Where to shoot a deer is dependent on weapon type and deer orientation in relation to the hunter. The best shot placement will be determined by these factors for quick, ethical kills.
You may also like this article which goes into more in detail about deer anatomy: Deer Anatomy | Best Deer Shot Placement & Deer Recovery Decisions
So let’s begin…
The first thing to consider when determining where to shoot a deer is your weapon type. Not all weapons are created equal (caliber). Others are designed to kill in a completely different way (bows vs firearms for example). Below I describe where to shoot a deer when using bows and firearms.
Where to Shoot A Deer With A Bow
Bows are much less powerful than firearms and are designed specifically for cutting and bleeding (hemorrhaging). Bowhunters are limited to where they can shoot because of the lack of bone-breaking capabilities that firearms have.
The best place to shoot a deer with a bow is in the ribcage. The ribcage contains the most vital organs for deer and other animals for that matter. These main vital organs are the heart, lungs, and liver. Since these organs are quite large, it increases your odds of making a good shot. When these organs are punctured deer will not survive long, making them quick and ethical places to shoot deer with a bow.
An arrow can easily break through small rib bones and get into the vitals, often passing through the deer completely. A complete passthrough is ideal for blood tracking after the shot because the deer has an additional hole to bleed from, making the tracking job easier. Additionally, if shot from a treestand the exit would be lower on the deer making blood filling up in the cavity able to leak out more readily. This can be key for finding deer after the shot.
Where to Shoot A Deer With A Firearm
Anywhere you can shoot a deer with a bow you can shoot with a firearm. The reverse is not true. Like with a bow and for the same reasons, the best place to shoot a deer in almost all situations with a firearm is in the ribcage when presented. However, you have a little more leeway with a firearm because of its bone-breaking capabilities.
Caliber plays a big role in where to shoot a deer. If you’re using a smaller caliber or lower energy bullet, like a .223 or shotgun slugs then you’re much more limited because there is less energy, knockdown power, and bone-breaking capability. In this instance, you would want to wait for a good ribcage shot and maybe a brain shot if you’re absolutely comfortable with the shot.
If you’re using a high-energy 30-06 caliber rifle with large grain bullets then you have more leeway. You can take shots that will break bones, like when shooting the neck or taking front-quartering shots. Larger calibers also deliver a lot more knockdown power.
Deer Orientation | Where To Shoot A Deer For Best Shot Placement (With Pictures)
Depending on the position of the deer’s body to you, you’ll need to place your shots differently in order for them to be as effective as possible. Below I describe the best shot placement for deer in these different positions.
Where To Shoot A Deer When It’s Quartering Away
A slight quartering away shot is the best position to shoot a deer. This is because the projectile will travel through many organs and has the possibility of passing through the most vitals such as both lungs, heart, and liver. This also means the most bleeding will occur allowing for easy blood trails and quick ethical kills.
When a deer is in this position, it is best to aim for the ribs further back on the deer. At this angle the projectile will exit near the front shoulder on the opposite side of the deer, passing through many vitals.
If you’re shooting from a treestand you will want to aim slightly higher on the deer than if you were at ground-level with the deer. This is because you want to make sure you hit the opposite-side lung. If you do not aim a little higher you may only hit one lung because of the angle of the arrow when it hits the deer.
Broadside Shot Placement
Shooting a deer when it is broadside to you is another great shot option. In this position, the deer has the maximum amount of vitals exposed (surface area). This means you have the most room for error when a deer is in the position. The best shot placement in this position in my opinion is at the top edge of the heart. This is because if the deer ducks your string when shooting your arrow will still get the lungs. If the deer does not move you’ll hit the heart, lungs, or both.
Again, when shooting from a treestand you will want to aim slightly higher on the deer than if you were at ground-level with the deer. This is because you want to make sure you hit the opposite-side lung. If you do not aim a little higher you may only hit one lung because of the angle of the arrow when it hits the deer.
Where To Shoot A Deer Directly Below Treestand
Shooting at a deer that is directly below your treestand is a tough shot to make. If possible, I recommend the deer to move away from your stand a short distance. This is because when the deer is right below you it is common to only hit one lung with such a steep angle. Deer can survive a long time with only one collapsed lung and can make blood trailing difficult because they often will run far distances and bleeding will stop.
If you decide to take the shot, the best place to aim is as close to the spine as possible and behind the shoulder in order for the best odds of hitting both lungs. If you end up hitting the spine, it will drop the deer in its tracks but will only paralyze the deer so I follow-up shot is often necessary.
Front-Facing / Brisket Shot
The front-facing shot can be difficult as well, especially with a bow. There is a lot of bone in this position and only a small opening to get into the vitals. If you’re using a firearm there is a little more wiggle room. You’ll want to aim where the neck meets the body. Basically, I picture where the esophagus enters the body cavity. This is a tough shot to make from a treestand and is generally not recommended because of the angle of arrow travel. The deer would have to be a fair distance away to have an appropriate angle, making the shot even more difficult from a treestand.
Quartering Towards Shot Placement
This is one of the most difficult shots and is not recommended to take with a bow. In this position, the vitals are shielded by the shoulder bone. Of course, there are less steep angles of quartering-to shots. If a deer is quartering to but almost broadside, then that is still a god shot. However, when the deer is at a fairly steep angle it is best to wait for a better shot with a bow. If you try to shoot behind the shoulder often results in a shot that is too far back, usually in the stomach. A liver shot is usually the best you can hope for in this position.
The quartering-to shot is an ethical shot to take with a rifle because it has a lot of energy, knockdown power, and bone-breaking capabilities. A rifle will be able to get into the chest cavity and do a lot of damage, whereas a bow would not be able to do this most of the time.
Where To Shoot A Deer To Drop It In Its Tracks (Firearms Only)
There are a few places where you can shoot a deer that will drop it dead in its tracks. These spots can be helpful to know when hunting on small properties so that deer don’t run onto neighboring properties after they’ve been shot. These spots can also be helpful when hunting highly pressured areas and you want to drop a deer instantly so that the deer won’t get shot by another hunter. These shots should only be performed with firearms, bowhunters should avoid these areas and wait for a better shot at the heart, lungs, and liver.
These Areas Include:
- High-Shoulder Scapula
Where Not To Shoot A Deer
As well as knowing the best places to shoot a deer it is also important to know the worst places to shoot a deer. Knowing where not to shoot a deer will enable you to make better decisions when determining shot placement in the field.
If you shoot a deer anywhere other heart, lungs, liver, high-shoulder, brain, or spine it will be unlikely that you will recover the deer. Sometimes major arteries can be hit on a bad shot but it is unlikely. For this reason, all deer should be searched for diligently even if a poor shot was made. Deer tracking dogs are a great way to find deer that have been hit poorly. Just make sure to give deer that are hit poorly enough time to bed down and expire before taking up the blood trail.
I hope you’ve found this article insightful and that it will help you put your deer down quickly and ethically when hunting this fall. If you enjoyed this article, you may also like Deer Anatomy | Best Deer Shot Placement & Deer Recovery Decisions.
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Another great resource for learning more about shot placement on deer is an article by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) called Improved Shot Placement for Enhanced Hunting Success.