The editor asks: body shots versus head shots?
Are body shots ethical? - asks the editor
As regular readers will know, I strongly recommend that head shots are the only safe ones when using a 12 ft.lbs. airgun, whichever quarry you pursue. However, readers have told me again and again that they make body shots work with no problems. Under certain circumstances I agree that they are possible, and there are some I will take. For example, when you have a woodpigeon or collared dove facing directly away from you, a shot between the shoulders is fully effective. There is little protection for the heart and lungs from this angle and a well-placed pellet will drop the bird instantly. The result from the front is totally the opposite. The thick muscles and breastbone are almost impenetrable to a 12 ft.lbs. pellet and will only wound the bird, and that’s something we’re honour bound to avoid.
When it comes to rabbits, the decision is far clearer; only head shots are ever acceptable. An airgun pellet has enough penetration to go through the ribs and pierce a rabbit’s heart, but that’s not the problem. It’s how you identify precisely where the heart is. If you miss by so much as half an inch, you will not stop the rabbit cleanly and if it makes it back to its warren, you’ll never recover it either. This means that you can’t know if it’s dead or lying wounded to die slowly. The part of the skull that contains the brain is the opposite, being very obvious and easy to aim at, and any pellet of any calibre passing through will give an instant and clean kill.
Switching off the pump
When you damage a rabbit’s heart you haven’t killed it. What you’ve done is stopped the pump that drives fresh blood to the brain. It takes some time before the lack of oxygenated blood causes the rabbit to pass out and subsequently die, and during that delay they can and will run, sometimes quite far.
The same applies to squirrels. Sure, their chest cavity is much smaller but then so is their heart, and squirrels are infamously tough, taking solid hits and still clinging on to the branch. Again hitting the precise spot is difficult, whereas a solid head shot causes instant death, even if the claws remain driven into the tree bark as the dying muscles convulse.
I hope I’ve convinced you that head shots are almost always the only choice. If we have a good reason to take an animal or bird’s life, then we also have a duty to make the death as clean as possible and head shots are the key to that challenge.
“If you miss by so much as half an inch, you will not stop the rabbit cleanly”
Main: The position of the brain is much easier to define than the heart
Left: A chest shot rabbit will almost always run
Right: Shot directly between the shoulders, this pigeon would drop instantly