Shot  Placement   


The vital areas of the Whitetail deer include the brain, spinal column, jugular vein (which runs through the neck), lungs, heart and the liver.  A deer hit in any one of these areas will not travel far.  However, the heart lung area offers the largest target and should be your preferred shot.   The ideal shot would be one where the deer is standing in the open and in a broadside position under 30 yards away.   In the woods a deer rarely presents this type of shot, they are partially screened by brush and vegetation, moving or at a less than ideal range for a clean kill.   Regardless of the circumstances the best bet is to aim for the heart-lung area. See the chart below for some possible shots that may be presented:


Walking Away(steep angle): About 45 percent of the heart-lung area is exposed.  The tendency is to shoot too far forward: aim along an imaginary line exiting between the deer's front legs Quartering Toward(steep angle): About 55 percent of the heart-lung area is exposed, but is protected by the shoulder bone.  The deer would probably see you move to prepare for the shot. Quartering Away(steep angle):  About 55 percent of the heart-lung area is exposed.  Aim along an imaginary line exiting low on the far shoulder. In this position the deer is not likely to see your movement.
Broadside(ground shot): With 100 percent of the heart-lung area exposed, you have a target roughly the size of an 8 inch paper plate with room for error.  By far the best shot to hope for. Quartering Toward(ground shot): About 65 percent of the heart-lung area is exposed.  Aim for the near shoulder.  Don't try this shot with a bow; you'll hit the shoulder bone.


Quartering Away(ground shot): About 60 percent of the heart-lung area is exposed.  Aim along an imaginary line through the deer's far shoulder.   Head On(ground shot): Only 35 percent of the heart-lung area is exposed, this shot is too risky for archers. Gun hunters should also avoid this shot.  You risk the bullet deflecting off the shoulder bone and only wounding the deer. Wait for a better shot !

Quick harvests and easy game recovery can be obtained with accurate shot placement. The three main ingredients of a quick harvest are knowledge of how a hunting weapon harvests game, shooting only within one's own ability, and knowing the game animal's internal anatomy. The future of hunting and a hunter's own self-respect depends on his or her ability to efficiently harvest game.

Internal anatomy of deer

Bow hunters should choose a spot in the center of the lungs or slightly lower to be their target every time. An arrow in the lungs will bring down the largest game, and the advantage of this shot is that the lungs are relatively large and surrounded by other vital organs: the heart is below, the spine and aorta (a major artery) are above, and the liver and the spleen are behind. Hunters using firearms have many more choices than bow hunters. A bullet striking either the heart, shoulder, head, spine or lungs is fatal to big game animals due to the massive shock and tissue destruction involved. Once again, the chest area offers the best lethal target.


Bullets harvest game by massive shock and tissue destruction. Bullets have a tremendous amount of energy, and if fired from firearms adequate for deer hunting, can smash even heavy bone and enter the vital organs. (see Choose Your Weapon)


Arrows harvest game with razor sharp broadheads that are designed to cut tissue. Arrows cut arteries and veins resulting in massive hemorrhaging. In addition to severe bleeding, arrows passing through both lungs cause the lungs to collapse, causing rapid death due to suffocation. Arrows can cut through softer bones like ribs, but rarely penetrate heavy bones found in the shoulder, hips, head and neck. Both razor sharp broadheads and careful shot placement are crucial to game harvest.

Broadside shot

Bullet: A broadside Deer offers several excellent shots for the firearm hunter. The best target is the chest area. Find the best aiming point on a deer by picking a spot one third to halfway up the side of the animal and just behind the front shoulder. A bullet enter the lungs or heart will provide a good blood trail and a quick harvest. A head or neck shot will drop an animal instantly with little or no meat damage, but should only be used if you are proficient enough with your firearm.

Arrow: A broadside deer represents the best bow shot because it requires the least amount of penetration to reach the vital organs. The best target is the chest area.The broadside shot is also the best angle for accomplishing a double lung hit, resulting in the collapse of both lungs. Find the best aiming point on a deer by picking a spot one third to halfway up the side of the animal and just behind the front shoulder. This will put an arrow in the center of the vital area by enabling you to pick a spot rather than shooting at the whole animal. An arrow will penetrate the ribs, but be careful to avoid the shoulder bone. Wait until the near leg is forward and concentrate on a spot behind the shoulder. Avoid head and neck shots when bow hunting. Wait for the chest shot behind the front shoulder.

Quartering away shot

Bullet: The quartering away angle is a fine shot for the firearm hunter. Aim behind the front shoulder for an effective hit. The bullet will pass through both lungs and possibly the heart and into the far shoulder.

Arrow: The quartering away angle is a fine shot for the bow hunter. Aim at the chest area just behind the front shoulder. The arrow should pass through both lungs.

Quartering toward shot

Bullet: The quartering toward angle is fine for the firearm hunter. Aim at the head, neck or center of the chest for an effective hit. Be aware of where your bullet will end up. If you shoot a deer in or behind the near front shoulder the bullet will likely pass through the stomach and intestines (gut shot) and into the hind quarters. Always avoid the "gut shot", because the contents of the stomach and intestines will taint the taste of the meat.

Arrow: This is one of the poorest bow shots and should be avoided. Heavy shoulder bones shield the majority of the vital organs from penetration by arrow. Wait for the animal to pass by and take a broadside or quartering away shot.

Head on shot

Bullet: This is a fair shot for a skilled marksman. The head and neck are your only clean shots. The center of the chest should be avoided, because it would result in the "gut shot" (described above).

Arrow: This is a very poor shot for the bow hunter. The vital area is the chest between the shoulders, which is an extremely small target. Wait for a better shot.

Rear end shot

Bullet: The rear end shot is a poor shot for the firearm hunter. A shot to the body at this angle will probably ruin the best cuts of meat and will result in a "gut shot" (described above). A head or neck shot is possible if the animal has its head up. Wait for a better shot.

Arrow: This is a shot all responsible bow hunters will pass up. The hindquarters have very heavy muscle tissue and heavy bone structure which makes it very difficult for an arrow to get up front to the vital organs.

Elevated stand shot

Elevated stands and tree stands, are used by both firearm hunters and bow hunters. This elevated shot angle makes little difference to a firearm hunter, simply aim higher on the deer to compensate for the downward trajectory of the bullet. Lets say this slash ( \ ) is your bullet trajectory and the parenthesis is the deer, visualize how the bullet would enter the top of the deer and exit through the bottom. The elevated shot angle results in a smaller portion of the vital area being exposed to a bow hunter. The vital organs are more protected by the back bone and shoulder blade. To avoid the shoulder blade when shooting from an elevated stand, aim farther behind the shoulder. Shooting from elevated stands makes it more difficult to achieve a double lung hit.


Know your target !  Shoot only after you have verified that it is a deer!

Don't Shoot at Sound or Movement.  Verify Your Target!