Hunting: When is the best time to take a shot...or not?

A head shot isn't on, so now what?

A head shot isn't on, so now what? - Credit: Archant

A reader asks “do you always go for head shots, or is a body shot ‘on’ in certain circumstances?”

Dear Barry,

My favourite aspect of airgunning by far is hide shooting, so I was over the moon when I saw you were back in Air Gunner and if I may, I'd like to ask you a question. With the trees now in full leaf, I'm getting more and more shots that aren't 'on', meaning I can't get a clear sight of the pigeon's head. Obviously, this is frustrating and I wondered if there's anything I can do about it? Do you always go for head shots, or is a body shot 'on' in certain circumstances?

Thanks for your help and I look forward to more of your hunting exploits in the mag'.

Ron Hackett

Hello, Ron. I'm so pleased you're enjoying my hunting features, and I'm even more happy that you took the trouble to ask your question, rather than just take body shots and hope for the best. As we all know, only instant, humane kills are acceptable in our sport, and these must always be our priority. Let's begin with why I don't take body shots with sub-12 air rifles.

Hidden target

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The internal anatomy of a pigeon is complicated to say the least. Theoretically, to kill a pigeon instantly, your target is the heart-lung area, and here's where the problems start. First, your target is invisible and you have to guesstimate where the heart-lung area actually is. Clipping the lungs isn't good enough; your pellet needs to strike the heart, or very close to it, to deal an immediate knockdown blow to your quarry.

Protected area

The second major problem is the fact that, even if you knew the exact location of the heart-lung area, it's surrounded on all sides by feathers, skin, muscle and bone, all queuing to deflect your pellet and absorb its energy. Now add the fact that a pigeon's heart is around half the size of its head, and that the, usually visible, head is a far more reliable target in terms of knock-down capability - and it's obvious why most experienced hunters only go for head shots.

The exception

There is one 'body shot' I will take, if circumstances allow, and that's the 'between the shoulder blades' shot. If a bird has its back to me, and the angle of the shot isn't too steep, I'll place a pellet centrally, in the bony 'back plate', half-way between the bottom of the neck and the base of the tail. I believe the back plate transmits the energy of the pellet to the birds' central nervous system, plus, once the pellet punches through the plate, it has unimpeded access to the heart-lung area. Experience has shown me that this is the only 'body shot' that can be relied upon to uphold our strict standards, and it's the only one I'll use.

Final advice

In summary, Ron, if either a head shot, or 'between the shoulder blades' shot are not available to you, simply consider that bird a decoy and wait until a viable target presents itself. You may consider changing position to get a better angle but major movements are something I try to avoid if at all possible. Best by far to wait for the right shot, and maintain that commendable attitude of yours.