Knowing where to shoot a deer is one of the most important lessons to learn. Shooting a deer in the wrong spot, either from being unsure or from inexperience, will lead to a bloody, long, and agonizing death for the deer, and you may never find it once it finally dies.
Where to Shoot a Deer? From a side view, shot placement should be just behind the front shoulder, behind what you might call the deer’s armpit. Of course, the angle will change as the deer moves around, but the general target zone remains the same, with the lungs and heart your primary target.
There’s a lot more that goes into knowing where to shoot a deer. Every scenario is different, after all. You may be in a tree stand or on the ground. There are several angles you have to consider, as well, with the deer facing away, towards you, at a 45° angle, or right below you. Sometimes, you simply can’t take the shot and should never force it unless the kill is clear and clean.
Best Positions & Places to shoot a deer
There are several positions in which a deer may present itself. Where you have positioned yourself matters, as the point of entry is important. There are bones to contend with along with the musculature of the deer. Both have the potential to deflect, slow, and alter the trajectory of the round or arrow.
- Quarter facing away
- Facing away
- Quarter facing toward you
- Head on shot
- Lung shot (side)
- Shoulder shot (side)
- Directly below you
Some of these shots are best for several ranges, assuming you are shooting a long-distance round with plenty of powder behind it. Some are perfect for arrow placement or a crossbow bolt.
Some of the above shots shouldn’t be risked at all, and if you do, you need to be an expert with a large, expanding round. The worst thing you can do is wound the deer. It will probably die, bleed everywhere, and is likely to run so far that you never find it. A wasted kill.
Where to shoot a whitetail deer
A whitetail deer’s vital organs are arranged in the same way that a mule deer’s are. The only difference is that a whitetail presents a smaller target. However, the target is not as small as you think. The prevailing wisdom is to aim high (midway up) and just behind the shoulder crease.
The fact is, the lungs take up a lot of space in that area, and you have a broader target zone than you think. A round through the heart is a kill. A round that misses the heart and turns both sets of lungs into superheated jelly is also a kill.
The lungs extend back several inches behind the shoulder crease. Imagine a center line drawn from the whitetail’s chest to the tail. Along that line, place your shot no more than 5” back from the top of the shoulder crease. A couple of inches forward, back, up, or down from that point behind the shoulder is a kill.
If you are hunting with a bow or a crossbow, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a whitetail’s shoulder bone is going to deflect your broadhead if you fire in that area. A deer’s front shoulder bone is angled forward, along with the bone of the leg from a broadside perspective.
Mule Deer & Whitetail Deer
When it comes to deer hunting in North America, there are only two kinds of deer that 95% of hunters will encounter—mule deer and whitetail deer. Although a mule deer is considered to be bigger than whitetail, we’re talking a difference of 50lbs.
The only benefit of shooting a mule deer over a whitetail is a slightly larger target zone. However, that target zone remains the same. A mule deer’s internal organs are arranged in the same way, so the same methodology applies.
Where to shoot a deer with an arrow
Some of the potential angles are out of the question for bowhunting. Your best bet is a deer within 15 yards of your position and is quartering forward, quartering away, or broadside, with quartering forward being the riskiest and most difficult.
Believe it or not, a deer quartering away is the money shot for bowhunters. The angle gives a bowhunter a large degree of forgiveness for error. Even if your arrow penetrates a few inches back from your intended target, the forward trajectory of the arrow will likely continue through the lungs and chest cavity.
While this might not give you the DRT (Drop Right There) impact you want, it will be close. The broadside is relatively simple, with the primary target zone a few inches back from the shoulder crease.
Quartering away, your shot placement should be halfway up the deer’s body and centered several inches behind the forward shoulder crease. Avoid quartering toward shots, as the shoulder bone coverage leaves you very little room for error. The same is true for straight-on shots and straight away.
Where to shoot a deer with a crossbow
With a crossbow, the broadside remains the most preferable position, with the quartering away coming in a close second place. With both broadside shots and quartering away, you have the most potential for your bolt to impact vital organs, specifically the lungs and the heart.
Where to shoot a deer from a treestand
Treestands offer more visual range for hunters, and there is no arguing it’s effective at concealment, but it does present a different challenge with shot angles. With a rifle, the difficulty of the quartering to and straight-on shots are mitigated, for the most part.
However, you should still place your round halfway up the deer’s chest and an inch or two to the left of the deer’s sternum. This is the best placement for an arrow or a bolt as well, but you had better be a dead-on accurate shooter. A miss to the left or right from your target will result in the sternum or shoulder deflecting the arrow or limiting its killing potential.
Fortunately, even in a tree stand, broadside and quartering away shots are mostly the same unless the deer is so close that those angles are taken away. If the deer is underneath you, your best choice is to allow the deer to move away from you, so long as you have some good shooting lanes when it does.
You can shoot straight down, but it’s risky unless you know how to bend at the waist. Never use your shoulders as your pivot point because it changes your natural draw alignment to your shoulder, and you will shoot higher than you expect. It’s almost like an illusion and should be avoided.
Where to shoot a deer with a .223
A .223 isn’t the best when it comes to penetration. However, it’s still an excellent hunting round as long as you have good shot placement and the right ammo. The round should be designed for big game and feature rapid expansion on impact.
- Barnes VOR-TX 55-Grain TSX
- Federal 62-Grain Trophy Bond Tipped
- Remington 62-Grain Hypersonic Bonded Core-Lokt Ultra
- Federal Premium 60-Grain Nosler Partition
- Federal 62-Grain Fusion
Since it’s a small caliber with limited penetration power, it’s essential to hit soft or easy targets. That means a lung shot. A .223 will liquefy a deer’s lungs, causing massive blood loss. Don’t stick with the shoulder shot on this one, but a few inches back. Check out the best deer hunting rifles here.
Where to shoot a deer to drop it in its tracks
The DRT shot is the best shot a hunter can make. It’s clean and instantaneous. That doesn’t mean shooting a deer in its head, as the brain is a tiny target. Sure, hitting it will drop the deer instantly, but a miss could be catastrophic.
The brachial plexus is your best spot to shoot a deer and drop it instantly. This is a high-shoulder shot that you should only take with a round that you’re confident won’t fragment, since fragmentation might miss that cluster of nerves and ultimately spoil a lot of good meat.
It’s harder to hit this spot effectively with an arrow or a bolt unless you have had a lot of experience and are an excellent shot.
Where to shoot a deer from different angles
Angles are everything and a buck might walk all over the area in your immediate vicinity and never present you with the best angle for a sure kill.
Everything is simpler for rifle hunting. Most of the difficult shots on this list are even more difficult with a bow or a crossbow. If possible, you should always angle for a better shot and, worst-case scenario, accept the fact that the angle is bad and let this one go.
It hurts, but it will hurt a lot more knowing that you wounded the animal and never found it. If you are new to bowhunting or rifle hunting, avoid unnecessary risks. Wait for the broadside or the quartering away shots and spend a lot of time practicing your shot placement between hunts.
Hunting is a game of patience and high adrenaline when the time comes. It’s also a great way to bring home plenty of food for your family. But it also means discipline and the willpower to resist the temptation to take an ugly shot. Know the animal you’re hunting. Know its anatomy. Best of all, know yourself and your own capabilities.