By Ernie Bishop
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our shots on big game were broadside? The animal before you is the one you want to put your tag on, he is undisturbed and you are calm with a solid field rest. The distance is such that no adjustments need to be made for drop or drift. The area is wide open, so finding the big boy is not an issue if he runs 100 yards or so after double-lunging him. Hey, it could happen and every so often it does but the challenge before is those 9 out of 10 times when the position of the animal is not ideal. Have you prepared yourself and your weapon to put an animal down quickly when it is in a less than ideal position? Have you already set in your mind what are “shoot now” positions versus “hold?” Can or should shot placement (add to that bullet selection) change because of factors like extremely dense cover and angle of the shot?
During a cow elk hunt in southwest Colorado my hunting buddy and I spotted some cows across a canyon. After a period of hurried climbing, we finally got as close as we could to make a shot. While I was getting my heart rate down, I began setting up a solid field rest. We then confirmed the distance, shot angle and wind. With elk, I have a mindset to use a bullet that can handle the shoulder and still penetrate to the vitals. Once I made sure Steve had a solid rest to watch the shot, I began my job on the trigger.
As the shot broke, I reloaded just as quickly. She was facing left and the wind was from left to right. I barely missed the shoulder blade (not confirmed until the autopsy). She was still up even though it was evident she was hit – I knew I had missed the shoulder. I held on the left edge of her shoulder and just as the trigger broke, I heard Steve say, “Hold!” as she was faltering. Even though the second shot wasn’t needed, in the heat of the moment I was determined to put her down right there. The second 200-grain bullet did its job on the shoulder. Then started the long task of skinning, quartering, and packing her out on our backs.
When considering taking angled shots on game, I want to know a couple of things before I ever go into the field. First, I need to know the anatomy of the animal(s) I am hunting. Second, I want to be able to see that anatomy three dimensionally, from different angles to determine where the correct aiming point would be to put the animal down quickly. Third, I want to choose a bullet that will reliably perform under a variety circumstances and shot angles.
You can have a scenario because of distance and or angle that your bullet/cartridge selection may not be up to the task at hand to down that animal with certainty. Can your bullet/cartridge selection reliably go through heavy hide, muscle and bone, and still penetrate into the vitals? Hunting involves more than just being able to put a bullet into a game animal. So do yourself and your conscience a favor and do some research on cartridge and bullet selection for your chosen game. After that, practice with it from different field positions before you go afield. Are there times in which you will turn down a shot? Yes, but at least you will not have the guilt and the constant replaying of a bad shot choice or bullet failure in your mind when you do so.
Ernie Bishop is the country’s leading authority on precision shooting with specialty pistols. He has been shooting competitively for over 10 years and hunting western big game for nearly 30 years. He lives in Gillette, Wyoming where he devotes all of his free time to analyzing the nuances of load development, bullet selection and precision shot placement on big game. For the hunt described above, Ernie was using a custom Remington XP-100 with a Lilja barrel chambered in 7MM Dakota and a 200-grain Wildcat bullet (no longer in production) coming out of the muzzle at 2,705 fps.