This is part one of a three part series. My order of importance is; 1) shot placement, 2) bullet construction/impact velocity, 3) caliber/bullet weight.
What is more important, bullet weight, bullet caliber, impact velocity, launch velocity, bullet placement on the animal, something else? Most people would agree, and I will argue, bullet placement is #1 without a doubt. All else is fighting for second place. I will argue this list until my mind is changed through overwhelming evidence or experience. The old adage, it is better to hit the animal in precisely the right spot with the wrong bullet than to hit the wrong spot with the right bullet. This has been proven many times over. Like Karamojo Bell taking countless elephant with 7mm Mauser or Bella Twin who killed a massive grizzly with one precise shot to the head from a 22 rimfire. Very small bullet, in a very precise location.
When I aim at an animal, I prefer a head shot. Head shots leave not doubt, no tracking and no meat loss. Head shots take precision from field positions, and that can be a challenge. If the shot is not 100%, wait until it is 100%, or select a different aiming point with a larger killing zone.
Head shot Maine meat moose at 166 yards with 338 RUM 210 SSII
When the head shot is not practical, I will shift my aim to the aorta. Not just the heart, but specifically the aorta. Removing the aorta from the top of the heart will drop blood pressure to the brain rapidly and the animal will succumb quickly. In the immediate area of the aorta lies the pulmonary arteries of the lungs, which are also large, high pressure arteries that spew blood at high rates. When you get the aorta, you likely get the pulmonary arteries as well. The side bonus of this shot placement often means one or both shoulders typically get broken. It's hard to run away with broken shoulders, limiting distance traveled and increasing recovery percentages. This shot placement results in heavy blood loss and disabled critters. Very high recovery chances.
This buck dropped at the shot to the aorta. The bullet clipped the off shoulder as well. 6.5 PRC 130 SSII
Another great shot placement is the "high shoulder" hit we have all heard about. This shot seems to have a high percentage of drop in their tracks results. There are several theories about why. I surmise it can be a couple factors. First off, you are often really close to the spine. I feel like hitting the shoulder blade smacks it into the spine, or the hydraulic shock from the bullet gives the spinal canal a shock that will often drop the animal. If the bullet is low enough, you will also clip the top of both lungs which will bleed out the animal before it can recover from the spinal shock. If the bullet is a bit high, you get the spine. Spine shots will often require a follow up shot. The second theory I have is the nerve bundle similar to humans just above the knee. Essentially a knee strike to the animal that also shocks its nervous system and causes it to collapse. Vital arteries and lungs are also hit and the animal bleeds out before it can recover most of the time. In either case, occasionally animals seem to "recover" and get up and run off, requiring an lengthy tracking job. Always pay the "insurance" if there is any chance the first shot didn't do it's job well enough. This shot placement will often drop them where they stand, and occasionally require a follow up shot.
These two deer were both dropped in their tracks with high shoulder shots. 6.5 Creedmoor 110 Lehigh CCC
Depending on angles, another shot placement is a spine shot. If you are above an animal in the mountains or in a tree, shooting straight down in between the shoulder blades is lethal. I killed at least one elk that way on the mountain. I had the elevation advantage and my only shot to vitals was between the shoulder blades, spine and into the lungs as he faced away, below me. No tracking required. This shot will immobilize the animal, and take out lungs and heart and exit low on the animal. If you miss the spine, you will likely still get one lung. This shot placement will drop them where the stand if the spine is hit, and bleed them quickly if the lungs and heart are hit as well.
Frontal shots are not my favorite shot, but they are lethal. The problem with frontal is the bullet rarely exits the animal, making tracking much more difficult. Another issue I see often, is placement is too low on the animal. However, if placement is proper, they don't go far. Taking up the track can be difficult. This small bear was taken with a frontal shot at 10 paces. The 30-30 round entered the chest, strung the bear and came out the anus. As the bear turned to run, a follow-up shot was placed into the left hip and exited the right front shoulder. Two complete, lengthwise pass through shots. Quick handling rifles with adequate cartridges work well. The bear went 10 yards. With a larger rounds, frontal shots often drop them where they stand, or they stumble off a short distance.
The little 30-30 Winchester full length penetrated this bear with a frontal and a follow-up rear shot
This deer dropped at the frontal shot from a 28 Nosler 150 SSII at 372 yards.
Which ever shot you choose, it is important to visualize your bullet's path through the animal. Broadside shots are simple. The bullet will exit the off side about where it goes in on the impact side. On angled shots, I like to aim for the where I want the bullet to exit. Quartering away shots I will aim for the off shoulder. Quartering to shots I aim for the diaphragm on the off side. Frontal shots I aim for their anus. Any follow-up shot required is going to be at the rear end. If possible, I like to break the pelvis or get the spine. If they are going straight away, the Texas heart shot will get the job done. Typical follow up shots I aim to immobilize.
Overall, shot placement is meant to cause massive hemorrhaging to drop blood pressure to the brain and/or immobilize the animal. Any shot that accomplishes the goal is a good shot. You just need to make sure your bullet makes it in there and does what it is suppose to do once you make the perfect shot.