The challenge is one of distance and the power of a firearm. Your score is based on your distance from the animal in question upon firing, but it also has a lot to do with shot placement, because you see, the challenge is to hit an elk (cow or bull) in such a way that the bullet penetrates both lungs and the heart. This is where the power of a rifle comes in, as only the high powered rifles (the .300 or the .308 – which I use) have the stopping power to penetrate all 3 organs from 100 feet or more away.
So I have the right firearm, we know that. My biggest issue is that I’m shooting at what’s usually a moving target, and trying to hit an area that is ultimately about the size of my fist.
Here, have some visual aids. 😛
As you can see, in order to make this shot, I’m aiming for a spot only a hair behind the front leg. Too far forward, and the leg bones will catch the bullet. Too far back and I hit the lungs but miss the heart (or, more likely with my aim these days, I hit the gut and wind up chasing the dang thing for two miles before it dies). The heart is the bullseye in a target that’s very tiny for the size of the animal I’m aiming at.
Anyone who’s ever seen an Elk can tell you – they’re very large deer. VERY large. Not as big as Red Deer, but still very large. But for their size, their hearts are actually fairly small, and not placed as far forward as some other deer species. (I make heart shots on Whitetails all the time – not just with a rifle, but with a compound bow. The elk is MUCH more difficult.)
First of all, in order to even aim properly to take this shot, you need to get the elk broadside to you. The game is programmed that, when the animals respond to your call, they come straight at you. So every time I call, I then have to inch around, keeping my eyes on the animal and reacting to any time it pauses or looks around to make sure I stay hidden. I have to monitor my distance via a rangefinder (and I usually have the competition leaderboard open in another window so I can see the distance I’m trying to beat, too), make sure the animal doesn’t see, smell, or hear me, and get into position so that I’m on flat ground with the animal broadside to me.
Then the really hard part. I can’t lie prone on the ground, which gives my gun it’s highest stability, because then I’m shooting UP, and the bullet will hit the lung and liver instead of lung and heart (yes, I’ve made this mistake before. 🙁 ). I have to be crouching, which means my gun isn’t as stable. To make matters worse, my hands shake when I get excited, so my hand on my mouse is sometimes actually trembling. I wait for the animal to stop moving. I aim, and I wait – in order to get the best shot, I can’t fire while the animal is standing still. I need it to move the foreleg that’s facing me to take a step, leaving the area just behind and above the elbow wide open for the shot. Once all of these conditions are met, I fire.
I’ve made the shot once. Only once. And it wasn’t enough for me to win the competition. However, I’m trying to do it constantly now, even when not in the competition, as training, basically. I try for heart shots on any animal I hunt now, because that’s a requirement of the sharpshooter competitions, too. And I wouldn’t mind winning those, either.
Basically, if you fire and the elk falls, right then and there, you have a good chance that you actually pulled it off. Because if the bullet glanced off the leg bone or a rib, or buried in the gut, the elk will run. So when they run, I curse, chase them down, claim them, then go off to start the whole process all over again when I can find another elk. When they fall, my heart jumps into my throat and I wonder – did I do it? Was this the shot? Is this the elk that wins me the tournament?
And yet, time and time again, it isn’t. But I’m getting better. I got 3 pure heart shots in a row yesterday, and one that COULD’VE been an entrant, except that I was a little too far away for even my .308 rifle…I got one lung and the heart, but the bullet didn’t have the power to penetrate the second lung. That was the one that hurt. 😛
But, I WILL get it. Some day soon, Sublime Elk Overture will be mine. Expect a blog gloating about THAT when it happens. 😛