A Change of Heart
Buck number one performed a classic mule kick. At the shot, its front legs folded slightly and its hind legs thrust high into the air. Buck number two simply bolted from sight. Each deer soon expired. One was shot through the top of the heart, destroying the pulmonary system, the second was hit two- inches higher and while the heart remained intact, arteries were severed. While each died in a timely fashion, one animal covered hundreds of yards more than the other and could have easily been lost.
For generations of rifle hunters, the heart shot represented the epitome of accuracy. If an outdoorsman were to wait for his quarry to stand broadside, it not only put your animal down, but provided a short intense blood trail with minimal meat loss. But there are definitely better options under certain circumstances?
The first buck covered no more than fifty yards but in that time frame disappeared into a draw filled heavily with high grasses and brush. For several anxious minutes, the hunter stayed on point behind his rifle. The accuracy of any single shot is dictated by so many variables beyond the skill of the hunter that an experienced marksman will stay in position for ten to fifteen minutes after an animal has gone out of sight on the off chance that an errant round has only crippled rather than killed.
On numerous occasions I have had hunters who were so confident in their shot that they made ego-driven mistakes afterwards. As an outfitter, I have several commitments, but I take none more seriously than the one I have towards the animals we hunt. On several occasions I have had clients who ignored my requests for rapid follow-up shots on animals that were hit, but still visible. They assumed that their aim had been true and hit the heart.
One trophy deer dropped immediately at the shot from the Michigan hunter but continued to struggle. It had been on the move and instead of a fatal heart shot, only been creased across the back, causing temporary paralysis of the hind legs. The hunter had not been able to see all of the events take place due to the recoil of his rifle and shrugged off my requests for an immediate follow up. He couldn’t believe his eyes as he walked up to his deer when it regained its mobility and leapt into the woods never to be seen by him again.
The second buck at the top of the story was hit only a few inches higher than the other, yet managed to run several hundred yards before it expired. A blanket of snow made the recovery short, but it too managed to run from sight. No follow up shot was available and the possibility of loss weighed heavily on the hunter’s mind.
To limit suffering and ensure that the game is recovered as quickly as possible, a slightly different aim point provides instant collapse on deer-sized quarry. With modern ballistics and bullet design a round placed through both front shoulders anchors a deer or antelope and needs no follow up. The heart and lungs are still impacted, but mobility is removed. Animals are dropped on the spot and expire in the same timeframe without the trailing, and anxiety.
Older generations of hunters who cast their own bullets and dealt with the vagaries associated with reloading their ammunition cautiously avoided the larger bones of the front legs. On elk and larger game that is still sound advice. I have witnessed the large bones of elk deflect both bullet and arrow.
But sometimes a hunter find himself and his quarry at the edge of a desperately deep Cheyenne River draw without the aid of a team of horses. I’ve personally sat with clients at the tops of Bear, Beaver, and Boundary draws and staring at hundreds of feet of vertical decent praying desperately at last light of the final day of their hunt, afraid that their wounded quarry might descend to the very bottom. In times like these, a shoulder shot might be just the ticket to avoid a trailing trial.