Bow hunting for deer does not start and end with simply aiming your bow at a target and randomly firing a shot. Doing so is irresponsible and completely misses the point of the game.
If you consider yourself a true bow hunter, you need to take the time and learn where to shoot a deer with a bow. This not only means knowing which vital points are best to take aim at; it also means figuring out which shooting angles are most effective and ethical.
Only when you’ve learned how to do this properly could you consider yourself a true bowhunter worthy of hunting in the field.
Knowing about a deer’s anatomy is essential if you want to make a successful hit on a target whitetail. Depending on which area of the whitetail’s body you aim at, your chances of success may increase or decrease.
The area of your shot might also help dictate how much time you need in trailing your deer. For instance, a shot to the heart would cause the deer to expire more quickly than a shot to the intestine.
Here are three basic areas of a deer that every bow hunter should know about:
Heart and Lungs. The heart and lungs are vital points that most bow hunters aim for, whether they’re shooting a buck or a doe. Hitting either lungs or the heart ensures that your target will die in the quickest, most ethical way possible.
When aiming for the heart-lung area, take note of the deer’s shoulders. Depending on the deer’s position, its shoulders might partially shield the vital points you’re aiming at. A deer that is standing straight usually has its shoulders covering its vitals, so you might want to wait for it to take a step forward. This effectively moves the shoulder bones and muscles away from the vitals, giving you a better chance of securing a successful hit.
Liver. The liver is another vital organ that you could aim at. It is located after the lungs, and might be a bit harder to hit since it is generally a smaller area. Quartering-away angles are usually the most effective angles when you want to hit the liver.
Spine and Arteries. Hitting a deer in its spine might cause it to be paralyzed and unable to move, which makes tracking unnecessary (since it won’t be running away from you anyway). Aiming for the spine is a bit more difficult since it’s easy for a deer to crouch down after hearing a foreign, threatening sound, so you would need a lot of practice to achieve this shot.
Hitting the arteries, on the other hand, might result in a quicker kill. There is always a chance that you could hit some major arteries when you aim at the deer’s back or stomach area, so just be ready for this possibility.
Shooting Angles of Vital Points
When aiming for a whitetail’s vital points, it is important to know which angle works best, depending on your position and scenario. Remember that your objective should be to hit the deer in the vitals in one swift shot, as this is often considered the more ethical practice among deer bow hunters.
Broadside Shot. I consider the broadside angle as one of the best bow hunting shooting options you could go for. A broadside shot is possible if your target deer is at a perpendicular angle from you, since you could easily aim at any of its vital points and make a clean kill.
Broadside shots are easier to execute at ground level, since you’re already perpendicular from your target. When making this shot, it might help if you visualize your target’s body into three separate but equal horizontal sections. Aim for the top section of the bottom third section, around three inches between the deer’s shoulder and midsection. Aiming for this angle increases your chances of hitting a vital point, with your arrow cleanly passing through your target and exiting on its opposite side.
Note that the angle tends to change if you’re coming from an elevated position, such as a tree stand or tree ladder. If this is the case, adjust your angle and aim a bit lower, around your target’s midline, as this will increase your chances of hitting a vital organ.
Quartering-Away Angle. I like quartering-away angles because it provides a decent challenge to a bow hunter but still allows him to make a good kill. When a whitetail is at a quartering-away angle, its vital points, particularly the lungs, are more exposed and are easier to hit.
However, note that a deer that is too sharply angled away from you might be harder to hit properly. There is a chance that you might only hit one lung—when this happens, your target will most likely bolt, and it would be near impossible to track it down again.
To avoid a failed shot, visualize an exit point on your target’s far side, imagining your arrow passing through it. Then trace it back to your deer near side and aim for a spot where the arrow will make its entry. Usually, this spot is around the deer’s midsection, meaning you’re aiming for the liver, instead of the lungs or heart.
Quartering-Toward Angle. Quartering-toward angles are tricky but not impossible to make. When a deer is said to be quartered toward the bow hunter, this simply means that it is facing you but not at a face-to-face angle.
Ethical shots are possible if the deer’s angle is very slight. As it gets more severe, the vital points become more obscure, and the deer’s tough parts—its thick muscles and bones—become more exposed. These parts are extremely tough to hit, so when this happens, I recommend postponing your shot until you find a more favorable angle.
Head-On and Straight-Away Angles. I don’t recommend either head-on or straight-away shots. Neither is ethical, and there’s a huge possibility that you’d just waste your arrow when making the shot. Thick muscles, like in the brisket and lower neck, are extremely difficult to penetrate, and bones even more so. When you encounter a deer at either a head-on or a straight-away angle, I highly suggest you wait for another opportunity before taking your aim and shooting.
Uphill and Downhill Shots. If you prefer to spend the majority of your time up on a tree stand, you need to take into account the change in angles to make sure you make a clean, successful hit. When you’re on a tree stand installed 20 feet high and you are shooting at a deer from 15 yards or more, you might want to aim a bit lower than you would if you were shooting from the ground. The same rule applies if you’re aiming from an elevated position, like rocks on high inclines. The best way to make an accurate shot is to practice shooting from elevated spots.
Tips and Tactics
Here are some tried and tested tips and tactics you might want to remember on your next hunt:
Pass-through Shots. Whether you’re aiming for a broadside angle or a quartering-away one, try to shoot so that your arrow would pass through one side of the deer and exit on its opposite side. Doing this increases your chances of hitting a vital organ, which means a clean, swift, and more ethical kill.
A pass-through shot also makes it easier to track a wounded target, since it creates a more visible blood trail. More wounds mean more blood spills, and more blood spills more chances of finding your deer and bagging your prize.
Aim Low. Aiming low increases your chances of hitting a vital point, and there’s a science behind it!
Deer are very responsive to even the slightest unfamiliar sound, including a snap of the bowstring when you release an arrow. Once they hear even the smallest threatening noise, they often get startled and start to run away. When they do this, they coil downward and prepare to sprint away, which could cause your arrow to go over the deer’s head or miss a vital spot—neither which are good for getting a successful kill in.
Check Your Surroundings. Part of making a successful shot is being aware of your surroundings. Make sure there are no obstacles obstructing your view, and that your arrow has a clear path from your bow to your target. If you think that a small branch or leaf would not matter, then you are seriously mistaken.
Since you’re often aiming for one deer at a time, make sure that your target is a good distance away from other whitetails. If it is too near another deer, there might be a chance that your arrow might hit the second one if it goes through your intended target. While it might sound exciting to do a double kill in one shot, I don’t recommend it since it’s not a very ethical thing to do.
Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect, and realistic practice doubly so. Instead of hitting on a simple block or archery target, why not invest on a 3-D practice target? This allows you to properly visualize what an adult buck or doe looks like, and they’re more fun to shoot, too.
Hunting deer with a bow is a serious activity, and part of your responsibility as a bow hunter is to properly know where to shoot a deer to ensure an ethical and successful shot. Randomly shooting a deer from ground level or a tree stand not only takes away some of the fun of the game, but also increases the chances of injured or dead whitetails that cannot be properly harvested.
Taking the time to learn about a whitetail’s vital points and the right shooting angles may be tedious, but it’s a necessary thing to do if you plan to take bow hunting seriously.