Vital Shots Elephant
by Captain Chauncey Hugh Stigand (1877 - 1919)
A few years ago a head shot was seldom tried at these animals, as big bore black powder rifles and guns often lacked the necessary penetration to pierce the heavy bone in an elephant's head, but since the introduction of cordite and other high velocity rifles the task is easy.
To hit an elephant's brain is not so easy as it seems, for it is very small in proportion to the amount of bone surrounding it. One must know exactly where the brain lies and endeavour to cut an imaginary line passing through the centre of it, for no two shots can ever be obtained at precisely the same angle.
The brain lies fairly low and back, and the ear orifice is a good index to its position.
In a broadside shot an inch or two forward of the earhole in a line with the eye, but low if anything, would be the place to aim, remembering that you are generally at the time of firing lower than the animal, and must therefore aim a little lower than the centre of the brain, as your line of fire slants upwards.
A direct frontal shot is very difficult, and in the case of an animal standing in this position it would be advisable to wait for a better opportunity.
In a quarter facing shot a bullet up the orifice of the eye would be deadly, and likewise a bullet at the back of the ear if the animal's head was turned away from the sportsman.
If the brain is missed the animal often falls from the shock, but in a case like this it will generally stagger and fall on its side and not collapse, as is usual when the brain is punctured.
Death is so instantaneous with a good brain shot that the animal has no time to stagger, but its legs give way underneath it, and it falls in a kneeling position.
When there is any doubt as to whether the animal is dead or not, it is better to put in another shot at once before the animal begins to move off.
When an elephant is down on its side, but still living, run behind and shoot at the back of the head where the spine meets it, of course in the direction of the brain. Be careful, however, to approach from behind and keep out of reach of the trunk, as we have known of a hunter being killed in this way.
If the animal is endeavouring to rise with the forelegs bent under it, a shot at the earhole would be the thing. Body shots at elephant are not nearly as deadly as head ones, for even when struck through the heart the animal may run for some distance.
The heart lies more on the right side of the body than the left, and is fairly high up behind the shoulder.
If a body shot is to be tried it would be better to approach on the right, but of course this depends on the direction of the wind.
Perhaps the deadliest body shot is a raking one, with a bullet placed at the base of the neck.
We have known a single "303 solid bullet bring an elephant down when placed here. The animal, after receiving the bullet, fell, and was quite unable to rise, though it had to be finished off.
The lung shot cannot be recommended with small bores, for unless both lungs are pierced the beast is likely to be lost, but with a large bore rifle this is a deadly shot if both lungs are penetrated.
A bullet placed in the centre of the spinal ridge from behind would paralyse it, and a bullet in the joint of the hind leg would also lead to its being brought to bag; but we hardly consider these sporting shots. Elephant at times seem to be almost blind, and to overlook one as long as there is no movement, but catch quick movements. They are very keen in the smell, and the great thing is to keep the wind right. When an elephant charges it is difficult to say what is the best thing to do, for circumstances may vary.
In most cases we think the hunter should keep quite still, seeing, of course, that there is a cartridge in the chamber.
This he should fire at close quarters and at the chest, as the trunk will generally be curled, and the head thrown up, masking the brain shot, to try and drop or turn it.
If, after delivering this shot, the animal still comes on, a bolt would be advisable, but make for the spot whence the beast has come, trying to load up quickly. To run directly away from an animal is a fatal thing to do. All large animals are quicker and more agile than one supposes, and the speed with which an irate elephant or rhino can cover the ground is an eye-opener.
The question of vital shots is a most important one, for, after the game is sighted, it is necessary that the sportsman should know exactly where to hit it, so as to kill it quickly, saving the animal perhaps many days of suffering, and the hunter the time and trouble of following it up.
Nothing is more distressing to the man with humane sporting instincts than to feel that he has sent an animal off with a painful wound to die slowly, tormented by flies, maggots, and the nightly terror it will suffer from lions, hyaenas, jackals, or hunting dogs.
It would be well, then, to shoot coolly, and not to aim at an animal's whole body, but at the exact spot you wish to hit.
Never jerk the rifle off, but press the trigger gently, and, when possible, sit down. When this is impossible, if a tree is handy, rest the rifle against it, taking care to have the arm or hand between the barrel and tree to prevent jump.
It would, perhaps, be better to take the animals in order of size and the difficulty in killing them.