Got an African safari coming up? Don’t forget to study shot placement on African game before you go.
This article about good shot placement on African game is part of a series of articles on preparing to hunt in Africa. Be sure to check out the others on how to prepare for an African safari hunt, how to choose the right caliber for hunting in Africa, additional items to take on your safari, and the importance of the follow-up shot.
Lots of hard work and preparation goes into planning a good African safari hunt: countless trips to the range, hours spent sweating in the gym, untold hours spent making sure you have the right gear, and potentially months of research to ensure you’re booking with a highly regarded African hunting outfitter.
All of that hard work and preparation boils down to one instant: taking the shot on the trophy of your dreams. The most expensive, highest quality rifle shooting the absolute best bullets will do you no good if your shot placement is wrong. While they are by no means bulletproof, bad shot placement on African game often makes for a very long day.
Let’s assume that you’ve done the other things right: you’ve got an accurate and reliable rifle shooting premium ammunition and you’ve practiced enough to hit where you’re aiming.
That’s only half of the battle. Not only must you be able to hit what you are aiming at, but you must aim at the right part of the animal without hesitation, from virtually any angle, and in varying lighting conditions.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few aspects of actually taking the shot on your trophy animal. This is another aspect of preparing for the hunt that is not quite as easy as it initially sounds.
Shot Placement On African Game: Where Should You Aim?
As an ethical hunter, the vast majority of your shots should be aimed at the heart/lung area of the animal. Only in specific circumstances, such as a charge situation or a close range shot on an elephant, should you aim for the brain. Compared to the rest of the head, the brain is a relatively small and well protected target. The head also moves more than any other part of the body. These factors combine to present an increased risk of a wounded animal by aiming at the brain and accidentally hitting the jaw or nose, for instance. As a result, the brain is a high risk target that you should only shoot at when absolutely necessary.
The neck/spine is a target similar to the brain. A good shot will bring the animal down instantly, but it is still a relatively small target and moves almost as much as the brain.
The heart/lung area however, presents a large, typically stationary target on an animal. Shots with large enough caliber bullets of the proper construction will typically bring the animal down very quickly with a minimum of suffering and tracking involved.
While, the anatomy of most African species of antelope is not radically different from the deer and elk most Americans are used to hunting, it’s not exactly the same either. Remember: most species of plains game in Africa are antelope, not deer.
In general, the shoulders on antelope are set a little bit farther back on the body than on deer.
With that in mind, here is the single most important piece of shot placement advice I’d give to hunters on their first African safari:
On a broadside animal, aim at the middle of the shoulder about 1/3 the way up the body. That shot placement will squarely hit both lungs and the heart.
Do NOT aim behind the shoulder.
Shooting just behind the shoulder will work just fine on a deer, but will either nick the back of the lungs (if you’re lucky) or hit the paunch (if you’re not) on most species of plains game. Either way, you’ll be in for a much longer day than if you aim for the middle of the shoulder.
If the animal is quartering towards you, you’ll of course need to aim a bit farther forward to compensate. Likewise, place your shot a bit further backwards if the animal is quartering away from you.
Additionally, the fact that animals in Africa look different from American game and may be significantly larger or smaller can make shot placement more challenging since the “markers” and sense of scale that many hunters are used to using is off. This is particularly true when you’re tired, excited, in a hurry, trying to identify a specific animal in a herd, or can only see part of the animal due to thick brush.
At the same time, shot placement can also vary significantly for some species of African game.
For instance, cats, such as leopards and lions, have vitals that are positioned slightly further to the rear than on antelope. Shooting a lion or a leopard on or even slightly behind the shoulder could potentially result in a bullet that travels in front of the lungs and heart, which generally results in an unpleasant combination for both the hunter and the cat.
The real challenge is to visualize the location of the heart/lung area (also known as the “boiler room”) on an animal and properly place your shot regardless of the circumstances.
So how do you do that?
This is where your pre-hunt research will pay off. There are numerous resources available both as books and on the internet that discuss the anatomy and recommended shot placement on African game animals.
Resources For Shot Placement On African Game
Kevin Robertson has written several books that specifically deal with this issue and are among the best resources available: The Perfect Shot (or the updated version The Perfect Shot II), both of which discuss shot placement on a variety of African game, and Africa’s Most Dangerous (which focuses on the Cape Buffalo).
Kevin Robertson is a veterinarian as well as a professional hunter. He puts the vast amount of knowledge accumulated from years of work in each profession on display in his books as he discusses in detail the anatomy of each animal and why he recommends each type of shot.
For example, he discusses why he considers a right side quartering away shot on a Cape Buffalo acceptable, but the left side quartering away shot unacceptable due to the location of the liver relative to the stomach.
In addition to shot placement, he discusses proper rifle, caliber, and bullet selection as well as providing interesting facts about African animals and discussing what to expect while hunting each animal. His books are full of useful information for hunters booked on any hunt in Africa.
You may also purchase a pocket sized mini-edition of The Perfect Shot that only contains the shot placement diagrams to bring along with you on your hunt. Safari Press also produces a lineup of targets showing the bone structure and location of the vital organs for many species of big game to help hunters practice shot placement on African game before their hunt. I highly recommend purchasing one of Robertson’s books and practicing on some of those targets at the range prior to a hunt in Africa.
There are also a number of free resources for shot placement on African game online you can check out. Below are links to some pages on the Big Game Hunting Adventures web site containing shot placement photographs taken from multiple different angles for cape buffalo as well as some of the most popular species of African plains game.
You owe it to yourself and the animal to do everything possible to make a quick and ethical kill. Everything you did in preparation for the safari was in preparation for that one pull of the trigger. Ensure that you take the time to learn the anatomy of the animals you are hunting so that you know exactly where to aim each and every time. Remember: good shot placement on African game (or any game for that matter) is often the difference between a good hunt and a long, frustrating, and potentially dangerous day.
If you’d like to learn more about some very popular cartridges for hunting plains game in Africa, read the articles below:
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John McAdams is a proficient blogger, experienced shooter, and long time hunter who has pursued big game in 8 different countries on 3 separate continents. John graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and is a veteran of combat tours with the US Army in Iraq & Afghanistan. In addition to founding and writing for The Big Game Hunting Blog, John has written for outdoor publications like Bear Hunting Magazine, The Texas State Rifle Association newsletter, Texas Wildlife Magazine, & Wide Open Spaces. Learn more about John here, read some of John’s most popular articles, and be sure to subscribe to his show: the Big Game Hunting Podcast.