A wolf will take down a calf elk and kill it slowly and painfully. A human hunter, on the other hand, has the responsibility of a clean and ethical kill. Here are a few ways we have found that you can ensure you have the best shot placement on a deer. This can translate to any ungulate, from an Elk to a Pronghorn; we are just going to focus on deer.
Know your Limits
The first thing a hunter needs to do is know their limits. Spend some time on the range sighting in your rifle and shooting paper targets until you know what range you are comfortable shooting from. Also, take the time to get in your head that there will be many more factors coming into play beyond putting holes in paper when you are hunting. Your heart rate will be increased.
You will likely be tired from walking around or sitting in place while it’s cold. The weather will be a factor. The deer might be obscured by cover or concealment, or perhaps it is walking away from you at an angle. All these factors come into play and end with the hunter taking a shot or losing an arrow. So it is important to know what you can and cannot do.
Hunting is more about knowing what you cannot do than knowing what you can do. Once you establish some reasonable limits, you can take the next step of worrying about exactly where you need to price a shot.
When you are hoping to bring down a deer with a single well-placed shot, you need to be concerned with two areas of focus; The heart and the lungs. Some people enjoy eating the heart and view it as meat and focus more on a lung shot. Others focus on hitting the heart as that generally has a larger room for error. Determine what you want out of a shot and go from there.
The lungs are located on both sides of the deer. When looking at the deer from a broadside, which is the ideal position for taking any shot, the lungs will be found about 4-6 inches from the front shoulder. The lungs also extend under the shoulder.
If you are new to hunting and are using a high-powered rifle, you may want to consider taking a shot aimed right at the shoulder. This will not only break the shoulder and cause the animal to drop generally right where it was shot, but it also ensures that you will hit both lungs. The round will punch through the shoulder and both lungs with relative ease.
It’s a good spot to start because in the event you pull the shot and miss the shoulder, you have a strong chance of hitting it in the heart or elsewhere in the lung.
Lung shots can sometimes take a little longer to end the animal’s life. The animal has no idea what has happened to it and sometimes will remain standing or run off but will not make it very far. Death will happen pretty quickly, only a few moments.
Aiming at the shoulder will, of course, cause some meat loss. Not only are you taking the heart (sometimes), you are taking that entire front shoulder and making it mostly unusable as a source of meat. To be fair, there isn’t a lot of meat on that shoulder, to begin with, and some can generally be salvaged.
The heart is located just at the bottom edge of the front shoulder. Generally speaking, placing a shot in what appears to be its “armpit” will produce a heart/lung shot. This is the fastest way to bring an animal down, with death occurring nearly instantly. Usually, a shot to the heart leads to the lungs being penetrated as well, and when that occurs, the animal generally will drop right where it was hit and die quickly. In the event it does run, there will be a clear trail to follow.
Blood trails tell the tale
Once you have taken a shot, you may not know exactly where you hit the animal. You may have heard the tale-tell sound of the round impacting, and you saw the animal lurch or leap in response to being hit. Still, you are unsure where you hit, and you see the animal run off; it’s a good practice to give the animal some time to lay back down and hopefully die quickly, so sit in place for a few moments. Go to where the animal was standing when you took the shot and look for blood.
A lung shot will produce a pinkish in color blood generally with a lot of bubbles mixed within the trail. That is due to the high levels of oxygen in the lung. If you see a lot of pink blood with bubbles, you almost certainly have hit the animal in the lungs, and death will be soon.
If the blood trail you see is dark red and nearly black, you will most likely hit the animal in the heart. There may also be a mixture of pink as well indicating a lung shot also. It’s a good indication that the animal will not be far and is probably already dead in the time it took you to go where the shot was impacted.
If you get to the trail and have a hard time finding blood, that does not always mean a miss or that the shot was not fatal. We have experienced many shots going in one side and not exiting the other. Sometimes, with smaller caliber rifles, it does not leave a large hole, and blood does not pour out. So do your best to track your animal, and if you placed your shot correctly, it will not be far.
Areas to Avoid
We have heard a lot of people say a lot of different things over the years. No matter what you hear, a head-shot should almost always be avoided. Deer have pretty small brains when you consider the size of their heads. So taking a head-shot more times than not ends with a miss or, worse, a non-fatal wound. You have a higher chance of blowing a deer’s face off and it living than you do hitting it in its brain and resulting in a kill.
The neck is also an area to avoid. Hitting a deer in its neck, even with a well-placed shot, can result in just paralyzing the animal and ends up having to take a second shot to kill the animal. It is very rare to shoot a deer in the neck and severe arteries, the windpipe, and its spine in one go. They have large necks with a lot of room for error.
Probably one of the worst areas to shoot a deer is in its stomach, liver, or kidneys. Commonly referred to as a “gut shot.” The “Guts” are located between the back legs and where the heart/lungs would be. It is possible when aiming a poor shot to pull a shot into the guts. This is very painful for the animal; it takes a long time for it to die, resulting in a lot of looking for blood trails that may not even be there. Above all, it causes spoilage of the meat. When the bile and other nastiness found inside the gut start to spill out, the meat begins to spoil quickly.
If you are unsure of a shot, do not take the shot. It is better to miss an opportunity than to create a problem for yourself and your target.