Are you fairly new to the world of deer hunting using either a crossbow or compound bow? Do you need information about where exactly to aim and shoot a deer with a bow while hunting—information that will help you kill the deer quickly and humanely rather than just wounding it unnecessarily? If either of these statements describe where you currently are with your bow hunting, the following article may prove very useful to you. In this article we will describe the various places on a deer at which you should aim for a quick and humane kill. We will also provide some quick tips for aiming your weapon accurately based on your position and explain why pass-through shots—rather than one-wound shots—are most beneficial in your hunt.
About the Deer’s Vitals
If you study the anatomy of a deer you can learn a lot about its vital organs—the organs that are vital to its survival. For example, the lungs are a deer’s largest vital organ, which obviously makes them a good target for bow hunters. The lungs can be found just behind and to the rear of a deer’s shoulder, while the heart—another vital organ—is located just below the lungs in the chest cavity, and the liver just behind the heart, a bit past the diaphragm. These three organs make up a deer’s “vital organs,” and hitting these areas with your broadhead will most likely result in a clean and humane kill.
The broadheads shot by a bow inflict major hemorrhaging to the vital organs, ceasing their ability to keep the deer alive. This is why patience and the proper shot placement are both such critical factors in bow hunting. Striking a deer with a broadhead too far forward on its anatomy will decrease the chances of striking a vital organ. Instead, you will hit very thick muscle and possibly even heavy bone. Additionally, a shot that hits too rearward on a deer can make recovering your prey a difficult prospect, because this will result in a slower death that is far from humane.
To ensure you become skilled at shooting a deer in its vital organs, one thing you could do is create a 3-dimensional practice target, one in which the vital organs are drawn out and visible. Keep in mind, though, that the deer’s position in relation to a hunter can change on a dime, so naturally the aiming point will depend on the direction the deer is facing relative to you.
The Deer Angles
As we mentioned above, your shot angle will vary based on the angle of the deer—the angle or direction at which it is facing you as you prepare to shoot. To illustrate this, below we will look at some common hunting scenarios and discuss the most deadly shooting angles when hunting with a bow.
The Broadside Angle
According to experts, the broadside angle is by far the best position in which to take a shot. Whether the deer is fully exposing his left or right side, the broadside angle gives you the best opportunity to deliver a clean, humane shot. As you know, broadside shots occur when either side of a deer is perpendicular to you—the bow hunter. This angle exposes the vitals and provides a large target for a lethal hit. Because of this, it provides the foundation for all the different shot angles we will cover here in this article.
If you are at ground level and the deer is exposing its broadside, you will want to visually divide the deer’s body into three equal horizontal segments, with the top section of the bottom third being the vertical hold-on reference. While aiming at that height, pick a spot about 3 inches behind the crease where the deer’s shoulder meets its midsection.
If the arrow strikes the intended spot, it will usually pass through both the heart and lungs, giving you a clean humane kill. The broadhead will usually pass through the deer and exit at roughly the same spot on the deer’s opposite side. However, as shot angles change with the deer’s position and your elevation, the aiming point and exit wound locations will vary as well. For instance, when aiming from a tree stand or from higher ground at a broadside deer, you must aim slightly below the deer’s mid-line to ensure the arrow strikes its intended target area.
The Quartering Away Angle
When a deer is quartering away from you at either side, the shot angle is still very favorable. In fact, some bow hunters prefer the quartering away angle to the broadside angle. The quartering away angle, when slight to moderate, presents a fairly large target area. On the other hand, if the deer is sharply angled, the broadhead you shoot may only pass through a single lung, merely wounding a deer and making it hard to track and recover.
When aiming at a deer that is quartering away, you will need to visualize the arrow’s path to the exit point on the deer’s far side. Then, aim at the spot on the deer’s near side that lines up with that exit point. With a quartering-away shot, this can mean aiming closer to the deer’s middle, near the liver, instead of behind the front shoulder, as you did with the broadside angled deer.
The shot angle known as quartering-toward occurs when the deer is slightly facing you, but is not head-on. This shot should only be taken when the angle is very slight, as a moderate to severe quartering toward angle could end up being an unethical and inhumane shot. That’s because as the angle becomes more severe, the vitals area becomes much smaller, making an ethical shot nearly impossible. Severe quartering toward angles leave only the deer’s brisket, shoulder and rear exposed. Broadheads striking the bones and thick muscles of the brisket or shoulder can fail to penetrate the chest cavity, ending up in a wounded deer that is hard to track.
Straight On or Straight Away Angles
When a deer is facing directly towards you or directly away from you, it is nearly impossible to take a humane shot. This is because a deer’s lower neck and brisket contain thick muscles and substantial bones as a way to protect the vitals. These muscles and bones are very difficult to penetrate, making a clean shot very improbable. If faced with this angle when bow hunting, continue to watch the deer and wait for another shot.
Just like the particular angle of a deer can change the way you approach a shot, so too can your angle as the hunter. Below we will cover these two angles, including both uphill and downhill angles.
When hunting downhill and shooting a deer that is approximately 15 yards or more away from you, say from a 20-foot high tree stand or on much higher ground than your target, you may need to aim slightly lower than you normally would if you were shooting from ground level. This will give you a better opportunity for a clean kill. On the flip side, if the deer is standing at an incline much higher than you, you might want to aim just a bit higher to ensure your arrow hits the vitals. Not every angle will make you adjust your aiming point, and in general, proper aiming points are best determined by practicing from elevated positions.
Shot opportunities at angles that are very steep and severe can be doubly tricky, causing hunters to take shots that may inflict the aforementioned one-lung wounds. These shots are particularly problematic with deer that are standing directly beneath the stand. Although the range is short, the angle is severe, which means lower odds of success.
About Pass-Through Shots
Last but not least, let us talk for a minute about the benefit of pass-through shots—shots in which the arrow completely passes through the deer’s body. Despite the angle at which you are shooting, and regardless of the deer’s angle in relation to you, bow hunters like yourself should always strive to make these pass-through shots through the deer’s center section—as opposed to one-wound shots that remain in the deer.
Pass-through shots are much more ethical and humane than one-wound shots, as they are much more likely to be fatal—and fatal quickly, reducing the animal’s suffering.
Tracking a deer that has been penetrated by a pass-through broadhead is also much easier because these types of shots create both an entrance and an exit wound. The combination of these two wounds spill more blood than one-wound hits, thus creating a much more visible blood trail. Pass through shots also increase the chances of a deer falling in nearby cover, or being killed instantly, dropping where it was hit.
image: CC 2.0, Florida Fish and Wildlife/Flickr