warning utterances before they attack. The lion, the elephant, the buffalo's, all have their distinct way of giving notice of their state of mind!
  • he won't be disappointed to hear somebody cough at night at a place where nobody is supposed to be, realizing the presence of the most dangerous leopard
  • he will laugh at your fear of the lion who have roared close by, showing you that the very real lion's roar‚ is only an ostrich's voice (the list of these examples may go on and on)
  • he have an endless stock of warning signs in his mind about the meaning of bird, animal and insect sounds in daytime or at night, each having it own special meaning
  • he knows‚ (so much still to be said!)

BUT: Would an overseas hunter at any stage seriously be following a spoor? And if so, why?

The answer is: yes, and the most obvious reason is, sadly, in case of a wounded animal. This, however, is part of hunting and isn't too unfamiliar to most outfitters. What should the hunters-safari be looking for in case of a wounded animal (apart from taking the best possible safety precautions)

  • Detect if the shot was missed altogether or not. A shot that was missed sounds differently from a shot that hits the target. Your guide will also be a better source of information about this than the hunter, for he heard the shot from a distance and he haven't had his eyes fixed on the target alone (through a telescope). Therefore, he knows if it was a miss or if it resulted in a wounding.
  • First, do the best possible search in the area where the animal was shot. Very often, an animal may run a couple of yards before he falls down. This may be regarded as a solid shot, but the danger of still losing the animal becomes more possible if the bush is very dense. Therefore, do an extremely good spoor tracking for the first 100 yards or so, even again and again, before any spoor is taken or the conclusion is made that the animal have fled. It may be lying under a nearby bush!
  • Look for signs such as bloodstains or parts of the skin, bones or organs of the animal. This may give an indication of what part of the animal have been hit. The colour of blood of different animals may vary, therefore, try to acquaint yourself with the colour of this animal's blood, for you may be looking for that coloured stains for the next ten miles!
  • Remember that not all bloodstains turns into dark brown/black, but most do
  • Light pink blood indicates an organ hit of the bullet. This may indicate that the hunt may still turns out successful, but it all the more stresses the importance of finding it. A foamy blood indicates that the lungs are hit. However, an animal can still go very far if wounded in this way, but will breath heavily and may be heard from a distance
  • A leg injury will be detected by the tracker, for drag marks by one of the legs, instead of the usual spoor, will be seen
  • A drop of blood in the dust or sand amounts to an insignificant little rounded sandy dot of dark brown colour and may easily be missed
  • Even if the animal is bleeding heavily, if it is still running, a bloodstain every 50 feet may be all you will be able to see
  • If stomach contents are found, be prepared to walk another long, long way (and even loose the animal), for they will not necessarily drop down from such a hit. The bloodspoor may later chance to an ordinary spoor. Silent following will be your only chance, but this animal will be as alert as can be!
  • An buffalo that is wounded, maytake a rest every now and then, left loads of blood at every resting place and still be able to do the most brutal attack once it can surprises you in dense bushes
  • The topic of tracking wounded animals is something with much too many aspects or even dimensions to exhaust in this presentation. But maybe the most important of this may be the following: once you‚Äôve seen that you‚Äôve wounded an animal and isn‚Äôt able to find it shortly afterwards, if at all possible, go fetch a hunting dog. A trained hunting dog can find that animal in a shorter period than a dozen of the best trackers can dream of.

All animals, even the most dangerous, prefer walking away from confrontation to taking on an unidentified enemy (man). But most animals, even the seemingly harmless ones, will, if cornered, be prepared to put up the most fearsome fight one can think of. So don't underestimate any of the bush's mammals!