I have answered this question several times in several venues, but it is still one of the most common questions I get. Headshot or body shot?? This seems to be a never ending debate related to airgun hunting: whether you should use a headshot or a body shot. My position is that it depends, but overall I use both placements and believe both meet the three E criteria: they are effective, efficient, and ethical. But the results are dependent on several variables; what type of game are you hunting, what are the specifications of the gun being used, and are there situational influencers.
Head or Body?
The effectiveness of headshots and bodyshots are in my experience. A common statement you’ll hear when this topic is debated is that if you take a headshot it’s either a clean kill or a miss. In my experience both personal and watching a lot of hunters shooting a lot of game, is that I’ve seen my fair share of flubbed head shots. Remember what you are trying to hit is the brain, which is a relatively small portion of the head in most animals. But I’ve probably seen more game lost to bodyshots, not because they didn’t kill the animal, rather they were used in the wrong situation
It does not take a lot of power to kill a rabbit or a squirrel, when the vitals are hit properly 6-7 fpe will do the trick on rabbits, squirrels etc. But its delivering the pellet to the right location. A brain shot if done right will drop an animal in its tracks, while even a perfect heart lung shot may let the animal run a ways before dropping. I think the idea of a humane and ethical kill, while being the correct objective, is not being correctly interpreted or applied. I think the idea that an animal hit with a double lung shot that runs a few yards then lies down and expires is less traumatic than a headshot is much more an emotional issue than a practical one.
The situation is more impactful on deciding shot placement, because in some environments an animal running twenty yards before giving up the ghost can mean the quarry is lost. If I’m shooting a rabbit in the desert he can run twenty or even fifty yards and it doesn’t matter, I can follow him and retrieve my game. But a squirrel running 20 yards means I he may die up in the fork of a tree, in the drey, or in a den. So does this mean for squirrels I’ll only use headshots? No it does not.
Another variable to consider is the terminal performance of gun/pellet with respect to power and caliber. All things being equal, a harder hitting projectile will generally have more stopping power. And a larger caliber will not only impart more power, but will open a larger wound channel. So if I’m using a .177 springer in the fall woods, I’ll stick with head shots. But with a .25 caliber 40 fpe PCP I won’t take a second thought about a body shot, this is actually why I prefer the .25 and .30 calibers for small game.
Another situation in which I like a body shot is for this precise reason… so that the animal will move after being hit. An example is when shooting pigeons from the roofs of sheds and barns. I want them to flop off the roof, and a body shot is effective in killing them but they will generally flop of the roof before expiring.
An interesting discussion around shot placement is what I call the big game / small game dichotomy. Many small game hunters say that the only ethical shot is a body shoot, that you are likely to loose animals to a body shot and they are less humane. On the other hand many big game hunters say only body shots are ethical, head shots are likely to inflict wounds and are inhumane. To me it makes sense that whats right for one is right for the other, and both are right for both in the proper situation. So my view is use common sense, look at your surroundings, and make sure that you place the shot where you want it to go. Remember, a body shot means the heart/lungs and a head shot means the brain.