View Full Version : Shot Placement

12-17-2008, 06:37 AM
The Spot
So where is that spot? Well, "the right spot" is a flexible concept. It depends on the angle of the deer as viewed by the hunter, how far the deer is from the hunter, whether or not the deer is calm, how solid a gun rest the hunter has available, and many other variables.
The traditional kill zone is still the hunter's best bet. This zone includes the shoulder area, and behind it the heart and lungs. Viewed broadside, it is roughly centered on the rear of the shoulder. This gives the hunter the best chance at hitting vital organs and/or the shoulder. Depending on the size of the critter, you're shooting at a zone that's approximately the size of a supper plate. Hit the lungs, and the deer will run a ways and die. Hit the heart and you will likely also hit the lungs, and the deer usually won't go far. Hit the shoulder bones, and you break the deer down as well as probably hitting vitals - it usually falls on the spot and if it keeps kicking it's just where you want it, and you can easily deliver a finishing shot.
Some Folks Disagree
Not all hunters agree that this is the best place to aim, but those with long experience and whom respect the game agree that this shot gives the greatest margin of error, and errors are easy to make. But some hunters go out of their way to try to place the bullet through the ribcage for a lung-only shot, since almost nobody eats deer ribs. Still others shoot for the neck. Some others aim for the head. Any of these are killing shots, but none of them offer the "room to miss" - while still making a solid hit - that the heart/lung/shoulder shot does.
Knock 'em Down
I like to see my deer fall dead. Where I place the shot - or try to place the shot - depends on many factors. If I have a nice calm deer standing not too far from me and I have a nice solid rest, a neck shot is a good one to take. On a moving deer and/or one that's far away, it's a low-percentage shot and I don't like it. Low-percentage meaning there's a much smaller chance of hitting vitals in those conditions, vs. taking a shot at the vitals.
During one hunting trip, a friend of mine shot a small doe. She was standing broadside at 40 yards. He aimed for the center of the shoulder from a rock-solid rest, and that's right where he hit. It put her down ASAP, which he wanted to do. Totally ruined the meat in that shoulder, though.
That situation falls in the category of: I'd rather lose a pound or two of meat than to lose the entire deer because of a marginally-placed shot.
Making the Call - Which Shot to Take?
The following morning, I was sitting in a stand with a good shooting rest and a deer stepped out away up the ridge. I got the rifle up and scoped the deer - a nice, legal, doe. I spoke to the deer to get it to stop - it did. The deer stood broadside at well over 100 yards - not the time to make a low-percentage shot. I aimed for the traditional kill zone, and pulled the trigger.
The bullet hit just behind the shoulder, took out both lungs and the top of the heart (cut the heart loose from all arteries), punched through the off-side shoulder blade and put an exit hole in the hide. Presumably, part of the bullet kept on going, but I recovered most of it (about 100 grains' worth) lodged in the hide at the exit wound. And she still ran 30+ yards before dying.
I was prepared to take a shoulder shot and lose some meat, in order to give myself a better chance of hitting the vitals. It worked. Any other shot would have been too risky for that situation. I hit within a couple inches of where I'd aimed, but if I had been a bit farther off, it still would have been a killing shot.
Use Your Head, and Don't Take Head Shots
Head shots are to be avoided. Think about it - the head is the most animated portion of a deer's anatomy. When the deer moves, the head is the first thing to do so - and even when standing still, a deer will often move its head without warning. Some will say that if they miss a head shot then they've missed the deer entirely and it will live, but that's not necessarily true. Years ago, a friend shot a buck in the head - that's all he had to shoot at - and he hit it in the jaw. He severed a major blood vessel and the deer lost a lot of blood - but it also kept going for a long, long way. They tracked that deer for more than a mile before finally recovering it.
Play the Odds So choose your shots with care, and go for high-percentage shots. It's a method that works, and you will be a much happier hunter. When you have to shoot quickly, remember Dad's words: Take your time, but hurry up. Too often, we forget the first part of that, and only hurry up. I've been guilty of it myself.