Deer Kill Zone Size Explained

Every hunter wants a clean, ethical kill, and the best way to do that is to land an arrow or bullet in the kill zone.

But what does that mean for the hunter? How accurate do you need to be?

For an average size whitetail deer, the kill zone is about 10 inches in diameter for a perfect shot.

What is the Kill Zone?

To understand the kill zone size of a deer, we need to break down what is a kill zone.

The kill zone of a deer is an area within the deer that has all of its vital organs close together.

Ideally, hunters are looking to hit either the heart or lungs or preferably both on a deer. 

These two organs are close together in the deer’s chest cavity, and this is known as the kill zone.

There is also the liver a bit further back, and while it’s not a perfect shot, there is still a good chance of recovering a deer with a liver shot.

How Big is the Kill Zone on a Deer?

Deer Kill Zone Size Explained

The average size whitetail deer has a kill zone of about 10 inches for a perfect shot.

This is a much smaller kill zone compared to an elk that has a kill zone of 22 inches by 17 inches.

However, this is only for an ideal shot, and the overall kill zone would be considerably bigger.

Broadside Deer

For the sake of argument, we will include the liver in the kill zone. 

Although we are aiming for the heart or lungs, especially with a bow, the liver will usually produce a kill nonetheless.

Heart

Deer Kill Zone Size Explained

On average, a whitetail deer’s heart is about four to five inches from top to bottom. If you were going for a perfect heart shot with an arrow, you would already have a kill zone size of approximately 4 inches in diameter. 

This would be much bigger with a bullet due to the impact.

However, given the heart’s proximity to the deer’s lungs, it’s almost impossible to hit the heart and not hit the lungs.

Lungs

Deer Kill Zone Size Explained

Most bowhunters aim for a lung shot. It offers a much bigger target for an arrow, and there is still a good chance of hitting the heart.

For the most part the lungs are going to be the entire area of a kill zone because the heart and the liver are overlapped with the lungs.

The liver sits a little further back than the lungs so it is possible to hit the liver and not the lungs.

The lungs on a deer are considerably bigger than the heart. On average the surface area of a lung shot on a broadside deer would be 16 inches across and 10 inches high.

The heart sits almost center in between the lungs on a broadside facing deer.

Liver

Deer Kill Zone Size Explained

As I mentioned a few times already, in most cases a liver shot will produce a kill.

So to know the full size of a kill zone we should include the liver. By including the liver in the kill zone, we can increase the size of the kill zone.

The liver sits a little further back than the lungs with a slight overlap. The size of the liver has the potential to add another 2-4 inches to the kill zone.

This would produce a clean liver shot and no lung damage and would a slow kill shot.

The height of the liver is almost the same as the lungs except that the lungs extend approximately 3 inches lower in the chest cavity.

Rib Cage

Deer Kill Zone Size Explained

All of this kill zone area is located within the deer’s rib cage. So a shot anywhere within the deer’s rib cage will likely prove deadly 75% of the time.

The part that will not be a kill shot is the back bottom quarter of the rib cage. But just outside that area lies the deer’s intestines, which is a shot most hunters died.

Yet it can still produce a kill.

Shot Angle

One huge caveat to the size of a deer’s kill zone is shot angle. All of the above measurements are based on an average whitetail deer with a perfect broadside shot.

If, for example, the shot were a facing to shot then the size of the kill zone would become much smaller.

Also, if the deer was smaller or bigger than average (170lb) then the kill zone would be smaller or bigger.

Final Thoughts

The perfect shot kill zone is about 10 inches on an average whitetail deer.

However, it’s not often we hunters get a perfect shot. Things go wrong, animals move, the angle might be off and so on.

This doesn’t mean you can’t take the shot, it just means you might not land a perfect heart double lung shot.

The lungs on a deer are rather large, giving you more of a kill zone than you may think.

We can call the total kill zone roughly ten inches or we could look at it as approximately 16 inches wide by 10 inches high.

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