HUNTING

Things to Know About Where to Shoot A Deer

Where to Shoot A Deer
Shawn Harrison
Written by Shawn Harrison

When considering where to shoot a deer, you are likely first to think of the heart and head, but there are other options. A hunter has one goal – to kill the animal with a single shot, resulting in a quick death.

Typically, most advice tells you to aim for the heart and lungs, commonly referred to as the boiler room. However, a quick death can happen in other areas.

Top 5 Deer Kill Zones

High Shoulder

One of the best places to shoot a deer is in the high shoulder. Bullets penetrate the area quickly, resulting in a fast death. The deer are less likely to take off before dropping. Why is the high shoulder a great deer kill zone? The entering bullet snaps and breaks the spine of the deer, paralyzing it. Also, a shot to this area can stop a deer’s nervous system.

The high shoulder is enclosed by the rib cage, protecting the lungs as well. If you can hit it from a distance with a high-velocity shot, you can break the ribs as well. However, some hunters prefer to pick other areas than the high shoulder. Bullets can destroy parts of the shoulder meat, as well as some of the neck and back.

High Shoulder

It still deserves your consideration when hunting. The location allows a deer to run no more than five yards before dropping. Placing the shot correctly requires plenty of thought and concentration. If you miss the shot, you are likely to lose the deer down the trail or scare away any other deer close by.

Brain

If you had to pick one kill zone, most hunters would lean for a head shot. They kill an animal immediately. No animal can survive a direct hit to the brain because it controls all activities, paralyzing all functions. A headshot won’t damage any of the precious meat that you are needing.

Headshots receive some criticism, named unethical by many. It is important to remember that a deer’s brain is only three inches, decreasing the chances of hitting it accurately. Also, deer move their head frequently, making it an awkward spot to hit. The problem is many times a hunter will miss the brain, injuring their jaw. The deer is alive and unable to eat, causing them to die of starvation.

A proper headshot requires more than a novice hunter. It needs excellent marksmanship. Typically, it is only recommended when the target is sleeping or resting. The deer will need to be extremely calm and not sense any danger. It is easy to lose your deer if this is your only target.

Neck

Many hunters avoid the neck, not considering it a top deer kill zone. The neck region connects the head with the brain to the trunk, where the heart and lungs are located. However, a well-placed shot to the area delivers a quick drop and death. Giving a shot to the neck disrupts the overall connection between the spine, heart, and brain.

Shooting deer neck

A neck shot immediately shots the blood flow to the brain and spine, shocking the deer’s entire system. Also, there is a good chance you can break the vertebrae, resulting in loss of balance and head support. There is little chance any animal can live through a neck shot.

Another benefit is that it won’t damage the meat supply when compared to the high shoulder. However, it isn’t a simple shot. The area you need to hit is pretty small; if you hit too low, you will only injure the deer, requiring another shot. Also, their sudden movements make the shot difficult in comparison to others.

Heart and Lung Area

If you are a new hunter, you should aim for the heart and lung region. It is good for beginners because it is the most forgiving shot of all. You don’t need to be entirely accurate to kill a deer. In fact, the best area is just from the heart, consider the most humane place to shoot a deer with a gun or bow. The entire proximal parts of the heart are part of the deer kill zone.

The area surrounding the heart has major blood vessels that lead to the heart and lungs. While a direct heart to the lung results in death, a shot to any of these areas will as well. The shot drastically changes the blood pressure and results in hemorrhaging, which will lead to death in a few seconds.

Hunters located in the forest benefit from a heart shot as well. It leads to massive bleeding. A deer can dash a few yards between the shot and when they drop. The bleeding creates a clear trail for you to find the deer. Death will typically happen about 15 seconds after impact, but this is going to vary.

Shooting deer heart

Image credit: westernwhitetail.com

Remember, you will need a strong bullet to shoot through the ribs and penetrate the lungs and heart. If you don’t use the accurate shot, you will just hit the lungs, resulting in a slow death or recovery.

Don’t assume any shot to the ribs is going to hit the heart. If you shoot a hand’s width from the shoulder, chances are you will hit the lungs. Many assume a deer can’t live after a shot to the lungs, but they definitely can. It just depends on the shot placement.

The Scapula

One of the lesser chosen deer kill zones is the scapula, the bone that forms the shoulder and holds the ribs. It provides support for the body while in motion. Some people pass this shot area down because they believe more errors take place, resulting in the need for a second shot.

The scapula is an excellent choice for many reasons. If done properly, it can break the deer’s back, putting it down instantly. This region is where many nerves are located before diverting to other parts of the animal and organs. So, if you can manage to lead it well, this shot will stop a deer instantly, wherever it is.

Shooting deer

It will take accuracy and the right distance to land this shot. A lot of power is needed to break through the bones to get to the back. You should aim to make it from a closer distance, ideally no more than 500 meters away from your target.

Hunters who do opt to point for the scapula will find the location doesn’t damage any meat. However, you do risk puncturing the testiness, which would spoil your meat.

Aiming for The Heart

Most hunters are going to opt for the heart and lung epicenter; it is the most forgiving shot. You don’t want just to aim the ribs and assume it will hit the heart. If you are viewing the deer broadside, don’t follow the advice that says aim behind the shoulder.

Instead, look at the back of the front legs. In your mind, draw a line directly up their leg. You want to aim between one-third and one-half of the way up the body. Lining the shot up this way will ensure the bullet enters from an angle formed by the shoulder blade and leg bone. A bullet will hit the biggest part of the lungs and the large blood vessels at the top of the heart.

It sounds like a complicated process, but it can be done in a matter of seconds with practice. A well-lined up shot to the heart means you won’t have to track the deer very far. While some can run 100 yards, chances are it will stop around 25 to 50 yards.

Bow Hunting for Deer – Shooting The Heart

Aiming for the heart and lungs give more room for error even with those who bow hunt. Missing the epicenter by a few inches still, can drop a deer in a few seconds. If it moves forward, the shot can break their shoulder, crushing their chest. A further shot backward will hit both of their lungs, leading to death as well.

The hardest part is angling the shot. If you are bow hunting, the best trick is to shoot from the rear, slightly. It allows the arrow to miss the shoulder bones, fully penetrating the chest cavity. This method works for gun hunting as well.

Bow Hunting for Deer

It is best for bow hunters to avoid frontal shots. The shoulder bones and sternum protect the heart and lung region. You need high-powered, high-velocity bullets and slugs to break these bones.

When Not to Take the Shot

Even if you have a deer in your sights, the shot placement may not be ideal. It is risky and unwise for you to take certain shots. There are certain shots, like the frontal, that have a higher chance of error. You are more likely only to wound the deer if you opt for a frontal or straight down shot.

There is some controversy about taking a quartering-to shot. Deer are lured in by calls or rattles. Some have the stance that these shots should never be made because there are too many variables. You have a higher chance of errors or wounding the deer.

However, many believe doing a solid, quartering-to shot is fine if done with the proper broad heads and bows. A flimsy, light arrow isn’t going to do the job. If you opt for this shot, make sure you have the right arrows for the job.

Shot Challenges to Consider

You are likely to encounter a few shot challenges, especially if you are located in a tree stand.

  • Straight On: Straight on shots offer you nothing but disappointment and a high likelihood of not landing the right shot. The chance of penetrating is small, depending on the kind of bullet or slug you use. If a deer crosses your path and you only have a straight on shot, don’t take it. It is best to wait for the deer to move to give you a better shot. Sooner or later, it will.
  • Straight Down: Here is a tempting shot. An amazing deer is right below you; you are practically standing on it! It seems insane not to take the shot, but it is a horrible angle for a bow hunter.
    Typically, a straight down shot will hit one lung. It could deflate the lung and kill it, but it is going to take hours. Hunters will find they need to track far and are likely to lose the deer.
    Straight down shots don’t tend to pass through, leaving little to no blood trail. You still may be tempted to try this shot. If you can’t pass up the chance, don’t aim for the spine.
    The chance of hitting the ¾ inch wide spinal cord isn’t high. Instead, look for a spot in front of the point between the front leg and rear ham. It is best to aim for the side of the backbone. You want to hit the liver and diaphragm, both vital organs.
  • Quartering-Toward: Typically, time will improve this shot. If you wait long enough, the broadside shot will come. However, if you don’t think you can hold on, you should only take this shot in certain circumstances.

Otherwise, you risk taking an unethical shot. Inexperienced bowhunters should avoid shots with sharp angles. Only take it if you know your skills are right, and the angle is slight. If you feel uncertain, don’t shot at this angle.

Learning where to shoot a deer takes practice in the field and a steady hand. Practicing at home is a great idea; using a target to determine the proper placement of shots can boost your confidence. The best shots are broadside and quartering away.

Shooting Challenges

Remember, there are other places to shoot besides the heart and lung region. The head, if you are skilled enough, can be a decent shot.

The neck, scapula, and high shoulder are all considered deer kill zones. Your goal should be to take down the deer with the first shot, as quickly as possible. Do you think we missed anything? Feel free to use the comment area bellow and share your opinion with us.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Harrison
Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison is our expert in hunting. He was born in Alaska, so hunting was his hobby since high school. Later, Shawn took a Hunter Training at Alaska Department of Fish and Game to structure his knowledge and now he is open to share his knowledge with our readers. Shawn is taking ‘Safety First’ approach on all of his trips, especially is some people are going hunting for the first time.

  • Harold Brown

    Head shots are tricky and the worst to take. If you miss the brain, which is really small, many bad things can happen to the deer. You can injure its head, it can stay alive and just run away unable to live normally. I prefer to shoot from an elevated position. Then I aim for the upper back and spine and all the meat is mostly intact. I learned how to select the right caliber for those shots and it plays an important role.

    • Shawn Harrison

      Great insight, Harold. It would be better to hit it and ensuring that you kill it. I appreciate comments that are not just about shooting the target, it is also important to care about the welfare of the game and to just kill it one or two shots than just injure it.

  • Timothy Whittaker

    This can be a question concerning the hunter’s ethics. I know that when weather is nice I can shoot perfectly from at least 350 yards. However, I usually hesitate to shoot a deer from that distance, especially if it’s running. If I’m not 100% sure that I’ll kill it, I let it live. I always make sure that I shoot it right behind the front shoulder where the vitals are. Every time I aim I think about the path of the bullet and decide what the most possible outcome is.

    • Shawn Harrison

      Amazing comment, Timothy. We aim to make it a quick death for the target than just injure it and make it suffer for long. Missing the target and injuring it will cause a lot of trouble should the deer survive the missed shot.

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