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HomeHomeDiscussionsDiscussionsGeneralGeneralShoot an animal to the ground?Shoot an animal to the ground?
New Post
10/6/2011 6:07 PM

Sometimes when you shoot an animal, they bolt into the brush so quickly you can't take another shot, and you find them piled up dead somewhere down the line. Other times, you have the opportunity to keep shooting until the animal is lying still on the ground. I have always "shot an animal to the ground" if I had the opportunity. Sometimes that means it sounds like WWII. The first time I hunted by myself I had an M1A in my hands. My first shot was a good heart lung shot but the deer started running as they often will with a shot like that. I hit it again 5 times before it went down. I was young, but things haven't necessarily changed much. It might not help that a lot of my training these days is tactically oriented and centered around a mindset of delivering rounds until a threat is eliminated. 

Just to be clear, I'm *not* talking about taking a lousy first shot and adding insurance by shooting more. It's your responsibility to make the first shot a good kill shot. All of the times I've shot an animal to the ground, I've been able to verify that the first shot was a proper kill shot that went where it was supposed to. That's the goal. There could easily be a day when that doesn't happen.

There are good reasons I can think of to shoot an animal to the ground. There are good reasons I can think of not to shoot an animal to the ground. My mind is not at all made up. Rather than go through the factors I've considered, I'd like to open it up and hear what everyone else thinks about shooting an animal to the ground. I'll probably add my thoughts later, but don't want to bias the discussion up front.

We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
New Post
10/6/2011 9:58 PM

 I think if the opportunity for solid followup shots present themselves and the animal is still going strong we are obligated to bring the animal down as quickly as possible.  That said, I know I am not capable of making reliable shots on running game and likely will just sit a bit and then go to tracking.  

I suppose I have been blessed with animals that responded well to my first shots, well placed first shots and short tracking jobs.  The only critter that really needed more than 1 shot was a gemsbok in SA.  That was a three day, three shot endeavor and wholly caused by a tough critter and shot just a bit too high to be immediately lethal.

I have used Nosler Partitions exclusively on all game.  I have never had a bullet fail and I have never recovered bullet.  Thus, I have had good entrance wounds, massive wound channels and massive exit wounds.  I think the initial shock and then massive hemmorage and blood loss are key to putting animals down quickly and humanely.

So, in answer to your question, no, I guess I don't and haven't seen the need (yet) to shoot an animal to the ground.

New Post
10/7/2011 8:40 AM

I typed up a nice essay on the subject with past hunt experiences only to have my computer tweak and i lost it. I don't feel like re-typing it so i will save it for elk camp but i will share one thing.

My Grandpa bought a TC Encore single shot after hunting with a Win M70 30-06 for over 40 years. When i asked him why he said: "Because one shot is all you should need". He has killed more DIY animals than anyone i know and said he rarely had to cycle the bolt. He also hunted with a Muzzleloader for a while and is in the book for an elk he took in 2001. He said hunting with a Muzzleloader made him a better hunter and how the first shot is the only one that matters.

New Post
10/7/2011 12:40 PM

I have been very fortunate where except for a couple of instances, only one shot has ever been required.  The Mountain Goat I shot two years ago was a kill on the first shot. Considering the terrain and the fact that I didn't want to give him the chance to climb, I followed up with a quick second over his back! I rushed that shot because in the blink of an eye decided I needed to shoot him to the ground. The reality is, he was dead on the first shot, and fell in his tracks before the report of the second shot had died away. I knew I had hit him solid on the first shot, so I should have just left well enough alone.

Many, many years ago, my hunting partner and myself shot a charging Grizzly to the ground. Circumstance obviously dictated the need to hammer him to the ground. I wouldn't have changed a thing about that if placed in the same circumstance again. A threat right? We shoot until there is no longer a threat. No issue with me.

I shot a nice Bull Elk once at a laser ranged distance of 440+ yards. He was uphill walking through a small clearing. In two steps he would be out of sight. I only had the chance for one shot. I saw him flinch when he was hit. In the next step he disappeared from view. When I finally got up the hill, I found him piled up against a tree a few steps from where he had been shot. Given the distance and the climb involved, I would haved loved to have been able to shoot him to the ground, but it wasn't possible. 

In my own experience, it is all about the circumstances you are faced with at the time you decide to pull the trigger. Sure, I would like to harvest an animal with one shot each and everytime. Sometimes it might not work out that way. Follow up shots may be required to knock the animal down.

I guess one way of looking at it is that it might be the ethical and humane thing to do to shoot an animal to the ground. Some animals just don't know they are dead yet and might just decide to run off.  How many times have you heard of hunters losing animals? Follow up shots go a long way to ensure the animal isn't lost. It isn't necessarily about making up for piss poor shooting, its about making sure the animal doesn't suffer AND it isn't lost and becomes a waste of life.

One other component to think about is, I don't make shots that I don't think I can make solid hits with. Making unsteady or uncertain shots more often than not brings about the NEED to shoot an animal to the ground. Just something else to think about.

The bottom line is, there isn't a hard and fast rule that says you must or must not shoot an animal to the ground. It will depend on the situation that unfolds after you have decided to press the trigger.


New Post
10/9/2011 5:25 PM
Interesting topic. It's more of a function of time and threat level than anything. There is almost no time and a lot of threat in a genuine "tactical" situation when life and limb is at critical risk. Dangerous game aside, the converse is generally true when it comes to hunting. In a tactical situation, the goal is to quickly and accurately place center of mass shots in the threat in an effort to effectively take out the hydraulics, electricity or structure of the threat, or threats, until the threat is no more. Being humane and not ruining meat is of no consequence whatsoever. When hunting, it usually just takes a few brief moments for an animal to expire with a well placed first shot into the vitals. That's just the end-game of its life cycle, one that is likely to be faster, neater and more humane than anything that that grim old bitch, Mother Nature, would otherwise deal out as a last hand. Since hunting is largely an exercise in harvesting wild meat (and helping keep wildlife populations in balance), it behooves us to take care and ruin as little as possible and take the animal out as cleanly and humanely as possible with an ethical shot placement. Assuming one has practiced enough at ranges and angles that are likely to be experienced afield, and has a good understanding of the terminal capabilities of his well chosen bullet, it's usually not necessary to "shoot an animal to the ground" if the shooter makes his first shot count, especially with non-dangerous game. With a well placed shot into the vital electronics (brain or spine) or hydraulics (cardio-pulmonary) the animal is going to expire very quickly and rushed follow-up shots on rapidly and erratically moving game are just going to run the risk of destroying valuable meat or making a potentially messy gut shot. More shots through the vitals aren't necessarily going to make it die any faster and may in fact prompt the animal to even more flight. During deer or elk season, I smile inwardly and congratulate the successful hunter when I hear a single shot ring out. And, I'm fine when I occasionally hear the sound of a humane finishing shot, presumably, relatively soon thereafter. However, I cringe and wonder what went horribly wrong when I hear an extended volley from what I presume to be a excited newbie or a slob hunter. Now, if a guy knows that his first shot was off, for whatever reason, and has the opportunity to try and firm up the odds of humanely bringing a bad situation to a close sooner, put another in the vitals ASAP.
New Post
10/9/2011 7:02 PM

Bushcraft explained it perfectly.

New Post
10/10/2011 1:40 PM


 This thread is a fine read.  Thank you all for sharing your perspectives.
Here's my current approach.
If a follow-on hit is possible, my general pre-disposition is to hit the target again.

Here's why. 
My reasoning starts with my knowledge that I may fail to hit well on my initial shot. I work hard to avoid this situation., but as a realist, I know that a relatively poor hit(or miss) is possible. If the animal shows no signs of failing, and another shot presents itself, I'm taking the shot. If the animal is in flight and a moving, read difficult, target, not so much. 
I have read stories of accomplished hunters who did not take the follow on shot, and even though the animal went down, regretted not taking the follow on shot. That particular hunter felt that they had a responsibility to put the animal down, and that waiting out the fall of the animal when a follow on shot was available was appealing to the "ego"(my word choice) of the "great hunter, great shot, one shot, one kill" deal. In future hunts, this person took the follow on shot(s) when they were available.

Best regards,


New Post
10/11/2011 6:49 AM

112Papa did an excellent job of articulating my thoughts on the matter.

Co-Owner Hill People Gear "If anything goes wrong it will be a fight to the end, if your training is good enough, survival is there; if not nature claims its foreit." - Dougal Haston
New Post
10/20/2011 12:00 PM

Thanks for all of the thoughtful and honest responses. It took some time, and reading an article by Paul Howe (well regarded ex-unit guy) about combat shooting and tactics, for my thoughts to gel. You can read Paul Howe's article here:

First thing -- I said it before, but I will repeat it again. The first shot you take on a game animal *must* be a high probability shot into the kill zone. No exceptions. We're not talking about iffy first shots, or the idea that follow up shots can be considered part of the package to help compensate for a bad first shot. What we're talking about is an animal that you know you hit (presumably with a well placed fatal shot) that isn't down yet.

Ok, why did I say "high probability"? Because, as 112Papa points out, that is the best any of us has to give. It is beyond our control to guarantee perfect kill shots every time. There are simply too many variables outside of our control. An easy one to point to is the animal moving just as you touch your shot off.  If you watch feeding animals enough, you get a pretty good sense of the rhythm of their movements and you can take reasonable care to time your shot to when they've just gone back to feeding. That's not 100% though, and there are plenty of other variables that can enter the equation. So, it is always reasonably possible that your high probability attempt turned into marginal hit.

As many have experienced, even perfect kill shots aren't completely reliable at dropping animals where they stand. From what I've seen, a pretty typical scenario with a double lung / heart shot is that you'll find the animal piled up 40 yards away in the brush. On one hunt I participated in, a cow elk shot in that manner was recovered a good quarter of a mile away. A little bit of tracking work yielded that one, but it doesn't always go that way.

And here is what it really comes down to -- unless the animal is recovered, you simply don't know whether you delivered a clean kill or not. I've participated on hunts where presumably well shot animals were never recovered. Maybe they weren't actually good shots, and maybe they just managed to hunker down and disappear within a thick clump of oak brush right before they died. In either case, not only did you leave the chance open that you left them to suffer over a long period of time, but the meat went totally to waste (well, not as far as the coyotes were concerned).

There is one side consideration about a "humane" kill. The point has already been made that any death by hunter is probably more humane than dying of starvation over the winter. Fair point. But if you're concerned about ending the animal's life as absolutely humanely as possible (maybe following the guidelines from some traditions that stipulate an animal can't die in fear), you have to consider whether one shot is a more traumatic ending than the noise that would accompany more than one shot. It's impossible to say for sure.

Bottom line for me is that I believe in "shooting an animal to the ground".

This is where Paul Howe comes in. In the past, my train of thought has been that once you have a known wounded animal, marginal shots become justified. It's already wounded so what's wrong with hurried and bad shots after that? This can result in lots of useless gunfire and is the part that I've been uncomfortable with when I've done it. Paul Howe, speaking from his experience killing creatures that are intent on killing him, describes in great detail the process for continually evaluating a situation as it unfolds and only taking shots that are high probability shots -- even in the middle of a gunfight. This is what I think he means by "tactical maturity".

So, I will continue to shoot to the ground, but I will strive to do so in an overall context of tactical maturity. To me this means: Pay greater attention to what the animal is doing and how it is moving after the first shot, only take follow up shots that are high probability shots, and maintain the poise and focus that led to a good first shot throughout the entire process of getting an animal to the ground.

I've lived long enough to know that what I think now won't necessarily be what I think ten years from now, but this is where I'm at on this subject today.

We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
New Post
10/25/2011 9:41 AM

Evan, I see where you're going with this and I like it.  I thought it might make more sense to some if the original article you referenced were linked:


New Post
11/5/2011 5:22 PM

I needed time to consider and gather my thoughts on this.  I think that if the topic is how to engage a dangerous animal or adversary, then the response of shooting to the ground is very much appropriate.  When it comes to game animals, we owe it to them to make it as quick and dignified as possible.  That is achieved by having a no-bs personal assessment of one's ksa's (knowlege, skills and abilities) and the discipline not to take a shot if good first round hits on target can't be assured with a reasonable degree of certainty.

New Post
11/6/2011 2:12 PM

Being a knuckle dragger, I'm having difficulty figuring out how to reply without quoting or referencing a particular post, so forgive me if this post shows up as a response to anyone in particular.


I have had the great good fortune to have instantly killed (as in drops dead in its tracks, no further life), 7 big game animals with one shot.  4 more dropped dead before I came out of recoil. Those 11 all took one shot to kill.   One ran in a tight circle and I hit him again while he was moving, dropping him for the count.  One ran, wounded, and needed finishing off with several more shots.  It died within 400 yards, and about 1 min of the first shot.  I attribute the 7 and 4 to good luck.  The one wounded was a bad initial shot on my part.  The one in the tight circle didn't end up needing the second shot (I didn't know that at the time), but I'm pretty proud of having taken the second shot, as well as having hit it.


I have had the good luck to mostly asociate with some excellent shots, both on the range and in the field.  None have had as many one shot drops as I, and some of them are better shooters, so as I said, I really do attribute that to luck on my part.  To get back to the point at hand, I am a huge believer in shooting an animal to the ground, and am very proud to say that my hunting partner did just that yesterday.  I won't go into the details, since she may write it up herself, but suffice it to say, she hit her animal solidly, and kept doing so until it died.


Between the two of us, we have shot 3 animals to the ground, 2 of which needed it.  All of them have tasted great, no hint of adrenalin.  All of them died faster this way, then if we had waited for them to die.  All of them were recovered, which may not have happened if we had waited.  That's really the point, for us.


I do think it is pure luck that many of my animals have dropped instantly, but I also think that using good ammo helps.  Since switching to a TTSX, fewer of our animals have dropped instantly.  I attribute this to the bullet just ripping right through, with relatively little upset.  We chose that round so that we could use the same bullet on larger game, knowing that on deer and pronghorn, it was probably too much penetration.  I may be wrong about this, but at least anecdotally, it seems to hold up for our hunting.

New Post
12/4/2011 7:56 PM

Even though no one else has chimed in since my last post, I thought I'd continue this.


I took a very nice Mulie Buck last Sat.  I hit him solidly at less than 100 yrds, and he dropped instantly.  Never got up again.  When I got up to him though he was still alive, so I shot him in the head with a pistol.  That killed him right away.  Less suffering for him is how I see it.  Instead of a shoulder mount, he'll make a nice european, .45 hole and all.

New Post
12/5/2011 11:12 AM

Here's my 2 cents. I have always felt that the main job of a hunter is to kill the animal he is shooting at as quickly and as cleanly as possible that means that if it isn't down at the first shot (even if that shot is a good one) then it is obligatory to continue until that animal is dead. Many times I have had someone say "I knew I hit him good so I didn't shoot again" but I have always wondered why not since we were now tracking a wounded animal usually in less than optimum conditiion. End result, they should have shot again. Many animals have been hit well and have still gone a ways and have sometimes been lost. I prefer to put in an extra bullet or two to know that the animal is dead and I don't have to track it (sometimes by flashlight) even if I am pretty sure of the first shot especially if it didn't fall instantly. Some do some don't, keep shooting until they are down for good.

New Post
1/18/2012 8:02 AM

Good commentary from all and I'll just add the following;

From a handgun hunters perspective, my mindset differs just a bit from those times when I'm using a more effective long-gun. When hunting with a "practical" handgun (something capable of being carried in a belt holster) 50 yards is often the difference between perfectly acceptable and marginal. Once I've drawn first blood on an animal I usually continue shoot as long as I have a target.  The exception to that rule is when I've made my first shot at a distance that's well within my comfort range and I'm certain the animal will expire. In these circumstances I make a conscious decision to destroy no more meat than necessary.

Another exception is hunting in proximity to places that forbids access or makes follow-up for an animal a tedious proposition. In those circumstances I've slung additional lead knowing that I couldn't pursue that animal (that I knew was mortally wounded - bit not incapacitated) without jumping through a lot of hoops.

As previously stated, sometimes there's an ethical consideration and sometimes there's a practical need to incapacitate the animal quickly with muliple shots.

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