Shot Placement

It’s one of those days where you’ve done everything right. You got in early, made sure you were quiet, eliminated every particle of scent, and waited like a statue so nothing knew you were there. You know this because you have the deer you’ve been chasing all year in range and your about to take the shot.

Shot placement can be forgotten about during those heart pounding moments but that is the exact time to be thinking about it. Deer don’t always stand perfectly broadside at exactly 20 yards like you practiced all summer in the backyard. You’re not always situated on a rest at the range on a clear day with plenty of light. I killed a buck once in Maryland that came in from behind me with about 15 seconds of day light left. Knowing where you should put that shot in every situation is only going to increase the chance that deer is coming home with you.

Most hunters know the most ideal place to shoot the deer is in its vitals. This is the area mostly contained in its rib cage consisting of the heart and lungs. Some hunters like to go a little outside of that into the shoulder or neck with a rifle but across the board heart and lungs work for most weapons. Shooting these vital organs results in a harvest where the deer experiences little to no stress with plenty of blood loss for trailing. It also dispatches the deer quickly so you don’t have to wait two hours to trail it to the next county in the dark.

You can locate the vitals on a deer standing broadside by aiming up the back of the front leg until you are in the bottom third of the deer’s body. This will land your sight in the lungs just above the heart. Aiming at the middle or front of the front leg will land your shot in the shoulder blade or neck which is not a good shot for archers and sometimes the same for rifle hunters in those adrenaline soaked moments. Aiming for the vitals helps give you a little room for error because if you move a little up or down, left or right you still have a high chance of killing that deer.

Archers especially are susceptible to this as deer will lower their bodies at the sound of a bow releasing an arrow or “jump the string.” Deer are nervous animals because they spend their days thinking everything is trying to kill them. With that heightened sense of anxiety any sudden sound or movement startles them into escape mode. When their body lowers during that flight response their vitals lower and if you were aiming too high you can shoot right over top of its back. The lungs are a large area so your arrow will still hit lungs if the deer lowers itself. If it doesn’t lower itself and your arrow goes a little low you land right in the heart.

With practice, you can gain the ability to target the heart but that’s a high risk high reward shot for most because you can miss completely or worse, hit the deer in the digestive tract also known as the guts. A gut shot deer stays alive longer, runs farther, and expires after a long painful time. They can be recovered, but not usually before the meat spoils or predators get there first.

A good saying to remember is “aim for the exit” meaning you want to visualize where your shot will come out before you send it in. I didn’t think of that saying but I’ve found it useful. Think of a deer quartering away or looking away from you diagonally. You would want to aim a little farther back in the rib cage towards the far leg so the shot exits out of the opposite shoulder.

A frontal shot where the deer is looking right at you is not usually a good shot to take. There are exceptions to everything and I have heard of deer being killed by taking this shot but the problem with this shot again is anatomy. Deer have a lot of bone and muscle in the front part of their body which does a great job of stopping a shot keeping it from the vitals and you from killing the deer.

An elevated angle is another matter to consider. Most hunters hunt from tree stands which changes the shot trajectory dramatically especially the closer the deer is. I have seen hunters lose several deer because they just were not prepared for where to put shots on deer that were now below them. A good way to prepare for this is to practice from an elevated location on a 3D target. It sounds simple I know and a lot of rod and gun clubs with archery ranges will include a raised platform to help prepare you for those shots. If you don’t have one of those and can safely hang and shoot from a tree stand at home, great. If not, anything safe like and elevated deck or even the bed of a truck should help. Just a small increase in elevation will help tremendously to improve your shooting ability come fall and help you fill that tag.


Hunting the Full Moon

It seems like almost all of us have done it. You’re getting things ready to hit the woods in the morning. You head out to the garage, the truck, or you’re taking the dog out one more time before bed to be greeted by a hated enemy of the deer hunter, the full moon. You completely forgot during the week to check the upcoming moon phase and now you’re faced with a traditionally tough day of hunting.

Does a full moon have to be the death sentence of a day in the woods though? Now, I fully understand the controversy that question stirs up. Somewhere in this state someone may have been thrown out of a camp just for asking it but stay with me.

In case you don’t know why some deer hunters dread the full moon it’s because there is the belief that a full moon shines so much light the deer feed and interact at night because they can see better at a time when they are not so visible to hunters. Having gotten their feeding done, the deer then lay down during the daylight hours leaving hunters little to no chance at a shot.

It’s a theory that’s impossible to argue because it’s the opinion of hunters who have experienced it in the woods first hand. It’s also impossible to avoid the moon turning full at some point during hunting season and with other factors working against you (school, sports, someone who took the vacation days you wanted) sometimes you have no choice about when you can go.

Always remember the moon is not the only thing going on in the woods. The weather is still a huge factor for deer behavior. A cold front can still get them up on their feet. If it’s during the rut bucks won’t miss a chance to breed if they find a receptive doe day or night so that’s another motivating factor to move.

Also, don’t forget about the lunch rush. More and more you’ll hear about a dedicated hunter putting in the dark to dark shift that killed one of those hidden deer between 11:00am and 1:00pm. Why? Deer have been known to move later in the day during the full moon. Add that in with movement from other frustrated hunters heading back for a sandwich and sometimes you’re the success story of an accidental deer drive.

Finally look at where you’re hunting. What’s the property’s food availability? What’s the property’s deer density or population like? How much pressure from other hunters are the deer getting? Despite several scientific studies currently on deer behavior during a full moon using GPS mapping collars, no one has definitively stated deer will or will not move. Weather, pressure, rutting, and food availability will always play a role in what deer do.

So, before you put the camo away for a day of errands and sleeping in, evaluate the conditions and adjust your strategy. You only get so much time a year to hunt, go every chance you can.

Use of Deer Calls

Almost every whitetail hunter has a deer call on them when they head into the wild. Somewhere in a backpack, deep in a coat pocket, or even hung around their neck is a grunt tube, bleat call, rattling call and sometimes all three. It’s almost as essential as camo and scent spray because it’s been proven to work time and time again.

For something so uniquely agreed upon by hunters it seems many think a few blasts should bring in all the booners in the woods on a string. When it doesn’t, they figure there are no deer in the area and it’s probably time to pack it in until later. Knowing how and when to use that call you bought can be just as deadly and put as many deer on the ground as the sharpest broad head or most accurate rifle.

If you have little to no experience with deer calls you might be wondering what to put in your bag of tricks. Most hunters will use a grunt tube, a can or tube that will make a doe bleat, and a call that will imitate two bucks fighting with their antlers by making a rattling sound. Here we break it down and give you an overview of each.

Grunt Tube – This imitates the grunt a buck will make to vocalize with other deer. This is a great tool and the most widely used, but as the hunting season changes so should your calling style. Use soft, subtle calls in the early season and ramp it up to challenging aggressive calls during the rut. Follow that aggression by taking your foot off the gas and work back to softer calls in the late season when bucks might be wary to investigate a larger sounding buck that may have knocked him around a few weeks earlier.

Doe Bleats – Whether you’re looking to balance your buck to doe ratio, or just fill the freezer a doe bleat call is great to have all season long. Imitating doe vocalizations, or bleats by using a can call which is a small cylinder you turn upside down then back over or tube you blow your air through can be helpful most times of the season. Doe bleats can help to draw curious does into range given their nature to be grouped together. During the rut, a doe bleat can be downright deadly for a rutting buck because he’s inclined to check out a possible mate he hears from a distance. Like a grunt tube call, start soft in the early season getting more aggressive as the rut approaches and finally arrives using the call about every 25 minutes.

Fawn Bleats – Possibly the most underused call in the deer woods is the high-pitched fawn bleat or fawn bawl. Useful for bringing in concerned does to a future member of the herd in distress this tactic can also bring in any bucks that may be trailing that concerned doe into range as well.

Rattling – The sound of two bucks fighting for the right to breed a doe could be argued as the soundtrack of the rut. Heard from farther and clearer in the woods, it tells any other willing bachelor there’s an opportunity worth fighting for so go and check it out. Whether you’re using a set of antlers or a rattling bag always be sure to look for any nearby deer before calling so as not to get busted by your movement. Start softly for a minute or so, look for any deer that may have come in, then be more aggressive to be heard from all corners of the woods.

Learning to speak deer can be challenging but very rewarding by expanding your hunting skills and helping to fill your tag. Remember, calling deer is situation based so change your calling style and strategy to match the time of the season and the behavior of the deer. If the deer is coming your way don’t keep calling, let them come. If they are close enough to see you or not see another deer when they would hear your call, hold off. If they start to take off its hail-Mary time so throw what you’ve got at them in the hope it will pique their curiosity and come back to you. Finally, when calling always remember to check your downwind side as bucks especially will go there to smell the deer they think they hear.