The type of ammunition used for killing animals is critical. It must have sufficient energy to immediately concuss the animal and penetrate far enough to destroy the vital areas of the brain which control breathing and circulation.

Bulleted Ammunition

In most cases where animals have not been killed effectively by a free-bullet weapon, the wrong type of ammunition has been used. Commonly the problem is due to using underpowered ammunition designed for use in target shooting, which therefore fails to penetrate; or to using copper-jacketed ammunition which over-penetrates without distorting enough to cause sufficient damage to the brain. The best way to avoid these problems is to use only a purpose-made humane killer in conjunction with the manufacturer’s recommended ammunition. Broadly speaking, ammunition for humane killers should comply with the following criteria:

  • Have a minimum calibre of .32 inches
  • Generate a minimum muzzle energy of at least 200J
  • Be round-nose, lead bullets to facilitate penetration and distortion

Bulleted ammunition for all calibres of firearm is commercially available. Much of this ‘commercial’ ammunition is intended for target shooting at relatively short distances and is of the type known as ‘wadcutter’. Bullets in this category have a flat nose with a raised edge to facilitate cutting a neat hole in a paper or cardboard target and, as such, they are not suitable for the humane killing of livestock. Different types of commercially available ammunition are compared with the standard Cash Humane Killer ammunition in Table 2. Those with a muzzle energy less than 200J are not recommended for killing large or aged animals.

Table 2 Comparison of muzzle energies for different types of commercially available handgun ammunition


Bullet/Shot weight (grain (grams))

Muzzle velocity (ms¯¹)

Muzzle energy (Joules) measured

.32 S&W Long*

98      (6.35)



.38 S&W

146    (9.46)



.38 Short Colt

125    (8.10)



.32 ACP

Accles and Shelvoke

85      (5.51)



.38 Long Colt

150     (9.72)



.38 Special

158   (10.24)



.38 Special + P

158   (10.24)



.44 S&W Special

246   (15.94)



*Ammunition used in a converted .310 Greener ‘Bell Gun’The shaded area indicates the standard ammunition loaded for the .32 Cash Humane Killer. Any ammunition generating a muzzle energy significantly less than this is not recommended for the humane destruction of large animals.

Shotgun Ammunition

Shotgun charges differ from those used in free-bullet weapons, in that the mass discharged comprises a number of lead or steel balls (commonly known as ‘shot’), as opposed to a single, heavy projectile. Shotgun cartridges differ according to their intended use, and the number, size and weight of the individual shot differs according to the type of cartridge. In a standard 12 bore cartridge, the total weight of the shot-charge is normally 30g, whatever the size of the shot contained within it. The range is: from 6 balls, each weighing 5g, in LG (buckshot); to 630 balls, each weighing 0.05g, in No.9 shot. The most common cartridge in general use is No.6 shot, which in a 12 bore cartridge contains 287 balls, each weighing 0.1g.

In normal use, the shot cartridge is fired at a distant, moving target (up to 40m away). The shot leaves the muzzle of the shotgun as a dense charge but quickly starts to separate and form a wide ‘pattern’ into which, it is intended, the target will fly or run. When a shotgun is discharged at very close quarters to the subject, as is necessary for the humane destruction of livestock, the pattern does not have time to start to develop before the shot-charge impacts on the target. Therefore, the shot effectively strikes as a solid mass at high velocity, with the resultant high kinetic energy which is required to penetrate the skull and destroy the contents of the brain cavity. A comparison of the muzzle energies of different sizes of shotgun cartridges is shown in Table 3.

Table 3 Comparison of muzzle energies for shotgun ammunition


Shot weight (grain (grams))

Muzzle velocity (ms¯¹)

Muzzle energy (Joules) calculated

12 bore

463         (30)



16 bore

409      (26.5)



20 bore

355         (23)



28 bore

247         (16)




139           (9)



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