Shooting as Euthanasia

Shooting as Euthanasia

rifles used to euthanaize wildlifeNote: Before implementing any Euthanasia procedure be sure to read the Euthanasia Procedure.


Shooting can be the most painless and is sometimes the only available method to humanely dispose of an animal. However, a number of factors need to be considered prior to the discharge of firearms:

  • Local laws and regulations regarding the transportation and discharge of firearms must be complied with. It is the responsibility of the permittee and employee(s) to ensure the safe handling and use of firearms. The careless, negligent, or reckless use of firearms is a violation of state law.
  • The operator and firearm must be capable of producing a quick death by a shot to the brain of the animal. The animal’s movement must be restricted enough to allow proper shot placement. The carcasses of animals killed by shooting may be sold if sale is otherwise lawful.
  • The target animal will not need to be tested for rabies.

The muzzle of the gun should be 1.5-2.0 inches from the animal’s brain when using a .22 cal long-rifle mushroom shell, or a .410 shotgun with slugs or pellets. The gun muzzle should be 39-78 inches away from the animal’s brain forlarger firearms such as a .308 rifle.

In general, the bullet should be directed so as to pass through the brain toward the spine. While exact placement differs slightly for each species, the rule of thumb is to draw an imaginary line between the right eye and left ear and the left eye and the right ear. Where the two lines intersect should be the bony ridge of the skull. Endeavor to have the bullet placed just off center of the intersecting point so as to avoid the bony ridge. Direct the bullet so that it will pass through the brain toward the base of the skull, i.e. where it attaches to the spine. In this way, the bullet will cause a great deal of tissue damage and ensure a more humane death.

The principles behind bullet placement for domestic animals shown below apply to wildlife:

horse shot

sheep shot

dog shot
(All images property of

Technicians should be warned that even a properly placed shot can result in violent convulsions of the dying animal. The death is considered humane because the animal is unconscious during its passing. Shot animals can also disperse blood and saliva over the area. Technicians should be advised to avoid becoming personally exposed to animal fluids and shooting where fluids may expose other animals to potential diseases.


  • AVMA panel on euthanasia (2007 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia, J Am Vet Med Assoc; 218:669-696) is available here.
  • J. (Al) Longair; et al. Guidelines for Euthanasia of domestic animals by firearms. 1991. Canadian Veterinary Journal. 32:724-726 as reprinted in The Probe Issue 149, November 1994 pp. 1, 6-7.