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.