Friday Already? A (Very) Short Treatise Against The Head Shot

May 31, 2013

I can’t believe it’s already Friday, and I haven’t posted since Monday!  Easy to tell I’m not on vacation anymore.

Anyway, I’ll get it back on track.  In the meantime, my friend Jeff, from the Cedar Knoll Hunting Lodge down in the SC low country, was kind enough to share the following photo with me.

jaw_shot_hogSorry, it’s a bit graphic.  But what you see here is the result of folks attempting head shots on game.  In this particular case, it looks like the hog’s lower jaw actually started to grow over, which is a testament to how tough these animals are.  According to Jeff, this guy was managing to lick up enough food to keep himself alive.

But the key point is that this is a fairly common result of taking head shots.  Let the crosshairs (or sights) drift a little at the shot, and you’ve horribly maimed the animal.  It makes for a nearly impossible tracking job, especially without dogs, and the animal can live for a long time with such a wound.  Considering the alternatives, including the neck shot or the standard “boiler room” shot, there’s simply no need to risk this outcome.

I’ve had the discussion before on my old blog site, and I still stand by my position here.  Sure, the head shot is a quick kill.  It’s not too hard for an experienced and skilled rifleman.  But it just isn’t something I’m going to recommend or advocate… especially for newer hunters.  There are better options with less risk.

Enough for now.  Have a great weekend, folks!


8 Responses to “Friday Already? A (Very) Short Treatise Against The Head Shot”

  1. Neil on May 31st, 2013 08:19

    Wise advice Phillip, and pretty timely.

    Last weekend I set up a hunt with a couple of friends on some land my buddy guides on. Three days before we got there, a guy had taken a fairly long range shot at a pig he swore was “a huge boar”, aimed for the head and hit it in the jaw. They tracked it for a while with a good trail, and then lost it, even with a dog. My friend the guide was pretty bummed about it. We came on that pig, actually feeding or trying to, a couple of days later and fortunately one of our party finished it off. It surely wouldn’t have lived long term. And by the way, it was a 130 pound sow.

    To put it in perspective I took a running jumpshot on the same hunt at a medium sized boar at about 13 yards. In the excitement, I over-lead by about 4″ and was about 2 or 3″ low. That’s not by a lot, and easy to do with a running shot (which I don’t take as a rule, but this was pretty darned close). Fortunately I was aiming for the heart, so it went down with both forelegs immobilized and pretty significant damage to the chest, to be finished off 4 seconds later. If I had been off by the same amount in any other direction, I’d still be filling out that tag. If that had been a try for a “head shot”, the result would be what you see in the picture.

  2. Mike C on May 31st, 2013 14:30

    Interesting article.

    Some time back I was hunting hogs with dogs. The dogs had the boar to bay in a thicket, giving me plenty of time to catch up.

    The boar faced his foes by standing still and clicking his cutters while the dogs had the wisdom to keep their distance. There were four dogs as I remember it, none of which was outfitted with defensive armor.

    I was blowing and wheezing by the time I caught up ( I normally get winded playing chess) and for the first time ever, considered a head shot on the beast. It was, after all, adopting a very firm and steady stance.

    So I went for it. I usually use a .375 H&H. You can shoot anything from a duiker to a Cape buffalo with that cartridge.

    I aimed at the head. The bullet caused the eyes to pop out and of course the animal dropped dead. I believe that had I missed or the shot was not clean, the dogs would have afforded me a second shot.

    Why the head shot? I’m no extraordinary shot. I just wanted to save the meat that would have been spoiled by a shoulder shot.

    Why the .375 H&H? I own several rifles but I like using the large calibers when I can. I have shot some pigs with a Ruger #1 in .416 Rigby ; does a nice job too.

    Remember though, it’s not the heavy caliber that counts – it’s bullet placement.

  3. Phillip on May 31st, 2013 17:07

    Mike, I take your point. I’m not saying to “never” take a head shot. I’ve done it myself, and probably will again under certain conditions. But I won’t advocate it. Like anything else, sometimes the decision can only be made by the person whose finger is on the trigger.

    With hounds, I’ve been in many situations where a judicious head shot made an end of the chase, quickly and cleanly… and often with guns that are a lot smaller than your .375 H&H. In fact, the dog handlers I used to work with usually ask the clients to put the muzzle to the hog’s head and make the kill (knives are illegal in CA). And as you described, most of the time the hounds will provide a second (or even third) chance if your first shot goes awry.

    But that’s not the same as a hunter in a tree stand, or standing on a ridge taking a shot at 100 or 200 yards.

    Everytime I bring this topic up, I usually see a bunch of comments from guys who’ve successfully made head shots… as well as a handful of fellas who insist that it’s the ONLY shot to take. I say, “more power to ya.”

    But the photo above is a pretty graphic example of what happens when the shot doesn’t go as planned. And I’ve been hunting, guiding, and shooting long enough to know damned well that shots don’t always go as planned. And I also know damned well that the guys who claim to have never blown a shot either haven’t shot many animals or they’re full of manure.

  4. Neil on May 31st, 2013 23:32

    Exactly. It should noted that a shot behind the ear, at 8 yards, finished my pig last week. That’s a far cry from a 200 yard shot, or a moving shot.

  5. Mike C on June 1st, 2013 14:07

    Phillip, do you have a private email address I can reach you at? My purpose is to fill you in on some personal info of mine.


  6. ian on June 3rd, 2013 15:24

    I’ll definitely think twice before a head shot now. In aiming for the head, I was thinking that i’d either make a clean kill or just miss. But that whole snout region didn’t really enter into my train of thought. My only head shot was on my first pig and it just wouldn’t go broadside — kept staring at me from 70 yards. But had I shot low, I would have taken off his snout. Maybe the bullet would have kept on going into the chest? Probably not much oomph left after passing thru all that bone.

  7. Phillip on June 4th, 2013 09:34

    Ian, if you don’t mind me pointing it out, I think yours is a good example of what happens most often… folks just don’t know any better and the possibilities never occurred to them. But that’s why I like to bring it up here.

    There are the things I have seen…

    A 200lb boar taking five hits between the eyes from a .22lr at less than two yards… barely broke the skin. Same boar took three hits from the side of his head with 9mm… third shot hit directly in the ear staggered him, but he maintained aggressive, defensive stance until finally toppled by a .45lc at powderburn range. The first hit from the 9mm hit large bone at back of skull and deflected into the meat of the neck. Painful, but not fatal. Second hit was between eye and ear, what should be the sweet spot. It deflected into the jaw. Again, painful, but probably not fatal. The shot in the ear penetrated all the way to the other ear, but apparently did not disrupt any key functions. Freakish.

    A good boar at less than 50 yards taking a 7mm RUM between the eyes. Fell as if poleaxed, then jumped and ran as the hunter and guide were discussing the hunt. Hog was never recovered, despite the use of hounds.

    100lb sow hit twice in the head with .357mag from 15 to 5 yards as she approached, and then finally tackled and killed with a knife to the heart. First bullet tracked along the skull under the skin and exited at the back of the head. Second bullet penetrated, but barely reached the surface of the brain. This sow would probably have survived if not for the very fatal knife wounds.

    100lb boar, hit twice in the face with .223 at about 10 yards. First bullet cratered just on the surface of the skull. Made a big, ugly wound, but probably not fatal. Second bullet cracked the skull. It wasn’t immediately fatal, but probably would have eventually killed the animal. A final shot in the heart/lung area from a 9mm (appx 5 yards) dropped the pig.

    There’s more, but I think this makes enough of a point. I’ve killed a double-handful of hogs with headshots, at ranges from 40 or 50 yards to the end of my muzzle… and with guns from the .325wsm to .243Win. I know it can be done, and sometimes it’s a viable option. But it’s not usually the best option.

  8. Neil H on June 5th, 2013 21:49

    Reminds me of a landowner who’s son shot a boar at close range between the eyes with a .30-06, quite a real caliber, and dropped it. It was the opener of deer season and hogs where seen as more nuisance than anything (not my mindset, but I get it) , so he dragged it some distance off to a shady spot for an hour or so… when he came back for it, it was gone. They found it a few hundred yards away, a bit befuddled. The bullet never penetrated the skull.

    My cousin, who I see as quite the dead-eye of the family, used to be an aficionado of head (and neck) shots for deer. He inherited my grandfathers .257 Roberts Pre-64 Model 70, and carried it for 5 years before he retired it, firing 5 shots and killing 5 deer. A slightly misplaced shot and a long search for a deer with it’s jaw hanging cured him of that particular approach.

    For me, a head shot is a “look them in the eyes” shot. Still, this whole conversation is making me rethink getting a .357 as a backup gun, which I figured I could potentially fire under duress, one handed, or from a tree better than a .44…

    Maybe an article on backup handguns,Phillip?