Hunting deer is not an easy task as the animals are swift and elusive.
When your opportunity arises, you need to know where to shoot a deer so you successfully harvest the deer and keep the meat in the best condition.
Most hunters are also very respectful to nature. Knowing the best place to shoot a deer allows you to harvest the animal quickly and with the least amount of pain to the deer as possible.
The guide below will walk you through the various locations to shoot a deer depending on how the animal is facing you.
We also discuss how your choice of weapon (bow, shotgun, or rifle) can impact where you shoot a deer.
Where to Shoot a Deer by Position
You will encounter multiple shot angles when you are hunting. Knowing where to aim for these different shot angles is extremely important.
Let’s look at the most common and the most difficult shooting angles you will face while hunting.
The easiest shot to make is when the deer is broadside. A broadside shot can be made with a bow, shotgun, or rifle.
Broadside means that the animal’s side is facing you and his back is parallel to your shooting position.
Broadside shots are the best because they fully expose the vitals of the deer. This allows for the fastest and most humane kill.
Where to Aim – With a broadside shot, aim a few inches behind the front shoulder in the bottom half of the deer’s body.
Aiming low gives you the best opportunity to penetrate through the heart and vitals. Additionally, deer typically drop and run when they hear any noise that suddenly startles them. By aiming low, you will maximize your chances of a solid hit even if the deer drops 5-6 inches before they are hit.
Walking Straight Away
A deer walking straight away is one of the worst hunting shots you can encounter.
These shots should only be attempted with a shotgun or rifle.
Walking straight away means that the deer’s backside is facing you and its chest and vitals are not exposed for a clean shot. If possible, wait for a better shot to improve your chances of harvesting the deer and not just wounding it.
Where to Aim – From an elevated position, aim directly in line with where the animal’s back meets its neck (spine) and where its legs meet its body. From a ground position, aim directly in the rear of the animal with the intention that the bullet will travel through the body cavity and impact the vitals.
Again, this is a shot you should avoid if at all possible. If you are patient then you should find an easier shot where the deer is broadside or at least quartering away from you.
A quartering away shot is probably the second best shot you can have if a deer isn’t broadside to you.
A quartering away shot is where the deer’s backside is facing you, but its side (quarter) is exposed at an angle.
Quartering away shots can be made with a bow, rifle, or shotgun with equal effectiveness. These shots are very forgiving and allow a lot of variation in the shot while still having an opportunity to hit a vital organ.
The quartering away angle is favored for bowhunting because it exposes a large section of the vital area on a deer.
Where to Aim – With a quartering away shot aim in the middle of the deer’s side that is exposed to you. With these shots, you want to aim close to the liver (mid-body) instead of behind the front shoulder.
Quartering away shots provide a large target when the angle is slight to moderate. This angle has a very high success rate for taking a whitetail deer. If a deer is walking straight away from you, then this is the shot you are waiting to see develop.
Quartering toward shots are difficult shots due to the protection given to the deer by the shoulder blade and sternum.
A quartering towards shot is where the deer’s chest and side (quarter) are facing you at an angle. In this case, the deer is not facing you head-on, but it is walking toward you at an angle that exposes its side.
Quartering toward shots should only be taken with a shotgun or rifle. A bow and arrow will likely be deflected by the shoulder blade, sternum, or ribs and miss the vital organs in the front chest cavity.
Where to Aim – With quartering towards shots, aim where the deer’s chest and front legs meet. Shots further back are less likely to hit a vital organ and will more than likely only lead to a gut shot.
This is a difficult shot as you are shooting for an area that has protection from the shoulder blade and sternum of the animal. You will need to make your best effort by aiming where the rib cage meets with the front leg.
When you are presented with this shot, try to be patient to see if a better broadside shot will develop.
A straight on shot is another though shot that provides the deer a lot of protection.
A deer that is straight on is where it’s chest and head are facing directly at you with the side of the deer completely blocked.
This can be an effective shot with a shotgun or rifle, but it has a lower success rate with a bow. There is only a small area where an arrow can penetrate the chest cavity or hit the jugular vein in the neck.
Where to Aim – With this shot aim between the deer’s front legs about halfway up the neck. This will give you the maximum chance of hitting a vital organ and harvesting the animal humanely.
Another consideration is the risk of ruining your mount if the deer you are taking is a trophy buck. I wouldn’t hesitate on a closer shot, but with a longer distance shot, I recommend waiting for a better broadside opportunity.
Deer Anatomy – Shot Placement
When shooting a deer, the goal is to give yourself the best opportunity for hitting a vital organ. This will improve your chances of harvesting the deer and also give you a humane kill where the deer doesn’t suffer. This is where it is important to understand the whitetail deer anatomy.
The most common shots on a deer are where it is broadside or at least quartering away from you. These shots give you great exposure to hit the heart, lungs, or liver on a deer.
A heart shot is difficult but it is the best shot you can make on a deer. If you hit the deer’s heart then you will likely drop it where it is standing with a single shot. This provides a quick and humane death for the deer.
Another benefit of a heart shot is that it results in a minimal amount of venison loss.
In order to hit a deer’s heart, the hunter must aim behind the shoulder toward the bottom of the deer’s chest cavity. The heart shot is best taken when the deer is standing broadside to you or quartering away from you.
The great thing about a heart shot is that even if you miss the heart you are likely to hit another vital organ; the lungs.
Lungs are a great target because they offer a large area where the arrow or bullet can penetrate.
The lungs are where the deer’s airways and blood vessels for breathing connect. Hitting them will cause a lot of damage to the deer’s body.
If you hit a deer’s lungs, then it will likely drop where it is standing or run a minimal distance before succumbing to its injuries. Lung shots also provide a good blood trail making it more likely to recover the deer after your shot.
Shots placed behind the deer’s front shoulder are likely to hit a deer’s lungs. Attempts at a heart shot that go high often end up hitting the deer’s lungs.
For longer distance shots, aiming further back on a deer for a lung shot is a good choice to avoid hitting the front leg and shoulder blade.
Most hunters don’t place a shot with the intention of hitting the liver. However, a liver shot is common if you are shooting a deer that is quartering away from you.
The liver is located in the middle of the deer’s body close to its stomach.
A liver shot doesn’t provide as quick and humane of a death as with other shots on this list. But if you hit the liver of a deer, then you will probably be successful in harvesting that deer.
High Shoulder Shot
High shoulder shots are made with the intention of hitting the deer’s front shoulder bone and the vital organs behind the shoulder.
High shoulder shots can be taken with a shotgun or rifle, but don’t attempt them with a bow and arrow.
Where to shoot a deer in the shoulder? If you want to make a high shoulder shot then you need to aim slightly higher and more forward than a lung shot.
If made properly, this shot will break the shoulder of the deer and limit the distance it can travel if a vital organ isn’t hit.
This is a common shot for hunters with high-powered rifles. However, the downside of this shot is that it will ruin some of the venison meat in the animal you harvest.
A neck shot can be a very effective shot if you hit the spinal cord or one of the main arteries that run through the next.
Hitting the spinal cord or one of these arteries will likely cause the deer to drop where it is standing and bleed out quickly.
However, this shot can be difficult because it is a small target and a deer’s neck is constantly in motion. If you miss the spinal cord or the main artery, then there is a strong likelihood of just injuring the deer.
If made properly this is an excellent way to harvest a whitetail deer with a single shot. One of the reasons people attempt this shot is minimal meat loss.
Where to shoot a deer in the neck? The spine or jugular vein is a good place to target, but it can be difficult to hit. You should aim in the middle of the neck about halfway up for straight-on shots.
Where to Shoot a Deer – Weapon Choice
Your choice of weapon can have a significant impact on when and where you should shoot a deer. Guns will give you the most options for shots based on distance and the angle the deer is facing.
Where to Shoot a Deer with a Shotgun
Shotguns are the most common weapon used in deer hunting.
Most hunters use a shotgun for harvesting deer because it has a wide range of shot sizes, can be used at medium to long distances, and causes minimal venison loss if shots are slightly off their intended target.
Shotguns also allow an inexperienced hunter to make up for his or her lack of accuracy with the ability to fire more than one shell (typically up to 3 shots based on state laws).
A shotgun is most effective when the deer is in close proximity (100 yards or less) to where you are standing.
If a deer is within 100 yards, then you can typically make all broadside and quartering away shots. Quartering toward, straight on, and straight away shots can be made with a shotgun but should be limited to medium distances.
Where to Shoot a Deer with a Bow and Arrow
A bow and arrow provide the least amount of opportunities to shoot a deer.
This is primarily because bow hunters must get within close range where the deer is to take a shot. If you are using a bow and arrow, then it will be difficult to make shots once the deer is more than 60 yards away.
Even if a deer is within range, a bow should not be used for straight on or quartering toward angles. The shoulder bones and sternum provide too much protection for the deer at these angles.
You will likely just injure the deer if you attempt these shots with a bow.
Where to Shoot a Deer with a Rifle
Rifles are only legal to use for deer hunting in some states.
Hunters who are proficient and experienced in hunting deer use rifles where they have longer distance shots (300+ yards).
Rifles provide more accurate shots (especially with quality scopes) than what you find from hunters using shotguns so they allow you to take a wider variety of shots at greater distances.
A rifle can make just about every deer shot listed above at a wide variety of distances. However, it can be more difficult to harvest a deer with a rifle at close distances than it is with a shotgun.
Overall, if a deer is within the range you have practiced then you can feel comfortable taking the shot with a rifle.
Conclusion – Where to Shoot a Deer
The big takeaway is that hunters should consider where and how the deer is facing before deciding where to shoot it. The type of weapon you are using will also affect where you can take a shot.
As an ethical and humane hunter, you should only take a shot where you can make an accurate, lethal, and ethical kill.
Attain and maintain the skills necessary to make the kill as certain and quick as possible.Boone & Crockett Club
Doing so ensures that you are following the principles of fair chase where all shots should be taken with an expectation that your hunt will end after one shot.