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Part Two - Heart and Lung Shot Placement and Trophy Measurement

If the animal is anything but completely broadside on, one must ‘look through’ the animal to ‘see’ where the heart is actually located (see figs 1 & 2). The heart of an elephant sits further forward than almost any other animal and it hangs vertically in the chest rather than lying at an angle. The bottom third of the heart is solid muscle and doesn’t form part of the target, so one has to shoot higher up the body for a heart shot on an elephant than would be the case with most other species.

Location of the heart from a quartering-towards angle.

A correctly placed heart shot will cause the animal to break into a mad dash for fifty metres or so, when it will collapse in mid stride. If the shot is slightly high, the massive arteries will be punctured, in which case the elephant will take off in a mad dash for a short distance, slow to a walk, then a stumble and come to a halt within 100 metres or so. The animal will probably remain on its feet for another 30 seconds or so, before slowly sinking down. A shot that is slightly low will hit the ventricles and produce a result similar to one that has hit the atria, but the animal may go as much as 200 metres before collapsing. A bullet more than 9" low will hit only the muscles of the heart (which isn’t necessarily fatal) or miss it entirely and will result only in a wound, and a lively time or a great deal of tracking can be anticipated. From broadside, a shot up to 9" too far back will puncture the lungs, whilst one a little far forward will break the front leg, anchoring the animal.

Article continues below.

With modern bullets a shoulder shot can be successfully executed, as an alternative to the heart shot, especially if the animal is quartering towards you, so that the bullet passes through the shoulder and into the lungs and arteries above the heart. Up until the recent introduction of premium solids (thick steel jackets, monometal or tungsten cores) fired at moderately high velocity, bullets could not be relied upon to make it through the massive shoulder or upper leg bone and into the chest, so this shot wasn’t popular. Its main attraction for the modern hunter is, as elephants actually pace rather than walk (ie both legs on the same side move in the same direction at the same time), a broken leg anchors them to the spot, and the shoulder is an obvious target that can be seen, rather than the brain or heart, whose location has to be envisaged.

The lung shot offers the biggest target, but, although the animal will not normally live more than a minute if the bullet has traversed both lungs and exited so as to produce a sucking wound into both lungs, an elephant can cover considerable distance in this time. Also the amount of disturbance caused is much greater. To take a proper lung shot, aim on the line of the rear edge of the front leg and half to two thirds of the way up the body. Remember that when the animal breathes out, the lungs are only about half the size that they were when full, and one must aim to hit the lungs when empty. On being hit in such a position, the elephant will take off running with copious quantities of blood pouring from the trunk, and initially, a great deal of trumpeting. It will normally come to a halt within a couple of hundred metres, and then stand around for a few seconds before slowly subsiding. The disadvantage to this shot is that, occasionally, the bullet will penetrate through the lungs but fail to puncture a significant blood vessel, and/or the skin manages to seal the wound and limit the entry of air. This occurs most often with a high lung shot, and when it does, a good 20 to 30 kilometre follow up may be required. Even the proponents of the lung shot note that occasionally, and for no apparent reason, this shot fails to be quickly effective. The only redeeming feature in these circumstances is that there is inevitably a good blood spoor. In addition, after the initial dash, the elephant will move slowly pausing frequently to rest, which may allow the hunter to catch up reasonably quickly. A raking lung shot is a different proposition entirely, and an elephant that is hit such that the bullet only punctures one lung will frequently recover (unless a major blood vessel within the lung is hit, a single punctured lung is in little danger of collapsing and even if it does an elephant lives quite happily on the other).

For a hunter who has never shot an elephant before, the heart shot is probably the best choice, provided you are hunting a bull. If one has a cow on licence, one must be considerably more careful. Cows are very much smaller than males and there is a very real danger of the bullet exiting and hitting another member of the herd. Also, other animals may well come to the assistance of the dying animal, particularly if the arteries are hit and the cow doesn’t simply drop dead in mid stride. With the lung shot, the dangers of over penetration are greater and the chances of interference from the rest of the herd greater due to the longer period that the animal is on its feet. Another point to bear in mind is that, although the heart shot can be easily taken from the front if the animal is feeding (see photo....) it must be borne in mind that the animal will probably take off straight ahead on being hit. One must appreciate that if the upper heart is hit, the animal is essentially dead on its feet. It cannot think, doesn’t try to avoid trees etc, and doesn’t know that it is running (its not actually charging) over your position. It is a much better idea to move so as to be able to take a quartering on shot.

Go to Page: 1 2 3 Related Articles: Hunting African Elephant Part 1
Hunting African Elephant Part 3
Fact File: African Elephant
Firearms: .375 on Elephant
African Hunter Vol.5 No.2 April 1999
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