The Importance of the Follow-Up Shot

Check out this article discussing the importance of taking a good follow-up shot when hunting big game.

In this article, I’ll discuss the importance of the follow-up shot. This is another area this is often overlooked by a number of hunters, especially Americans, during the preparation for an African safari. Far too many hunters have gotten caught “admiring their shot” and have ended up with a lost animal. Preparing for, and taking, a good follow-up shot can help prevent this tragedy from happening.

This was a lesson I learned the hard way in Namibia on my first trip to Africa many years ago. A few days into the hunt, I took a shot at an outstanding kudu bull. He was standing in an open field and bolted into the bush after the shot. The PH and I ran up to where he disappeared into the bush and I saw the kudu through the trees at a range of about 20 yards. The PH told me to shoot again and I hesitated; I could only see the rear half of the kudu through all of the foliage and I considered a second shot was unnecessary since I felt certain my first shot had been a good one.

After a few seconds, the kudu took off into the thick bush. We found a few drops of blood indicating that I had indeed hit the kudu, then proceeded to track him for several miles until he entered the Waterberg National Park. We never saw him again. I have no idea if the kudu lived or died or where my shot hit him. However, I do feel confident that that we would have eventually found the kudu if I would have taken a follow-up shot. That was a lesson that I learned very painfully; even though the rest of my safari was very successful (and I got a very nice kudu), the thought of that wounded kudu lingered on my mind for the rest of the hunt.

When discussing the importance of a follow-up shot, it’s imperative to recognize some of the differences between hunting in North America versus Africa. A lot of hunters are hesitant to take a follow-up shot because “it destroys more meat.” This is a true statement, but an additional shot will destroy a couple of extra pounds of meat at most. However, this is a much better alternative than potentially losing all of the meat on the animal by never finding it. In addition, for many Americans, the majority of their hunting is for the white-tailed deer; a species that rarely needs more than one shot to put down. Due to this, there is a common perception that a follow-up shot is only for people who are bad shots; e.g. they missed their first shot or placed it poorly so they need additional shots.

As a result, a large number of hunters have developed an aversion to taking more than one shot at an animal. This is not often a problem when hunting deer; a shot with a high powered rifle through the “boiler room” will usually result in the deer running less than 100 yards before expiring and a follow up shot is typically unnecessary. I had this problem when I refused to take a second shot at the kudu. I wanted all of my animals to be “one shot kills” and I did not fully appreciate the sheer size and toughness of the kudu compared to a white-tailed deer.

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Keep in mind that an average sized kudu bull will weigh in the neighborhood of 600 pounds, between two and a half and three times the size of the average white-tailed buck. It follows that if you use the same caliber for hunting both animals (a .30-06 Springfield for instance), the kudu will be more difficult to put down. This is where follow-up shots become important. Yes, a .30-06 round through the “boiler room” will ethically kill virtually all of the species of African plains game. However, it will probably take longer on a 600 pound kudu than on a 180 pound deer, all other things being equal. That means more suffering for the animal and a greater distance it can cover before expiring. The simplest way to solve this problem is by following up your initial shot.

The most important priority is to make your initial shot count; that is the shot you will have the highest odds of hitting your aiming point since the animal will probably not be spooked or moving and you should have adequate time to take a good shot. Make an excellent initial shot and the battle is more than halfway won. At the same time, if your first shot is poorly placed, it will be difficult to make up for it on a follow-up shot when circumstances are much more challenging. Regardless, after that first shot you should take as many follow-up shots as circumstances safely allow. Why? For one thing, you can never be certain that your first shot was a good one. For another, every additional hit, no matter where, reduces both the suffering on part of the animal and the distance it can cover before succumbing to wounds. This makes tracking easier and greatly increases the chances that you will find the animal.

I am not suggesting that you take unsafe or un-aimed shots. You must always be cognizant of the position of other people as well as other animals relative to the one you are shooting at. Do not take a shot that could hit another animal or person under any circumstances. Also, you must practice how to make a follow-up shot before you head to Africa. Obviously, it would be ideal to practice on a moving target, but this is not always an option. One way I prepare is to put up two targets at different ranges. After firing at the first target, I reload as quickly as possible and fire a second shot at the other target. While not as realistic as shooting at an actual moving target, this method helps to develop the habit of reloading and getting back on target as quickly as possible instead of just watching the animal run away.

Utilizing well aimed follow-up shots is just one piece of the puzzle for a successful African hunting safari. It’s not always possible or realistic to do so, but when done properly, it can potentially save you a lot of time and frustration on your hunt. Developing the skills and the mindset necessary to take successful follow-up shots just might be the difference between the trophy of a lifetime and a heartbreaking missed opportunity.

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1 thought on “The Importance of the Follow-Up Shot”

  1. Good point. I remember the first time my PH (guide) asked me to “shoot him again”. I was flabbergasted. The big blue wildebeest bull dropped like a sack of potatoes with my first broadside shot, an easy shot at 75 yards. His head was still moving but his body was motionless. “Shoot him again,” he yelled. I didn’t have much of a killing shot profile since he was lying on the ground, but I put another round into his side. His head stopped moving. My PH later explained that one of his good friends was charged, hit, and paralyzed by a wildebeest that was believed to be down and done. On another hunt I put a finishing shot into a gemsbok that ran more than a quarter mile while leaving a blood trail as wide as the Mississippi. Tough animals.

    John in Dallas


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