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Four animal skulls that were shot in the head


This week's post is about four skulls that I have had in my collection for a while. Two of them - the Chinese water deer (bottom left) and the badger (top right) were gifts, the dog (top left) was bought and the partial fox skull I found myself. 

What all of these have in common is that they have holes or damage to their head that showed that they were killed by being shot.  It is rare to find bullet holes in skulls, since for most hunted species like deer, the hunter aims for the chest and ribs (although I found this red deer stag which I found in 2010 was shot in the head). Here's what the damage showed me:

The difference between shotgun shells and bullets

I find a lot of shotgun shells and sometimes even rifle shell casings as well.

Shotguns use shells (like on the left) filled with made of lots of small metal balls which cover a wider area but aren't as accurate and don't travel as fast. If you shot a deer with a shotgun (which would be illegal, because you need to use a rifle) then it would get lots of pellets on it but it wouldn't go very deep into the skin.

Rifles use ammunition where there is just one bullet, so it makes one hole. The bullet is held in a shell case like the one on the right which has some explosive at one end. When the gun is fired the explosive pushes the bullet out of the shell and down the barrel. Rifles are used for shooting accurately over long distances for big animals like deer. 

The shot badger skull

This sat on my shelf for ages before I realised it had a bullet hole through it. It was a gift from the anonymous deerstalker who sent me the golden eagle skull and it took so long to spot because I didn't look at it as closely as I should have done, and the entry hole (where the bullet goes in first) was hidden in a natural hollow just below the left eye.

You can tell it was shot with a rifle and not a shotgun because there is just one hole which is big and quite neat.

The bullet came out behind the right eye, and although the hole is bigger, it just looks like normal damage. This is the exit hole. The exit hole is usually bigger than the entry hole.

The hole is about 8mm across and is quite neat. It goes right through the fine nose bones inside the skull.

Because bullets travel in straight lines, you can stick a straw through the hole and see how the bullet travelled. Because the entry hole is lower than the exit hole it means the shooter was below the badger so he must have been lying down.

With the straw you can see the bullet also passed through and broken the top of the right side of the jaw.

Why would someone shoot a badger ? Some farmers (and the stupid government) think that badgers can spread a disease called TB to cows and so they tried last year to bring in a 'badger cull' to shoot a lot of badgers in some test areas. But there is no evidence that a badger cull actually works ! 

Another reason might be if the badger was ill and a gamekeeper decided to shoot it to put it out its misery.

The shot Chinese water deer skull

I got this as a gift from Ben Garrod of Ben's Bones. Chinese Water deer are the smallest deer in the UK, and the males don't have antlers, but have tusks (big upper canine teeth) instead although this one doesn't. When Ben sent it he said it had been shot by a shotgun. The small shotgun pellets have made lots of holes by breaking the outer layer of bone but haven't gone far inside unlike the badger's bullet which went right through. This is why shotguns are good for shooting fragile creatures (like pheasants and birds) but can be cruel for shooting anything else.

This is one of the bigger holes where a pellet went into the braincase:

The shot dog skull

I bought this dog skull on ebay ages ago. I think it's from a larger species like an alsation. It was only after I saw the damage to the Chinese water deer that I realised this dog had also been shot. I thought it was just where the bone was thin and damaged after death:

The shotgun pellet holes are all in the front of the face, and are close together. If the holes are close together, that means it was shot at close range.

Because it was close range, the pellets went in quite deep but not all the way through. I could stick in straws and work out where the person with the gun had been standing. They must have been standing up straight over it. Perhaps the dog was ill and this was the best way of ending its life.

The shot fox skull

I wrote about finding this skull in February 2011, but I think I found it in August 2010. It is a partial fox skull, the front half, with most teeth missing. It wasn't a brilliant find and if I found it today I probably wouldn't take it home.

However when I was writing this post I took a closer look at it. When I wrote about it before I said the holes in the forehead were caused by animal claws or shotgun pellets:

When I took a closer look I found something dark and shiny at the edge of one of the holes:

It had been stuck in there all this time and I never realised it was there !

This is it looking from the braincase end through the nasal bones.

It took me a while but I got the pellet out without damaging the skull. It didn't look like a pellet but it was, it had changed shape when it hit the fox. It was about 4mm across:

Whoever had shot it had been above and behind the head. Because of where it was found it was probably shot by a farmer protecting his sheep.

All this has taught me to look VERY closely at skulls when I first find them !

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Cal Efragilistic said...

I too have a shot deer skull- it looked as if the animal had been hit by a car, then dragged off the road and then put out of its misery from where i found it- interesting article, thanks!

Jake said...

Sad but also a bit cool. I found a skeletonised baby deer which has been hit by a car then killed by a stone being dropped on its head which is sad but was probably the best thing for it.

Katcetera said...

I have a fox skull with the bullet still inside. It's pretty cool. I have a cow skull with 6 bullet holes in it too.

Jake said...

Six bullet holes ! Was it a gang related shooting ?

Sarah R said...

I have a piece of a fox pelt, the face, which has a lot of little holes right between the eyes. Judging by the angle of the holes, I think it was hit with birdshot or something like that. I'm guessing some farmer shot it when it was after his chickens.

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Jake said...

Ouch !

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