The Ultimate Shooting Guide: Shot Placement, Technique, Gear & More

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The Ultimate Shooting Guide

Ever wondered where the best place to shoot a deer is? Ever thought about the correct way to dispatch a wild boar? Want to learn all of the different techniques you can use while hunting? We’ve got answers to all these questions and more.

In this in-depth shooting guide, we’re going to dive into the ins-and-outs of shooting a wild animal. We’re not just going to explain why it’s a skill you need to learn, we’re also going to give extensive lessons and tips on how you can make each shot count. We’re also going to go over the different methods and techniques you might use, as well as exploring the essential gear.

We’re going to be sticking to rifles and bows in this guide, although many of the techniques used can also be applied to shots fired from handguns and other weaponry, if absolutely necessary.

Why Should I Learn How to Shoot an Animal?

There are several reasons why you should learn how to shoot an animal properly. Let’s take a look at the two main ones:

Food

Many people hunt for their own food. It’s a sustainable way of living and helps to cut down on some of the negative effects of commercialized food production on a mass scale. Of course, some people just prefer the taste or take pride in preparing the meat themselves.

Learning how to shoot an animal properly means that you can shoot at them without spoiling the meat. It also means you can kill the animal in the most painless way. Finishing off an animal quickly is something that everyone should learn how to do, to ease their suffering.

By hunting and killing an animal, during the correct season, you can sometimes bag enough food to feed you and your family for months. If stored correctly, the meat lasts a decent amount of time.

Self-Defence

You might not experience it much if you live in the city, but there are animals out there that will attack and try to kill humans. Large animals, such as bears, have been known to attack unsuspecting hikers if they wander too close to them or their cubs.

Knowing how to shoot an animal properly, and dispatch of them quickly means that you’ll be better equipped to handle a situation like this if it ever presents itself. Of course, you should always try to avoid any unnecessary confrontations with animals of this size, but if worst comes to worst, you need to know how to protect yourself.

What Should I Use to Shoot an Animal?

In this particular guide, we’re going to be referring to two weapons that you can use to kill an animal. Different people hunt in different ways, but for the most part, it’s these two weapons which are most commonly used to dispatch animals.

Rifle

The simple rifle is the first of the two weapons we’ll be covering in this section. It’s the obvious choice as it’s accessible to both beginners and veterans. It’s also a relatively inexpensive weapon to purchase, depending on what model you opt for.

Hunting With a Rifle

There are a number of different rifles out there if you’re looking to hunt game, and the sheer variety of them deserve an article of its own. As with any shooting activity, make sure you have the right caliber for the job. Some animals will go down from a .22 shot, while others will need something more heavy-duty. It’s your responsibility to make the right choices with your rifle.

Bow

It might seem like a much harder task to kill an animal with a bow, but many people enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the silent nature of an arrow to live ammunition. Arrows move silently and swiftly, their noise doesn’t echo, and they don’t alert other animals as often as when using a rifle.

Hunting with A Bow and Arrow

There are also a number of other advantages of choosing to use a bow over a rifle. For example, in certain regions, the hunting season lasts much longer when you’re using a bow. It’s also common for bow hunting season to begin earlier in the year than muzzle loader and rifle season. Because of this, there is often more game available and a higher chance of catching your target.

Also, bow hunting helps to strengthen a number of skills, as opposed to the fairly easy task of aiming and shooting a rifle. Using a bow allows you to improve your motor skills and increase the challenge of the hunt. Many cite the increased sense of accomplishment and the overall challenge of using a bow as the main reason they decide to use it in place of a rifle.

How to Achieve the Perfect Shot

We’ll talk about exactly where you should be shooting various animals in the next section. Before that, though, let’s look into how you can always ensure you’re in the best position to get a clean shot that kills quickly. Not all animals will need this much attention, but particularly wily creatures such as deer definitely will.

Be Scentless

One of the main ways animals like deer will pick up on your presence and run away from your perfect shot is your scent. Your smell plays a huge part in alerting the animal and it’s something you want to try and get rid of. Obviously, it’s near enough impossible to completely eliminate your scent. However, there are a variety of tactics you can use to effectively mask your scent.

Something you can try to do (and which becomes easier over time and practice) is hunting your prey from downwind. By hunting against the incoming wind, you’re not allowing your scent to travel towards the animal, which greatly reduces the chance it will be alerted to your presence.

Products like scent masking soap and odor masks can also be purchased to reduce your chances of giving yourself away via scent. You should also try to avoid strong-smelling food and smoking while you’re hunting.

Here are two great guides that I’ve written on this topic:

Guide on tracking animals

How to camouflage yourself in the woods (and stay scentless)

Using Attractants and Food Bait

To guarantee a perfect shot, you want to be somewhere stationary. Chasing after your game is a surefire way to miss a shot, or just harm the animal (which you should avoid at all costs), unless you’re an expert marksman. One way to ensure you can remain motionless and let the animal get close to you instead is by using food bait or attractants.

Food bait is exactly what it sounds like, using food to attract whatever animal you’re hunting. This is another subject that really deserves its own guide as it’s such a varied range of knowledge. However, not all animals you’re hunting will be tempted by food. So what else can you use?

Attractants have been used in hunting for years now, and they usually consist of urine. For example, when hunting bucks in mating season, you could place the scent (urine) of a doe all around where you are based. This will trigger the buck’s territorial instinct and ensure it inspects the spots you’ve placed the scent.

An added bonus to using attractants is that deer (and some other animals) will mostly ignore your scent when they’re acting territorial towards a perceived threat from a doe. This means there’s a higher chance of them never even noticing you.

Use the Correct Technique

We’re going to dive into this subject a little later on in this guide. Keep an eye out for our section on the different methods of hunting where we’ll explain all of the most commonly used methods and the ones which are best for scoring a clear, clean shot.

Our Quick and Easy Guide to Shot Placement

Let’s dive straight into the details and talk about shot placement, the number one lesson you should pay attention to in our ultimate shooting guide. Where you shoot an animal is extremely important when it comes to how fast they die and how clean the meat will be.

These are the three aims you need to be sure of when taking a clean shot:

  • Achieve rapid death
  • Minimise suffering
  • Avoid carcass contamination

All animals are different, so we’ve decided to separate this section into several parts and cover a variety of the most commonly hunted animals. Whether you’re spending the weekend hunting deer in the forest with friends, or you find yourself in a situation where you’re being attacked by a bear, these subsections below will help you understand the best way to handle the situation.

Something you have to account for with all of these shot placements is the angle at which you’re shooting the animal. If you’re higher up or lower down than the animal, make sure you work out the location of vital organs and don’t just shoot as if you were on the same level.

Where to Shoot A Deer

Deer are one of the most commonly hunted animals. Many people hunt deer because they enjoy their meat, but they’re also actually hunted to control the population in some cases. This is because of the large number of car accidents that certain species (like white tail deer) can cause.

Where to Shoot A Deer

Like every other animal on this list, before you shoot at them, you should be well aware of their anatomy and understand exactly how to take them down with one clean shot. Anything more is inhumane and could cause suffering to the animal.

In the case of deer, you’re best aiming for the heart and lungs. The same is true of most animals on this list (with some exceptions). The reason you’re aiming for these vital organs is that the head (while tempting) is a relatively small target and could easily result in a wounded creature or a missed shot.

Trace a line upwards from the deer’s forelegs. Just about halfway up the body and a little behind the forelegs is where the vital organs are located inside a deer. This is the shot you want to make, ideally from the broadside.

Whether you’re shooting at the deer with a rifle or with a bow, this shot will result in extremely quick loss of blood, swift unconsciousness, and a fast and painless death for the deer.

If you’re at an angle to deer (such as quarterside), you can still make this same shot. You just have to be sure of your aim and have worked out exactly where the vital organs are located in relation to your spot.

Where to Shoot a Hog / Wild Boar

Many hunters make the common mistake of shooting in a similar place to deers when they target hogs/wild boars. This usually results in a gut shot (which can close relatively quickly) and a wounded and suffering animal. It’s vitally important to remember that the organs you want to aim for in a hog (the heart and lungs) are actually positioned lower and more forward than a deer.

Where to Shoot a Hog

The ideal spot to visualize when you’re lining up a shot (with either a bow or a rifle) is almost directly above the forelegs of the animal. Whether you’re aiming dead-on or from the broadside, just above (almost in line with) the forelegs is where you should be aiming. Many assume that this is too low, but this is actually exactly where the vital organs are located.

If you’re a more confident marksman, you can aim for the recessed area behind a hog’s ear. This is a surefire way to hit the brain and take out the animal instantly. Of course, as with all headshots, it’s not recommended unless you’re absolutely confident in your ability to make the shot.

Although they are considered to be a nuisance by some, it’s still important to remember that all creatures – even hogs – deserve a humane death without suffering. Don’t just shoot at any area on the hog because it’s such a large target. You’re more than likely to simply hit fatty tissue and merely wound the animal.

Where to Shoot a Bear

As one of the most fearsome animals that can be found in the wild, bears certainly shouldn’t be treated with anything less than the utmost respect. One wrong move around a bear can result in fatal consequences, so only those with a lot of experience and expert marksmanship should ever attempt shooting one. Of course, in some situations, self-defense is the motive for shooting at a bear, too.

Where to Shoot a Bear

If you’re shooting at a bear with a rifle, you want to make sure your first shot is your last shot. Wounded bears are extremely dangerous creatures, so always shoot to kill. While there are a time and place for them, we’d suggest avoiding head shots. The target is too small as a bear’s head is relatively tiny compared to its body.

Spine and neck shots are also discouraged as it can be difficult to visualize exactly where the spinal column is on a bear, due to the long hair and thick body. As with many game animals, lung shots are almost always your best bet.

To find the lungs of a bear, trace the back of the front leg up to about one-third of the way into the bear’s chest. The lungs on a bear are located a little more towards the front than on an ungulate, so you don’t want to be shooting at a bear from the back.

For a shoulder/heart shot (one of the most popular ways of dispatching a bear), you should follow the centreline of the bear’s front leg up to about the one-third point of the body. Be extremely careful not to shoot too low or forward as you’ll be likely to simply wound the bear.

The shot placement is pretty much identical when using a bow, although there are some other aspects you’ll need to take into account. When taking on a bear with a bow, it’s important to consider that you’ll want the arrow to pass through both lungs. Bears are wickedly tough animals and can still run for an extended period of time on one lung.

You have to ensure a clean, strong shot with your arrow if you’re to pierce the thick fat and large volume of hair. These features can also close a wound quite quickly, meaning a poor blood trail will be left if the shot isn’t perfect. In most cases, an arrow through both lungs will cause the bear to drop straight away.

We can’t stress enough how dangerous it is taking on a bear, so please only do so if you’re put into a life or death situation or you’re 100% confident in your skills and abilities. No game trophy is worth your life.

Where to Shoot A Turkey

If you’re hunting turkey, or humanely killing any on your land for food, then a rifle probably isn’t your best choice (although it is possible if you have an absolutely perfect shot to the head or a vital organ). The ideal weapon to kill a turkey with is a shotgun. This is because the head of the turkey is so small that using ammunition that scatters and spreads gives you a much better chance of hitting it.

Where to Shoot A Turkey

With a shotgun, you don’t want to aim for the body of the turkey as it’s thick feathers mean it’s hard to aim for the right spot and penetrate the organs. To use a shotgun on the head of the turkey, however, all you have to do is aim in the general neck area, just below the beard. The scattered shot is almost certain to hit the head of the turkey (and therefore it’s brain).

For hunters who are hoping to use a bow, it’s quick blood loss which you’ll be aiming for and not a headshot. If the bird is directly facing you, aim just above the beard and shoot your arrow. If the bird is turned away from you, though, you should aim right for the anal vent and hit the centre mass. Try to avoid shooting your arrow while they’re walking as the large number of feathers makes it hard to determine the body shape and position underneath.

A broadside shot aimed right at the butt of the wing feather is another good shot you can take for maximum bleeding. This will also have the added benefit of pinning the wing to the body and preventing the turkey from flying away as it dies. Reducing the draw weight is a good tip if you’re in fairly close range so that the arrow stays in the bird and doesn’t pass straight through.

Where to Shoot A Coyote

Following the urbanization of vast swathes of North America, the coyote has been one of the very few animals whose numbers and range have been shown to actually increase, rather than decrease. Because of this, coyotes are very often considered to be pests and fair game for hunting.

In agricultural areas, especially, coyotes are known to wreak havoc and can even kill livestock, damaging income and food supply. Compared to other game animals out there, relatively few hunting restrictions are placed on coyotes (as long as they are hunted humanely and safely).

Coyote Shot Placement

As relatively wily animals, they can sometimes be a hard animal to hunt. If possible, it’s best to hunt coyotes in a pair (or more). Because they can move so fast, you’ll have a greater advantage if one of you has a long range weapon and the other a short range weapon (like a rifle and bow, respectively). It’s also a good idea to use gear such as mouse squeakers, to lure them in – or imitate sounds yourself, like injured rabbits.

In terms of shot placement, whether you’re using a bow or a rifle, you want to aim for the heart and lungs. The vital organs in a coyote are fairly far forward on its torso. Its heart is in the lower portion of the torso (just forward of the forelegs). The lungs are just slightly above and behind the heart. You’re likely to hit one of these organs by aiming just forward of the forelegs.

As with all animals, a clean shot to the head is almost guaranteed to kill a coyote. However, they have such small heads (and move so fast) that it’s best to go for the vital organs instead. If you miss a shot, you won’t just risk injuring the animal and causing suffering, you’ll also probably scare any coyotes away for good.

You can learn about coyote calls here which can be very useful.

The Different Methods of Hunting

There are many different methods of hunting and a variety of techniques that are commonly used. In this section, we’re going to explore the various ways that you can go about hunting, and what you might need to accomplish the task at hand.

Not all of these methods will be accessible to all hunters, but learning about each technique and how they operate will give you a better overall knowledge of hunting in general.

Long Range

Hunting using the long range technique is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It requires a lot of skill to take a clean shot from afar but is an extremely rewarding way of hunting. This is a technique that requires an awful lot of patience and a lot of expertise with your weapon.

If you decide to hunt long range, you should be aware that you may need much more equipment than other methods of hunting. You’ll need a quality rifle, the right scopes, a bipod, binoculars, and possibly a way to camouflage yourself.

Although bows are becoming stronger and more precise every single day, it’s not often that you’ll see an archer engaging in long range hunting techniques. There are too many problems that can occur when shooting from a great distance with a bow, so it’s usually only those who use arrows that actively use this method.

Stalking

Many hunters who use a bow to take down animals will use the stalking technique, although it is also popular with rifle owners, too. Stalking is exactly what it sounds like. It’s tracking and hunting down an animal in a silent manner, following their tracks or droppings, and remaining calm and collected the whole time.

Obviously, stalking is something that takes a whole lot of practice before you’re sufficiently skilled enough to use it on a hunt. It’s something that you’ll get better at over time as you learn how to make less noise and learn the kinds of tracking techniques you can use to find certain animals.

One negative aspect of stalking is the fact that you have to be ready to take your shot at a moments notice. You need to always have your rifle or bow ready to take a clean shot or be exceptionally talented at taking your weapon out and lining a shot up quickly.

Driven Hunts

A driven hunt is one where the animal that is being hunted is chased through the forest (or another area) by a group of people. It usually involved animals such as hunting dogs, who will find the trail and help to hunt down the animal.

Driven hunts have to be organized exceptionally well to be successful as they take a lot of planning and coordination. It’s not uncommon to see hunters outfit their hunting dogs with GPS collars so that they can follow them. You’re also likely to find a lot of radio communication occurring as teams of hunters talk to each other and plan out their next move.

If you’re looking for a thrilling and heart-pounding alternative to stalking through the woods on your own, a driven hunt is a perfect antidote to boredom. It’s a high-octane hobby and helps improve many of your hunting skills and tactics.

Tree Stands

If you’re serious about hunting animals and use the area often, tree stands are a brilliant way to camouflage into the environment and increase your chances of nabbing a kill. In essence, they’re elevated platforms that can be placed in trees (or hung from them). They allow you to oversee a far greater area than if you were just on the ground.

They’re not usually permanent structures, although you can find some examples of permanent tree stands in and around dedicated hunting grounds or sites, if it’s an area that sees a particularly large amount of hunting.

One of the best advantages of tree stands is the fact that they work extremely well with hunting cams, as you can dot a few around (if you’re able to view them live) and watch from the comfort and safety of your tree stand.

There are a few different types of tree stand (climbing, ladder, hanging etc) and they all offer distinct advantages in terms of stability and comfort. If you’re the type of person who enjoys remaining stationery while hunting, tree stands could be an excellent option to look into.

Blinds

If you’re heading out to an area that sees a lot of hunting or you’re holidaying for the sole purpose of hunting, you will more than likely come across the blind method in play. Essentially, a blind is an enclosed space, like a small shed or tent. They’re similar to the small buildings you’ll often see bird-watchers or wildlife enthusiasts in.

They can be made of many different materials, but you’re more than likely going to see them made of wood (so as to camouflage into the environment better). A thin window will run around the outside of the blind so that you can point your rifle or bow out and see your target.

Because of their size, it’s unlikely that it’s something you’d use in a quick hunt. They’re usually erected and put in place for a few weeks at a time. In certain areas (like hunting holidays), there will be permanent blinds, that are extremely well hidden and super effective places to hunt from.

What Gear Might I Need?

Here’s our list of the essential gear you’ll need for a successful hunt. We’ve listed the very basics that you should bring to ensure you have a productive experience that’s safe and responsible. If you’re looking to go all-in and really want to increase your chances of taking down an animal, you might want to look into the more advanced gear that’s on the market nowadays.

It should go without saying that you should bring along the proper attire (warm clothing, good boots, a high-viz jacket if there’s a lot of other hunters in the area), food to eat, and water to drink.

You may want to bring a knife with you, too. If you’re planning to skin your catch on-site. Knives are also a great idea to bring along as you can practice your bushcraft skills while actually out in the wild.

You also need to ensure you’re always carrying the right licenses and permits for the area that you’re hunting in. These are extremely important if you don’t want to get into trouble with any local law enforcement, so make sure you always have them close to hand.

Rifle / Bow

The first piece of kit you need, obviously, is either a rifle or a bow. Pick whichever one you’re most comfortable with and believe yourself to have the best aim with. Generally speaking, rifles are much easier to handle and should be the first port of call for beginners. More advanced hunters (or those who do it as a hobby) will equip themselves with a bow.

In some cases, people prefer using a shotgun. However, this does more damage to the meat of an animal and is only really effective at close range. A good rifle can do just as much damage at close range, medium range, and long range. That’s why they’re the ideal choice for hunting.

A bow can be extremely effective when stalking prey during a hunt as it’s much quieter than a rifle and can be just as deadly. Of course, loading up another arrow each time you take a shot can come with certain disadvantages. If you make each shot count, however, then this isn’t something you should worry about too much.

If you’re opting for a bow, here are some great hunting bows.

Slings / Holders

Ensuring that you bring a sling is a great way to make your hunt much more comfortable, especially if you’ll be hiking for a long time. Slings are just a way of hanging your rifle around your body and can be used to strap it to your back if you’re not currently using it.

The correct holder for your bow is also a plus if you decide to hunt with a bow. It’ll keep your equipment safe and secure and you can even use a quiver to store your arrows for ease-of-use when hunting your target.

Ammunition

It should go without saying that you’ll need to bring ammunition for your hunt. Whether it’s rifle ammo or arrows for your bow, you need to ensure that you bring enough to complete your hunt successfully. Of course, you don’t want to be carrying too much and become weighed down by it while stalking.

If you’re hunting from just one or two locations (using one of the stationary methods we’ve listed above), then how much ammunition you bring with you shouldn’t really matter. You can keep it all secure in a bag or container next to you. As long as you don’t mind lugging it from your vehicle to the hunting spot, of course.

Optic, Sights, Scopes

If you’re hunting at night or from a long-range position, these are the types of equipment you’ll probably need to invest some cash into. You can find a wide range of optics, sights, and scopes on the market – so make sure to do your research beforehand and find what works best for you and your weapon.

Hunting With Optics

If you’re using a bow or crossbow, there are even options for them. You can outfit them with pin sights and some will even be able to be fitted with scopes and optics. These can improve the precision of your bow enormously and are a great option to go for if you’re hoping to get better with it.

Overall, investing in gear like this will increase your chances of landing a great kill and they’ll also help you improve your shooting skill.

Depending on which type of rifle your using, I’ve written some scope guides:

Scopes for 308 rifles here

Scopes for 3006 rifles here

Navigational Gear

Any time you head out into the wild, even if it’s relatively close to civilization, you’ll want to bring a few navigational necessities with you. Whether it’s gear that helps you find your way around your site easily (such as binoculars, flashlights, maps, compasses etc), or more advanced equipment (like GPS devices), you want to make sure you’re always prepared in case you get lost or need to find your way out fast.

Responsible Shooting

If you’re reading our guide, you’re probably already fairly experienced with a rifle, a bow, or any other kind of weapon. However, it’s still best to go over the basics every now and again. We thought we’d use this section to stress how you can be responsible and practice proper gun etiquette and safety when you’re shooting a wild animal.

  • Never take a shot that you’re unsure of.
  • Never take a shot when you’re not sure what lies behind the creature.
  • Never take a shot if there’s a chance that another human is in the vicinity.
  • Never point your rifle or bow at another human, even if you think it’s unloaded.

These points can never be stressed enough, as any responsible owner of a rifle or a bow knows. Always treat these weapons with the respect they command.

The Ethics of Shooting

Carrying on from responsible shooting is maintaining a moral and ethical code. Whether it’s a code you yourself abide by or one that is partially enforced by a local hunting group, having an ethical code is a good way to approach hunting.

Here are some rules you should try to abide by while out hunting.

  • As we’ve stated throughout this guide, NEVER take a shot on an animal unless you’re absolutely sure that the shot will prove to be fatal. Hurting an animal is a much worse outcome than not taking a shot at all. You should only ever shoot something if you fully intend to kill it. Respecting the potential suffering of all animals is something that many hunters take a lot of pride in. Make your kills clean and quick.
  • Pay attention to any and all conservation laws or acts in the state you’re hunting in. Know which animals shouldn’t be killed and NEVER hunt an animal that is rare, heading towards extinction, or a protected species. Not only will you lose the respect of fellow hunters, but you’ll also be breaking a variety of laws and risk huge fines (if not jail time).
  • Take care of the environment you’re hunting in. As a hunter, you have the privilege of enjoying a certain amount of unspoiled land. This is land that we should strive to keep pristine and intact for future generations. You should try to lower your impact on the environment as much as possible by picking up all your litter, never leaving anything behind, and not damaging any natural life (when possible). Try not to widen trails and try your hardest to preserve everything in nature.
  • Adding on to our last point, if you’re using your downtime while out on a hunt to practice your sharpshooting skills, try to avoid metal/tin cans of any kind. They’re a staple of target practice and many people assume that picking them up afterwards is leaving no trace of them ever being there. Unfortunately, the small metal shards left behind can have severe repercussions for small wildlife and the environment on the whole.

There are many more points you can make a conscious effort to help enforce and ensure you keep up with. Before heading out on any kind of hunt, you should be fully aware of your own moral code and the unwritten rules surrounding the area (and with local hunting groups).

Respect is a big part of hunting. Respect yourself, other hunters, the animals you are hunting, and the environment on the whole. This helps to ensure that you can have a great time out there and be welcome back for many more years to come.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this mammoth guide has given you a better appreciation of how much there is to learn about shooting. It’s a huge subject and one which needs to be spoken about more online if people are to learn the correct way to get the job done.

Please always treat animals with the respect and dignity they deserve. Always be 100% certain that the shot you’re about to take will hit the desired target. No animal deserves to die in pain. It’s a horrific sight and something which you will regret if you approach hunting in the wrong manner.

Every hunter who has missed a shot and wounded an animal will attest to how distressing the experience is when you’re forced to humanely dispatch a creature up close. Please be careful out there.

While you’re out hunting, we hope that you enjoy yourself and enjoy your time in nature. One of the most beautiful things about hunting is having the chance to spend time in the wild and acquaint yourself with the great outdoors.

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