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  • Writer's pictureKev Thomas Writes

Neck Shots Can Be "Iffy"

As the sound of the shot reverberated across the plains, the black wildebeest swung to his right, wobbled on unsteady splayed legs, and then fell over. Rolling onto his back he began vigorously kicking all four legs skywards. And then, as we walked the 200m towards it, doing the back-slapping congratulations routine, the ‘dying’ wildebeest suddenly leapt up, shook its body violently, and leaving a cloud of Ciskei dust hanging in the air, took off. Readers may wonder why I hadn’t encouraged my client to put in another bullet before we walked towards the downed wildebeest? With hindsight, I should have, but didn’t because the black wildebeest had indicated he was as good as dead. The quick field lesson learned was to never believe what a black wildebeest’s body language tells you.

As things turned out, my client’s hurried attempt at an anchor shot also failed. With its tail flagging wildly, the fleeing wildebeest was soon cresting a far-off ridgeline, before disappearing from sight. Although I knew what the answer would be, I somewhat testily asked; ‘Jack, what shot did you use on the wildebeest?’ Looking at the ground he sheepishly replied, ‘A neck-shot.’ Although black wildebeest have a deceptive shape, which could have contributed to Jack fluffing his initial attempted neck shot, in my book there was no excuse. Shaking my head, I started walking back towards the rig but not before remarking, ‘I thought we’d settled this last night, when you agreed not to use a neck shot on the wildebeest and hartebeest.’

The late Jack Lott, innovator of the .458 Lott was a fun safari companion, but he was also extremely stubborn and set in his ways. Perhaps his persona could best be described with that oft used American phrase, ‘ornery’. He and I had argued long into the previous night about using neck shots. Trying to dissuade him from using this shot was an uphill battle because it was his favourite shot placement. On our Ciskei safari he was carrying a .375 H&H and using a new handload of his although it was so long ago, I cannot recall the load.

During our numerous shot placement discussion I’d tried to explain to Jack how in my opinion there is a time and place for a neck shot to be used. Normally, only when culling species like springbok, mountain reedbuck, and impala. Culls are invariably done at night, using a spotlight to dazzle the species and you’re shooting with high powered optics from a solid rest in a vehicle. Neck shots used during culling programs allow for clean carcasses. Important for a landowner who needs to sell the venison.

Jack Lott, who at the time of our safari was already in his early seventies seemingly agreed. Up to a point. He’d also mentioned how over the years he’d used neck shots on a number of buffalo. I reminded him one of those neck shot buffalo had put Jack, and his PH, the late Wally Johnson, into Mutare Hospital in Zimbabwe. On that early 1950s Mozambique safari Jack was carrying a .375, and his being gored by the neck-shot wounded buffalo led to him ultimately coming up with the .458 Lott.

Whilst on the subject of buffalo, a neck/spinal shot placed immediately forward of the shoulder can be deadly. It is also (irrespective of species) the only shot other than the brain shot which isn’t directly related to wound channel size. Normally, and because expanding bullets are designed to cause a large wound channel the animal dies fairly quickly. Obviously the larger the wound channel the quicker the animal dies. With the brain shot, and the spinal shot just forward of the shoulder, death is instantaneous. Bear in mind though, if the spinal cord is missed problems can arise.

Over the years I had a number of clients kill buffalo instantly to the spinal cord shot just forward of the shoulder. The buffalo’s reflex reaction upon collapsing is to normally lie with its neck twisted over to one side as far as it will go, the muzzle pointing straight upwards, with the horn tips dug into the ground. Of interest though, is I’ve never told a client to use this shot. Whenever it’s been made it was because of a misplaced shot due to fading light, or the buffalo suddenly moving just before pin to primer. In each case when we’ve analyzed it after the gunning exercise, it’s transpired the clients were all aiming for the point of the shoulder!

Neck shots used on Africa’s larger antelope species when trophy hunting (or when venison hunting) can be tricky. If the shot is misplaced, there’s every chance you may lose your quarry, also, if it’s a trophy you’re after you may damage the cape. Far safer, to just stay with the proven clean kill heart/lung shot. Important too, if you inadvertently wound an animal in the heart or lung area, you will find good blood to follow, and the animal will invariably succumb. Neck shots on the other hand don’t afford very much blood, if any.

Jack’s black wildebeest took us on a merry run-around. He’d put the bullet into its neck at about 07:30hrs. At 16:30hrs we were still chasing it up hill, and down dale. As we crashed and banged around in a vehicle pursuit, I was angry and frustrated. Angry, because against my advice Jack had taken a neck shot. Frustrated because we couldn’t close with the wily wildebeest. Periodically too, my tracker and I would leave Jack with the vehicle and attempt to close with the wildebeest on foot. It didn’t work. Jack was also angry, and cussing loudly, because the wildebeest hadn’t ‘stayed down to my well-placed neck shot.’ As he described it.

With daylight waning, the wounded wildebeest had eventually careened back down from the high elevations, galloped across the plains and attempted to join a herd of about 85 milling gnooing black wildebeest. As we approached, the herd bulls were trying to force the wounded wildebeest out of the herd. It was at this stage too, we first clearly saw the bright red blood stain on the mane, above the neck, midway along. Blood was also running freely down the neck below the wound, but, it was then that nature took over, with a violent storm blowing in. High winds, lightning, hail, and pelting rain. With the rain drumming down, the bloodstain on the wildebeest’s mane and neck were soon washed away. And despite our every effort, we never identified it again.

Jack went home without his wildebeest although he did shoot a hartebeest. He’d reluctantly used a heart shot on the hartebeest, but only because I was breathing down his neck. One year later, and at high elevation on a plateau, we had an Austrian client shoot a good trophy black wildebeest. As we stood admiring it a tracker pointed to the heavy scar tissue midway along, and just below where the mane became neck. It was Jack’s wildebeest. His bullet had gone in too high, well above the spine before exiting, and had obviously momentarily concussed the wildebeest hence it falling down to the shot.

The all-day wildebeest fiasco wasn’t the last I’d have with a client due to a badly placed neck shot. There have been others involving different species, including a lost eland and a few kudu. I’ve also been witness to two giraffe failing to go down to a badly placed neck shot. Both made good their escape and weren’t seen again, and yet, if placed correctly it’s a good shot to use on giraffe. If the shot is misplaced or the bullet fails problems will arise. Neck shot giraffe don’t leave much blood, and what little there is will normally be brushed off onto vegetation, high above the ground.

Many years ago, the late Brian Marsh made mention in one of his stories of a gravestone epitaph. I think he said it was outside the Nuanetsi Ranch HQ in the Rhodesia of old. The deceased occupant of the grave had at one time been a hunter in the employ of Nuanetsi Ranching. Part of his job description had been to hunt and kill buffalo. Back then they were considered competitors with cattle for grazing, and cattle were Nuanetsi’s lifeblood. Seemingly, and against all advice from those more experienced, the deceased hunter was a firm advocate of the neck shot on buffalo. His epitaph simply read; He Used One Too Many Neck Shots. Perhaps there’s a message there.

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