In both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Red Dead Online there's no question that you will be doing a lot of shooting.
Whether it's at animals while hunting, at outlaws while clearing gang hideouts or while completing story and stranger missions, you need to be as accurate as possible to take down whatever you're shooting at with as fewer bullets as possible, headshots preferably.
The only way to kill enemies with single shots, no matter the equipped weapon's firepower, is by hitting their weak spots. While enemies have multiple weak spots, the easiest to hit is generally the head.
Getting headshots consistently in Red Dead Redemption 2 and Red Dead Online isn't particularly difficult, but it's not as straightforward as one may think. This comes down to a variety of factors that can occur during combat such as your enemy's position, available weapons and so on.
In this guide, we will look at how to get consistent headshots in both the story mode and the online mode. We should note at the outset, however, that headshots are much harder to get in Red Dead Online due to the changes in the Dead Eye mechanic versus the single-player story mode.
Getting Headshots in Story Mode
During the first story chapter you will be introduced to most of the basic mechanics of Red Dead Redemption 2, including shooting.
Aiming with the equipped weapon is done by pressing the L2 or Left Trigger buttons. There are two available aiming modes: free-aiming and auto-aiming - both contained in the settings. The former is definitely more difficult to use due to the controls and input delay so we suggest you use auto-aiming at all times, unless you're playing the whole game in first person mode and you are particularly skilled at aiming with the analog stick.
Auto-aiming, which lets you lock onto targets immediately, also helps immensely when trying to get headshots: let the game lock you on an enemy and just flick the right stick up to aim at the head. You must flick the stick gently, as it's easy to go way off the mark with a stronger push.
Enemies in Red Dead Redemption 2 are always moving about and looking to find some cover, so getting consistent headshots just by following the method described above will not be enough. To avoid letting enemies get behind cover and make you miss, you must use Dead Eye as much as possible.
At its most basic level, Dead Eye allows players to slow down time until the related bar depletes. Once the ability levels up for story progression, you will also be able to mark targets and shoot at them at once. No matter what you decide to do, Dead Eye is extremely important in getting headshots consistently.
The Dead-Eye bar, however, depletes rather quickly, but there are ways to make it last longer.
The first one is to level it up to the maximum possible level by gaining XP, which is earned by getting headshots, killing enemies in free-aim, completing some of the game's challenges, skinning animals, crafting and cooking.
If you're aiming to do a bit of Dead Eye XP grinding, we suggest you activate free-aim while trying to clear gang hideouts: there are usually a lot of enemies inside them and they will provide good amounts of XP.
Even with the Dead Eye bar fully maxed, it will still deplete quickly, so you may have to restore it multiple times with items during combat. If you don't want to interrupt the flow of battle, you can also take some of the improved tonics in the game, which not only restore bars but also fortify it for certain amounts of time. A fortified bar does not deplete, no matter what happens.
The Auto-aim trick and Dead Eye are extremely helpful, but they won't make things any easier if you are using the wrong weapon.
Revolvers and pistols are the most difficult weapons to get headshots with, as they generally have low range and accuracy. Carbines and rifles make it easier thanks to their high accuracy, even more so if they have been upgraded with a scope: precision aiming and Dead Eye make for a deadly combination.
Shotguns are also quite good for getting headshots due to their spread, but only when used from close or mid-range: their accuracy is extremely low, so you will likely miss the enemy altogether if using one of them at long range.
For our full guide on the best weapons in RDR2 click here.
Getting Headshots in Red Dead Online
In Red Dead Online you also have the option of choosing between free-aim and auto-aim modes. However there's really no reason to use free-aim, given the fact that most other players will be using auto-aim - you would just be putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Auto-aim allows you to lock on the nearest target by pressing the L2 or Left Trigger button, putting the reticle automatically on the enemy's torso, so you will just need to flick the right stick up lightly to get it on the head or close enough to it to get a headshot.
Unfortunately, getting consistent headshots in Red Dead Online is much more difficult than doing so in the story mode due to how Dead Eye works in Red Dead Online. While Dead-Eye is still extremely useful in a variety of other situations, it does not slow down time for obvious reasons, so you cannot rely on it as much to get headshots.
So, how do you improve your chances of getting headshots in Red Dead Online? The answer is simple.
In the options menu, you need to access the controls section and change the Lock-On Mode (On Foot) option. There are three different settings, Narrow, Normal and Wide, which change how auto-aim works. With narrow, you will need to place your reticle extremely close to a target to lock onto an enemy, while with Wide, you can place it a bit farther than in Normal mode, making it easier to snap onto targets quickly.
By setting the Lock-On Mode to Wide, you not only will be able to aim more quickly than in Narrow and Normal modes, but you will also have an easier time getting headshots. As with all things in the game, it may take some practice to get things right, but it shouldn't take long for you to start killing enemies in a single shot.