Whitetail Deer Shot Placement

Section #9: Deer Anatomy – Where To Aim In The Moment Of Truth (Deer Vitals)


Every hunter knows how critical shot placement is when hunting any type of animal. Shot placement for whitetail deer is no different. Shot placement determines how quickly the animal expires. How far it will run, and, ultimately, whether or not we recover the animal that we decided to shoot. It is important for the whitetail deer hunter to have an understanding of the whitetail deer anatomy. The following article provides four different shot opportunity diagrams with the underlying deer anatomy. Using these you will be able to see how big the kill zone is on a deer. Understanding deer vitals in various angles is crucial to make your shot count.

While shot placement is important for any type of hunting, it is critical for bowhunters. Firearms deliver much more energy and shock to a target. As such, shot placement is not as critical but still a very important to consider.  As hunters we strive for perfect shot placement. It saves the deer suffering and saves you time from tracking them. With archery, the arrows don’t deliver as much energy and primarily kill deer by puncturing the vitals. Let’s review the shot placement diagrams below for the common shots a whitetail deer hunter sees in the field.

Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!

Whitetail Deer Shot Placement – Broadside Deer Anatomy

Whitetail Deer Shot Placement Broadside, where to shoot a deer, whitetail deer anatomy diagram, deer vitals

The vital zone of a deer is larger than most hunters are led to believe. The lungs themselves take up a large portion of the deer’s body. The best way to locate where you need to shoot is by making a line right up the whitetail’s front leg to start. Once you’ve done this, make a horizontal line perfectly centered along the deer’s body, almost as if it’s cutting the deer in half. The intersection of these two lines is a great place to aim. Usually, this intersection should hit the heart and lungs, which is always a perfectly lethal shot.

Actually, the great thing about this technique is that if you’re off your mark a few to several inches in any direction, you’ll still have put a lethal shot on the whitetail. This means less suffering for the deer, and much less time spent trailing and recovering it for us hunters. Of course, each angle or direction the deer is facing from you will require a different point of aim. This technique is best used on a broadside deer. Broadside is by far the type of shot everyone wants, however, as we all know, life often doesn’t work like that. If you have the opportunity to take a broadside shot, take it, as this is the most ethical and easy to successfully hit a deer shot you can make. This will also be the most meat-friendly shot you can take.


Whitetail Deer Shot Placement – Quartering Away Deer Anatomy

Whitetail Deer Shot Placement Quartering Away, where to shoot a deer, whitetail deer anatomy diagram, deer vitals

The quartering away shot can be a pretty easy shot to pull off, as long as the deer isn’t totally angled away from you. A great way to make this shot effective is by aiming a little bit farther back on the deer, at the same intersection of lines, and taking the shot. When it’s done right, this should usually get the heart, the lungs, and oftentimes, it can break the shoulder on the other side.

As a bowhunter I tend to aim for the opposite leg. The location of the top of the heart in the diagram is my aiming point. This is an ethical shot that you should be willing to take at anytime. The animal will expire quickly assuming you do your part.


Whitetail Deer Shot Placement – Quartering To Deer Anatomy

Whitetail Deer Shot Placement Quartering To, where to shoot a deer, whitetail deer anatomy diagram, deer vitals

Depending on what weapon you’re using to hunt whitetails with, the quartering-to shot can be perfectly effective. If you’re using a rifle, it will be fine because of the penetration rifle cartridges have. To make a quartering-to shot, aim a little more towards the front of the intersection of lines discussed earlier. This can also be a very ethical shot, as the deer shouldn’t go far with a firearm.

For the Bowhunter, the quartering-to shot is not a “good” shot to take regardless of what you see from TV hunting show hosts and other YouTube influencers. The shoulder bone of the whitetail guards the heart and lungs in the quartering-to angle. This is a risky shot for bowhunter and for the vast majority of us bowhunters it is better to wait for a different shot angle.


Whitetail Deer Shot Placement – Frontal Deer Anatomy

Whitetail Deer Shot Placement Frontal, where to shoot a deer, whitetail deer anatomy diagram, deer vitals

The front facing shot can be very tempting to any hunter, as the deer almost seems like it’s looking at you. If you’re a gun hunter, you can take the shot, but most hunters agree that archers should not even attempt to take this shot. The majority of bowhunters should stay away from this shot due to the protection of the rib cage and thick brisket muscles.

If you’re using a gun, try to aim for the center chest area. If you make a good shot, it will be very quick and lethal. The shock effect and deep penetration of a firearm is what makes this shot so lethal on deer. Whether you’re using a bow or a firearm, it might be a good idea to let the deer move to a quartering or broadside shot if you’re not comfortable with the front-facing shot.

Elevated Shots

For those who hunt in a treestand, it’s well known that the angle of depression on these shots is much different than being level with the deer. For archery hunters, there’s a fine line between letting the deer get close and also keeping the angle fairly slight. The more slight you can get the angle, the easier it will be to make a shot. If you have too sharp of an angle, it will throw off your shot placement and you’ll need to adjust your aiming point. The best way to learn how angles affect shots out of a treestand is to practice on a 3D target. Don’t always follow where the rings are on the 3D target. Practice and use the diagrams in this article as reference.

Hunting in treestands, we have all probably experienced this shot at one point or another. If the deer gets to the point where it’s right below you, you will be very tempted to take this shot, as you might not have a better opportunity to make a shot. This shot can be done, but it requires a great amount of precision.

It’s an easy shot to get at least one lung hit, but this can cause the deer to run for a long time. A one lung shot is not something that anyone wants, as it can be very hard to recover a deer hit this way. When hunters make this shot, they might be trying to get a spine shot. This is a very difficult target for any hunter, because a whitetail’s spine is not very wide. Try to give the deer a chance to move a little bit and offer a better shot, as you will be more likely to put a good shot on the deer.

Wrap Up

At the end of the day, shot placement and understanding deer vitals is very important. With proper shot placement, you save the deer pain and suffering. You save yourself the time and stress of trailing and recovering your deer. While there is much controversy on the topic of ethics and shot placement, use your common sense.

A note on practice. I know we are all busy with jobs, family, friends and other time commitments. However, these are not excuses for heading to the stand on opening morning without having fired your weapon. Get out, practice and be ready for season. Practicing is one of my favorite aspects of bowhunting. I try to shoot daily but it doesn’t always happen but multiple times a week I get “arrow therapy” sessions.

If it’s not a shot that you think you can make, you probably shouldn’t take it. If you’re confident with a shot, you can probably take it. As an archery hunter, you should probably err on the side of caution more than those hunters who use firearms. Archery equipment does not have the shock effect that a rifle or shotgun produces. The bottom line is simple: use common sense. Don’t try to cause unnecessary suffering to the whitetails you are hunting, and you will be just fine.


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