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Shot Placement on Whitetail Deer

Shot Placement on Whitetail Deer

Millions of hunters across the United States of America a over the past 10 years have drawn their focus on the whitetail deer. In fact whitetail deer hunting is the number one big game animal currently pursued by American hunters. The sport of whitetail deer hunting is now almost legend. Hunters take to the woods each fall in search of what seems to be if what Christmas eve is to a child, harvesting a monster whitetail buck.

Reasons surrounding the huge draw to whitetail deer hunting circle around pursuing the most elusive big game animal on the North American continent seemed to encompass a variety of motives. While some whitetail deer hunters simply enjoy the serenity and peace of observing these animals in their natural habitat, other whitetail deer hunters focus solely on busting the largest whitetail deer possible. The following revenue report’s reflect our passion toward hunting whitetail deer:

** $746 million — Annual amount of money spent by hunters in the United States on licenses and public land access fees alone. Sportsmen’s licensing revenues account for more than half of all funding for state natural resource agencies

** $300 million — Additional monies contributed to wildlife conservation every year by the more than 10,000 private hunting-advocate organizations, like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

** $4.2 billion — Amount of money sportsmen have contributed to conservation through a 10% federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and gear since the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act established the tax. Millions of acres of public-use land has been purchased, preserved, and maintained with this money.

When I was but a boy I can recall my mother jokingly kidding with my stepfather surrounding his passion for crappie fishing. She had calculated that by the time he had purchased a boat, motor, rods and reels, and fishing tackle that each fish he caught cost over $25.00 a piece. I can still hear her saying, “we could buy the fish at the store much cheaper.” Her statement was true.

Therefore as whitetail deer hunters take to the field each season it is very important to understand correct shot placement on whitetail deer. Not only should every deer hunter understand shot placement on whitetail deer in an effort to successfully harvest the buck of a lifetime, but also to maximize in enhance the final results of our whitetail deer hunting season. In any deer stories which I have written I have told of 14 pope and young bucks which I have harvested, but up to date only my closest friends know I have only made heart and lung shots on four of them. While I do understand shot placement on whitetail deer, and have been referred to as a great whitetail deer hunter, Im the fellow that gets buck fever each and every time I and presented with a shot at a giant whitetail deer.

Shot placement on whitetail deer may ultimately determine success or failure no matter what skills or tools you possess or are able to afford. Throughout my history as a whitetail deer outfitter I have always told hunters that my outfitting service can provide the best environment in their pursuit of whitetail deer by scouting, signing up the best farms, hiring the best guides, training staff appropriately, and do everything perfect but that the hunter success will solely rely on that magic moment when they’re presented with a shot opportunity on a trophy whitetail buck. The wise whitetail deer hunter must master, research, understand, and implement correct shot placement on whitetail deer. In other words it will come down to you and the animal. Let us visit an research information surrounding this topic.

Knowing which shot to take on a whitetail deer will make you a more ethical and successful hunter. Even more important is knowing when to pass and not take the shot at all. This is the art of shot placement on whitetail deer. The following tips will help you in making accurate and humane decisions on which shots to take and which ones not to when deer hunting. It can be very tough to make a good shot decision when your adrenaline levels are going off the charts. Sometimes the window of shooting opportunity while deer hunting is very brief and knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot ahead of time will hasten your ability to make the right choices when time is at a minimum.

The Golden Rule of hunting that all sportsmen should know is to be sure of your target and beyond; in other words, you must know and be sure what is beyond or past your target before shooting to ensure the safety of other hunters as well as other game and property. A bullet, as well as an arrow, can have a devastating effect well after passing through or missing your intended target. Always consider this before taking any shot at whitetail deer and make no exceptions.

The following examples contain different scenarios and shot opportunities that you should expect to encounter while bow or rifle hunting, as well as the factors that you will have to analyze when considering shot selection and placement on whitetail deer.

Frontal Shot on Whitetail Deer

This shot is too risky on whitetail deer however I’d been dumb enough to attempt it. Yes, you can kill a deer by taking a frontal shot with a bow, but the odds are against you. The chances of hitting the rib cage bone and deflecting or stopping your arrow far outweigh the odds of your broadhead taking out enough vitals for a quick and humane kill. This is a shot to pass on until the animal turns broadside for a more effective and ethical killing shot. This is but the beginning of learning the shot placement on whitetail deer.

You can take this shot with a firearm but the effective target area is much narrower than the width of the deer and the shot must be dead on for a quick and humane kill. A few inches either side of dead center will result in a frontal shoulder shot and will more than likely require a second shot. A little low on the shot and you will hit the deer in the meaty, lower brisket, resulting in a wounded animal.

Straight Down Shot on Whitetail Deer
A whitetail deer can be taken by a straight down shot but this is a marginal shot at best. The best case scenario on a straight down shot when deer hunting is to hit the spine, or one lung. This, however, requires perfect shot placement and the target area is very small and very unforgiving of shot error. The straight down shot can also make for a difficult tracking job if there is no exit wound, as the entrance wound will be extremely high. Also, a single-lung shot whitetail deer can travel for hundreds of yards before expiring. When deer hunting it is best to wait until the animal passes a short distance and turns for a better angled shot into the vitals. The tease of this shot placement on whitetail deer is that the whitetail buck is so close you begin to think there is no way you couldn’t successfully harvest him at this close of a range. I made this very mistake in 2009, and while I retrieved the whitetail buck successfully the animal ran with one long for almost three quarters of a mile.

Rear Shot on Whitetail Deer

This shot is humorously referred to as the "Texas Heart Shot"...however there is nothing funny about taking this shot when deer hunting. It is an irresponsible shot that should never be taken with firearm or bow. Yes, there are stories of hunters taking whitetail deer with this shot by severing the femoral artery and the animal drops quickly after the shot, but the normal outcome for this shot is wounding the animal with a small chance for a quick recovery. We always pass on this shot and so should any ethical deer hunter. Nothing sound or reasonable surrounding shot placement on whitetail deer is acceptable when presented with this scenario.

Quartering Away Shots on Whitetail Deer

Quartering away shots with both archery equipment as well as firearms are excellent opportunities for taking whitetail deer in a quick and humane manner. This is a shot of angles. You should angle your shot so it enters in a straight line towards the opposite front leg of the side you're shooting on. Many hunters refer to this as "aiming for the exit hole".

When done right this shot will hit the vitals and dispatch the whitetail deer cleanly and quickly. However, be careful not to place the shot too far forward. At this angle you may only catch one lung and make for a more difficult recovery as opposed to cleanly hitting both lungs. This shot angle is a little more forgiving than other angles, allowing some room for error if your shot is a little farther back than you had aimed for. As your projectile moves forward in its course it stills has a good chance of hitting vitals (i.e. one opposite lung, a liver...) before it exits the opposite side, even though its entry would ideally have been forward a few inches to contact both lungs and/or a heart .

Quartering Towards Shot on Whitetail Deer

A bow hunter should never, under any circumstances, shoot at an animal that is quartering, or angled, towards them. This is an extremely low percentage shot as the vitals are protected by the front leg and shoulder. Placing an arrow in front of the shoulder on a whitetail deer at this angle will most likely result in a wounded animal with the best case scenario being a single-lung hit with a moderate to difficult recovery. One grievance I may always have as a whitetail deer outfitter is that some hunters will take any shot at a whitetail deer because they are on a paid hunt and believe if they are paying too hunt they should take any shot offered by the whitetail deer they seek. These hunters do not respect the sport of whitetail deer hunting. On the other side of the coin there’s a group of hunters who will never shoot unless they are offered a perfect shot at the whitetail buck they seek. Somewhere between the two groups of happy medium does lie. Sometimes you have to make the shot happen and not wait for the perfect shot. This discovery of shot placement on whitetail deer developed over the course of many years of hunting whitetail deer. Placing an arrow behind the shoulder may result in a single lung and liver hit at best, while quit often resulting in a paunch shot animal and making for a lengthy and difficult recovery.

The firearms hunter can take a quartering toward shot and break the front leg and shoulder, resulting in a clean and effective kill. However, we must stress that this is not a preferred shot when deer hunting. Always try to wait for a broadside or quartering away shot which result in a much larger target and unobstructed view of the whitetail deer's vitals.

Broadside Shot on Whitetail Deer

This is the shot that every deer hunter hopes for. A whitetail deer standing with an unobstructed broadside view is as good as it gets when it comes to a perfect shot opportunity. Make sure the deer is in range and center your shot just behind the front leg and below the shoulder. Many hunters prefer a heart shot, while others feel that a center lung shot just a few inches further behind the shoulder (rather than right behind the shoulder) presents better odds for a clean kill. The reasoning for this is that you have more room for error with the larger kill zone of the lungs, which extends a third of the way back on a whitetail deer. This lung shot allows you to keep a little further away from the shoulder bone and blade that can stop or deflect your arrow should you hit a little further forward than you had planned. A direct, double lung hit with no heart contact will dispatch the animal as quickly, and in many cases even more quickly, than a true heart shot with smaller lung contact. I obviously this shot placement on whitetail deer is my favorite.

Either shot will humanely dispatch the animal and wastes very little meat in the process. Consider a whitetail deer that is facing to your left. If the shot is a bit high it still takes out the lungs or hits the spine. If your shot is low it takes out the heart. If it is to the left it may break the shoulder and penetrate into the lungs, and if it is a bit to the right it takes part of the lung and liver. This is the shot that every ethical deer hunter should strive for. The bow hunter should always avoid hitting the shoulder while the firearms hunter will break the animal down quickly if he hits the shoulder, however, there will be some meat loss.

Now let’s discuss some less talked about shot opportunities and judgment calls that you may encounter while afield in pursuit of your whitetail deer. Although you may never find yourself in some of these hunting situations, you can be assured that the longer you hunt and the more time you spend pursuing your species of choice throughout your hunting endeavors, the better the odds are that you that you will encounter some if not all of these situations. The following scenarios may help you become more aware of and familiar with the situation should it arise.

Moving Shots On Whitetail Deer

There is a saying that many things can happen on a moving shot and none of them are good. This is, of course, very true. Misjudging the speed of your target can result in a missed shot, or hitting your whitetail deer further back than intended, making for a lengthy and difficult recovery. Instead of trying to calculate a lead while your adrenaline surges through you like a high voltage current it is best to try to stop the animal instead. This can be done by a soft grunt call, a whistle, or even yelling "Hey!”. This is often all that is needed to stop a deer, but you will need to be at full draw or have your rifle sights on the animal in order to quickly and effectively take the shot when it is presented. For you bowhunters out there, that means being at full draw with your sight on the animal when it stops, giving you an opportunity to settle your pin and make an effective and ethical shot. I simply refuse to shoot at running deer. The shot placement on whitetail deer while running is simply unethical in my opinion.

Shooting through Brush at Whitetail Deer

Under no circumstance when deer hunting should a shot be made hoping to bust through the brush with a firearm or an arrow. One little branch or twig smaller than your pinky finger or the lead of a pencil will deflect an arrow or bullet and change your point of impact potentially resulting in a miss or even worse, a wounded animal. Shot placement on whitetail deer when shooting through brush with an arrow is simply unforbidden, however you will find some firearms and muzzleloader exceptions, even if the pros disagree.

This is true even on animals screened by “soft brush” such as cattails or tall reed grass often found on riverbanks. This soft brush also makes it difficult or impossible to see the body of the whitetail deer in order to aim at your target effectively.

One may be tempted to “blow through” the soft brush, but under no circumstances should you take an “educated guess” on the vital location of the whitetail or mule deer in this instance. Keep in mind that these are all shots to pass and wait for the deer to walk into a clearing for a better shot opportunity.

Many seasoned deer hunters find it helpful to visit your treestand or hunting blind and cut clear shooting lanes for better shot opportunities. Trimming shooting lanes is most often done during the spring and summer months to give your hunting area ample opportunity to “cool off” before hunting season. By utilizing this tactic you will be rewarded with clear shots when the opportunity presents itself.

Target Animal Among Others When Deer Hunting

During your deer hunting endeavors, you may find your trophy of a lifetime lingering among other members of its herd. During this instance, it is imperative that you be patient and wait for the buck or target animal to position himself safely in regards to the other animals. One example may be a whitetail or mule deer buck grazing among other deer in a food plot or agricultural field, resulting in one or more deer to be situated behind the buck. Taking a rifle shot at this buck can result in your bullet hitting one of the deer situated behind your target animal. This can also be true of a bowhunter’s arrow if the deer are in close proximity to one another. This is not only unethical, but it can be illegal as well should you lethally wound another animal without having the proper tags. Wait for the animal to clear the others before taking the shot. Shot placement on whitetail deer in this scenario could be the most difficult of all types.

Skyline Shots When Whitetail Deer Hunting

Sometimes you may locate your game on a small hill, ridge, dike, or similar rising. Because you may be unaware of what is beyond your game you should pass on this shot. A missed shot or a clean pass through in this situation can result your projectile traveling well past your intended target. This is unsafe to other hunters, game, livestock, and property. Again, remember the Golden Rule: “All sportsmen should be sure of your target and what lays beyond.”

A hunter should never attempt a shot when other people or personal property beyond your target is at risk of being struck. This includes houses, farm buildings, automobiles, roadways and areas where other hunters are in the field. With a bow and arrow I would never take a skyline shot even if I knew the coast was clear. However on skyline shots with firearms as long as legal shooting hours are present and danger or injury doesn’t lurk behind the animal I have successfully connected on skyline shots for whitetail deer. Let me just say you must understand correct shot placement on whitetail deer.

Now that we have discussed proper shot placement on whitetail deer it is imperative to understand the anatomy of the whitetail deer, weapons used, and our need and expectation to sharpen our skills by practicing with our weapons we choose to hunt whitetail deer.

As whitetail deer hunters, we need to understand the anatomy of deer. Most hunters would like to have their shot placement in the heart; but is it the best place to target a trophy deer? I think not. Let me explain. Note the location of the heart in a whitetail deer. It is low, just behind the front leg, partially covered by the shoulder blade depending how the deer is standing, walking, or running. If this is where your shot placement is; and it is standing broadside only a few yards away, not moving, no brush in the way, and you have all the time you need and you are totally relaxed; I would say go ahead and take the shot. But what if that trophy deer of a lifetime is 50 yards or more away. What if you don't have a range finder with you or maybe you don't have time to range him? What if your aiming at this trophy deer freestyle; and have no rifle support? Your aiming at something the size of baseball or softball at best. You take the shot, what if your low by two or more inches, or low and a few inches back, well then your probably going for a long hike with not much of a blood trail.
Gun Hunting
For rifle hunter's, I feel a better shot placement then the heart is the middle area of the front shoulder just an inch high of center. One shot; one kill. You can be off a several inches in any direction and you still have a dead trophy deer laying on the ground within seconds. Hunter’s the pursue whitetail deer with firearms obviously possess a distinct advantage over the archer. Thus bowhunter’s who pursue whitetail deer need to take extra attention to shot placement on whitetail deer.

Anatomy of a Trophy Whitetail Deer
Why is this location, of the shot placement I just described, so great and effective. First off, you have the large scapula (shoulder blade) of the front shoulder. A bullet placed here will put a deer down on the ground, in it's tracts, even if a vital area isn't hit. Think of all these vitals that are only inches away from this shot placement: The heart, about 3 to 7 inches low and a little to the back. The neck, spine, esophagus, with major arteries just a few inches to a foot in front. The spine, 3 to 7 inches above and continuing to the back of this location. And lastly, you have the lungs and liver; the size of a basketball, about 3 to 12 inches covering an area towards the tail. What does this mean to you, the trophy deer hunter who has the largest whitetail buck of lifetime, right there in front of you. If your lucky, you will have one opportunity to get a shot off at him. Lets look at the shot placement's kill zone's approximate dimensions; the area is about a minimum of 14 inches in height by about 24 inches in length. Just a little bit bigger then the size of it's heart, isn't it?. My question then is, can you put a bullet in that box? Of course you can. You now are a successful trophy deer hunter.

Archery Hunting

The only exception to this shot placement is if your archery hunting; then a razor sharp broad head on a finely tuned arrow, released into the center of the lungs, may be your best shot placement on a trophy whitetail deer. Your target here is the size of a soccer ball or basketball. A relaxed confident shot under 30 yards and you should be fine unless you suffer form buck fever or bad luck. As you cans see from the photo, a shot 2 to 3 inches off in any direction and you will have a dead deer with somewhat easy tracking. Ideally, I would of liked this shot to be about 1 - 1 1/2 inches lower. Then I could of been off about 4 inches in any direction with the same results. This deer traveled about 35 yards as fast as it could run and the piled up dead within sight.

Practice - Practice - Practice
I can't say it enough. One of the most intelligent shooting tips I ever received from another hunter early in my whitetail deer hunting career was when practicing rather than simply aiming at the bullseye to take a small 1 inch by 1 inch piece of orange tape and aim for it. The premise behind this theory is to focus on the smallest target or area possible in order to receive more forgiveness on poor shots. Practice often with the weapon you will be deer hunting with! Always practice shooting the same weapons, arrow’s, broadheads and bullet types and weights as you will use in the field. Do not believe for a second that if you’re bow is sighted in to your field tips that your broadheads will fly the same. In fact with every broadhead except for Rage, even the practice tips on your broadheads will most often times fly differently. You don't want the opportunity of lifetime standing in front of you and your stumbling around with your equipment or day-dreaming. Do not take deer your hunting abilities, or deer hunting equipment for granted. Stay sharp; mentally sharp! A great practice tip is to "Visualize" the shot in your mind. I do this often in preparation for a hunt. I do it often in the off-season to stay in tune with my passion of deer hunting. Here is one of the visual deer hunting scenario's that I practice.

Any great way to practice shooting your bow is to stand at the target and throw your arrows into different locations about the shooting range, walk to them and shoot them from where they landed. This will make you familiar with different angles an yardages that are beyond your controls as it happens in the real world of whitetail deer hunting. This will help you understand shot placement on whitetail deer a lot.
In my mind I picture seeing a deer approach my hunting area. I test the wind and look over the positioning of my rifle or bow. I see myself giving a subtle grunt from my call. I get it's attention; now it starts to head my way. I Visualize looking ahead of the deer for the first opportunity for a shot as I see myself getting ready. I think of a plan B as I know deer are unpredictable and could change direction in a heartbeat. I tell myself to relax, breath easy and naturally. I now estimate the range or range it with my rangefinder. If bow-hunting I look at my site pins to confirm which pin I may use. I watch for clues of the deer's' behavior; is it still calm and relaxed or it nervous? What position are it's ears and tail? Do I need to do a subdued directional grunt to cause it approach on a different angle? How fast or slow is it coming? Are there other distractions around us or in the air? I check the wind again and plan for the first opportunity for a shot. I visualize drawing my bow or aiming my rifle; I pick a spot, confirm range, relax and fire the weapon with a fallow-through. I have just mentally harvested a nice buck or doe.

When To Shoot
Many whitetail deer hunters ask me; "When is the best time to take the shot at a deer?" I tell them: "The very first opportunity for a quick, clean kill." As a deer hunter, you have be prepared when the opportunity presents itself. You may not get a second chance for a shot. Whitetail deer are unpredictable; they can and will change direction of movement for no reason. It happens! At times a deer will present a shot without much room for error. Lets say a deer is approaching a shooting lane and if so will present about a 18 to 20 yard shot. It just happens to stop before the lane in a area, about 25 yards away, that has an opening of a couple square feet or so. For me, that's perfect - I take the shot. Because I have only a small opening, it probably means there is brush, branches, or trees, that may obstruct the deer's vision in my direction; perfect opportunity to lift and aim my weapon. Also, I practice this scenario in my mind and shoot at a much smaller target when I practice with my bow or rifle. With enough practice, any deer hunter should be comfortable with a shot like this. If not, don't shoot; wait for the deer to get into the shooting lane - but, be at full draw or have your rifle up as you take aim at the spot on the deer you will be shooting at when it does get into the lane. Once the deer gets into the shooting lane, you may have to do a subtle low voice grunt to get it to stop. As soon as you grunt, be ready to release the arrow or squeeze the trigger of your deer hunting rifle as you only will have a second or two at the most before the deer becomes nervous and bolts.

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.


Despite their relatively small stature, whitetails are tough game animals. Anything less than a fatal shot can mean a lost animal, and even when hit properly, whitetails are notoriously difficult to locate if they run off before dying. Avoid brain and spine shots, seeking instead the centre lung shot. From broadside, follow the back line of the front leg up to the centre of the chest. Drop down just a smidgen and you've got the perfect shot. If your deer is at an angle, visualize where the lungs lay and shoot for the centre of this mass. From above, as when treestand hunting, a spot just behind the shoulders, in the centre of the body, will ensure you hit either the spine, lungs or heart-any of which will result in a one-shot kill.

So, where on an animal should we try to place our bullet to ensure a one-shot, clean kill? There's no denying the surest fatal shot is to the brain or spinal column. Either will put an animal down almost instantly, and result in very little ruined meat. Under most circumstances, however, this is not a shot I would recommend. For starters, the brain is a relatively small target, and even a narrow miss can result in a broken jaw, lost eye or other similar wound that condemns an animal to a most unpleasant, slow death. I once shot an antelope sporting a fresh bullet wound through the bridge of its nose. Whether the hunter who first hit it was aiming for the brain, I can't say for sure, but the buck was clearly laboring, almost choking on blood, and would have suffered considerably had I not come across it.

Neck shots are equally uncertain, as the spinal cord must be severed to ensure instant death. Miss by even a little bit, and you've probably got an animal with a muscular wound from which it will likely recover, but not without considerable agony. In the worst-case scenario, you may sever the trachea-the animal will likely escape, but suffer a lingering demise. When neck shots don't connect directly with the spinal column, an animal will often drop to the ground almost immediately but quickly recover and run off. If you shoot an animal in the neck whether by design or by accident-it's therefore important to keep a close eye on it until you've confirmed it's down for keeps.

Head and neck shots do have their place in the right circumstances, but they should only be taken at close range by capable shooters who know their quarry's anatomy. They're also acceptable in the rare event of an emergency, when a dangerous animal needs to be brought down in a hurry.

Some hunters prefer shoulder shots because they will disable game while also inflicting fatal damage to the heart or lungs. Even when no collateral damage occurs, a broken shoulder, or two, will bring down an animal, rendering it helpless. In my opinion, this shot should be reserved for dangerous game, particularly bears. While some hunters use shoulder shots on larger animals such as moose and elk, I find the resulting dispersal of bullet and bone fragments ruins too much meat. Having shot a whitetail through the shoulder last year, I can speak first-hand of the meat that was wasted. Another thing to keep in mind when considering the shoulder shot is that if you shoot too high or too far in front, you've got either a clean miss or an animal with agonizing wounds. And if you shoot too low, you've got an animal with a broken leg that can still escape, only to later succumb to its wounds or predators.

The heart shot gets a lot of attention, though I suspect most hunters don't actually realize just how low in the chest the heart lies in big game. While no doubt fatally damaged if hit, the heart offers a small target, and is often covered by the upper leg. There's little room for error: too far forward and you've got a non-fatal brisket shot; too low and you've hit muscle or broken a leg, with no expectation of quickly recovering the animal. And if your bullet strikes too far back, you've got a gutshot animal. The only practical room for error is if you shoot high and take out the lungs. While many believe the heart shot is almost instantly fatal, most experienced hunters will tell you that a heart-shot animal typically travels farther before collapsing than one that has been lung-shot.

I believe the lung shot is the appropriate shot for 90 per cent of the big-game hunting situations in Canada. First and foremost, a bullet through the lungs results in an almost certain one-shot kill. In most cases, the animal won't drop on the spot, but seldom will it travel more than 100 yards or so before falling over; the damage a modern bullet does to the lungs is that devastating.

The lungs also offer a relatively large target, bigger than any other assuredly fatal zone on a game animal. This allows for a fair margin of error. Shoot low, and you'll take out the heart; a bit high and you'll sever the spinal column. Too far forward and you have a debilitating shoulder shot. Only when you shoot too far back do you have a problem-animals shot in the paunch typically suffer lingering deaths, and if you do happen to recover one, you've got a heckuva mess on your hands when it comes to field-dressing it. If you shoot just a little too far back, however, you may get lucky and strike the liver. Animals hit in this vital organ tend not to go too far before lying down.

The lungs on a game animal generally cover about two-thirds of its chest area when viewed broadside, more or less in the centre and a little toward the bottom. A professional hunter in Africa once told me he thought North American hunters tended to shoot dead centre in the chest of an animal; he believed the more effective shot was to the top of the lower third of the chest. He may well have been right, but 1 still maintain that allowing as much room for error as possible is the wisest thing most of us can do. As such, when my quarry is broadside, I generally aim for the centre of the chest, just behind the shoulder. Often, an animal will not react immediately to a lung shot, causing some hunters to think they've missed when they've actually made an excellent shot. I remember one moose I shot three times in the span of about 10 seconds. It didn't take two steps during that time, and I couldn't understand how I could be missing such a big target. The animal dropped soon after the third shot, however, and when I skinned it out, a salad plate would have covered all three holes in its chest and lungs. (For species-specific tips on lung shots, see "Top targets" on page 48.)

While we all prefer broadside shots, as often as not we face shooting opportunities from an angle. You still want your bullet to enter the chest cavity, however, so it's important to visualize the path your bullet must take. With an animal quartering toward you, your target should be somewhere between the base of the neck and the point of the facing shoulder. If an animal is facing you directly, the centre base of the neck is the preferred target. The more difficult shot to visualize is when an animal is quartering away. Take your shot with the intention of breaking the far side shoulder and you'll generally send your bullet through the desired lung region. Be aware that the tendency in this situation is to shoot too far back, resulting in an unwanted paunch shot. I recommend not shooting when animals are quartering away at extreme angles or facing directly away from you. While we all know the old "Texas heart shot" through the behind can be fatal, the odds are your bullet will break up or deflect on contact with bones, impeding its ability to get into the vital organs. I know some may disagree, but this is one shot I simply won't take, and I advise others to follow suit. If you absolutely must tale this shot, at least be sure to use a well-constructed bullet designed for maximum weight retention and penetration. Remember, when it comes to shot placement, the goal isn't simply a freezer full of meat it's also to get the job done quickly and efficiently.

If you intend on consistently harvesting trophy whitetail deer if it won’t matter how many years you spend studying their behavior and habits. It won’t matter if you purchase the finest hunting equipment in the world. It no matter if you hunt the greatest whitetail land in the United States of America unless you understand and employ the proper shot placement on whitetail deer.

Darrin Bradley

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