Where to Shoot a Deer for One-Shot Kills

Let’s face it, tracking the blood trail of a wounded deer is exhausting. It takes forever for the deer to die, and it is easier if they die on contact with the first shot.

Most hunters who look for a one-shot kill aim for the heart or lungs, but that is not the only option on a deer’s body to kill it. Also, killing a deer with one shot is considered to be a more ethical shot, so it is better to have multiple aiming points to have a more humane kill. 

Whitetail deer are one of the most popular deer breeds in North America.

Weapon Type

Crossbows shoot bolts, which use a broadhead to kill by slicing through vital tissue. Death by broadheads is caused by extreme bleeding or by punching holes in the lungs, making it impossible for the vital organs to inflate and do their job.

However, broadheads need to be sharpened to ensure that they do the most damage possible. Do not take them out of their factory packaging and start shooting with them; make sure to sharpen them before opening day so they are surgically sharp. 

A bow and arrow do basically the same thing a crossbow does. Arrows also have broadheads that cause extreme bleeding and puncture holes in the lungs. These also need to be sharpened before opening day so they cause maximum damage to the deer. Arrows will also need to hit your target with enough terminal energy to be effective. You will need to hit a big buck with an arrow that has at least 45 to 65 foot-pounds of energy. 

Bullets and shotgun slugs kill in a different way. They transfer a hydro-static throughout the deer’s body instead of ripping through tissue. Many deer hunting bullets expand to push a wound channel through the deer’s muscle tissue and vital organs. A bullet should strike big game with at least 1000 foot-pounds of energy to be a good shot. 

Shot Placement

The high shoulder shot can be extremely effective. For this shot to work, your bullet must go straight through the front shoulder blade, pass through the chest cavity, and hit the inside of the opposite shoulder blade. When done correctly, this shot is catastrophic. It breaks the spinal cord, paralyzes the central nervous system, and drops a deer dead in its tracks. This is often called the ultimate shock and awe shot. 

To do this shot correctly, you need a rifle that has lots of power and bullets that are heavy enough to blow through bone without losing its energy in expansion. This shot is not meant for bowhunters, so save this shot for when you use a heavy-duty rifle.

This shot is very easy to miss when aiming for this vital area. The probability of missing is high, and it damages lots of prime meat by grinding through the shoulder and tender backstrap. It damages meat because the bullets that execute this shot the best are extremely volatile and upsetting. 

A whitetail is a favorite among hunters.

Obviously, a headshot is a no-brainer because it can drop a whitetail in an instant. A direct hit to the brain disrupts every bodily function. Because of this, the deer feels no pain. Another massive perk to a brain shot is that no meat is damaged in the process. However, this shot is extremely difficult to execute. 

A deer’s brain is a very small target, so if you’re off by even a fraction of an inch, that deer might run off and die some days later from the wound. The brain of a deer is also protected by a very thick bone, which makes a perfect hit difficult for even a rifle. This is not a shot that you want to try with a bow. 

Very often, bullet trajectory is deflected upon skull contact. Even the best shot could glance off the skull. A terrible scenario is a glancing jaw shot. Even though it’s not immediately fatal, it causes a long, drawn-out death that is very agonizing and painful for the deer. Because of the high risk of missing the vital brain area, most hunters avoid this shot so they do not leave a wounded deer.

A neck shot, when done perfectly, severs the spinal cord and causes instant paralysis. A neck shot sounds like a money shot because it causes minimal meat damage. Although, it’s near impossible to execute this shot correctly, even for the most experienced hunter. 

The vital area in the neck is very high and narrow; hit too low and you injure the deer with a small chance of recovery. Hit too high and you could miss the deer altogether. Also, a neck shot could paralyze the deer without killing it, which means massive suffering for the deer. This shot often requires a follow-up shot or a throat slit to finish things up. 

This shot is not meant for bowhunting. Arrows travel a lot slower than bullets, and that means that the deer will flinch away from it at the last second. Deer have amazing reflexes, so if it senses the arrow coming, it will duck away and lower the intended target. You will miss that trophy bucks without even nicking it. 

Heart shot/lung shot is the most common shot for hunters. If you hit a deer in the heart, you have most likely done some lung damage as well. It’s often referred to as the “boiler room” shot, and it’s highly lethal. A deer shot in the heart/lung area goes down within a matter of seconds because it produces massive internal damage. This shot also provides some forgiveness because you don’t have to be pinpoint accurate to kill a deer this way. 

The chest cavity is the largest part of a whitetail deer, especially when compared to the spine, neck, or brain. This is also a very forgiving shot because even if you miss by a couple of inches, it’ll still do enough damage to bring the deer down. An injury to this area also produces massive blood loss, so the blood trail raises the probability of recovery. 

If you are hunting with lightweight bullets, it’s possible to miss this shot. The bullet could nick a rib or shoulder blade and move into a less fatal area. Or, the bullet could only hit one lung, and the deer will recover from that. If this happens, you’ll have to follow a blood trail until the deer inevitably falls. Also, deer don’t always go down immediately with this shot. 

Shot Angle

It can be very tempting to take a shot at a deer as it walks away, but you should not try the walking away shot. A projectile has a lot of deer to travel through to reach its vital organs. It usually ends up becoming a gut-shot, which is messy to clean up, ruins good meat, and risks injuring an animal that you can’t recover. 

A straight-on shot is very exciting when you get the opportunity to execute it. While your nerves may want you to take a quick shot before you are seen or smelled, it’s sometimes best to wait for a better angle. This is especially true if you are using broadheads or lightweight bullets because you risk the chance of hitting bone and your projectile deflecting off course.

If you do try a head-on shot, make sure that you’re aware that the kill zone is much smaller than a broadside shot. Aim about one-third of the way up the deer’s chest, center your sights, and pull a steady shot. If you miss, follow it to make sure it’ll recover or drop. 

Many people find hunting very therapeutic.

A quartering toward shot is doable at close range and with a good rifle, but it’s not the most perfect position for a clean shot. The skeletal structure of a deer, including rib, leg, and shoulder bone placement, makes this shot tricky. You want an unhindered track to the vital organs, but these hard obstacles make it incredibly difficult. 

Place your crosshairs where the leg meets the body just, forward of where you would aim for a broadside presentation. If you’re hunting with a bow, avoid this one and wait for a better angle, as the chance of simply wounding an animal quartering toward you is high.

The quartering away shot is the second-best angle. It offers plenty of opportunities to slice through the vital organs. While your projectile might have to pass through a bit of extra space before it reaches the heart and lungs, it should still reach them from a clean, quick kill.

For this shot, aim your sights behind the ten ring (The broadside area that includes the heart and lungs; the term for “vitals” is from competition archery). Your bullet or broadhead will travel straight through the vitals. Aim too far forward, and your projectile may clip the lungs or miss all the organs.

A quick trick for this shot is to think of aiming for the animal’s far side front leg. This trick will help you find a sweet spot that will cause your projectile to go straight through the heart and lungs. The broadside shot is the ideal angle, no matter what weapon you use.

A broadside standing deer gives the hunter a straight shot to the animal’s exposed vitals, giving the best chance of a clean kill or an easy recovery. When aiming at a broadside deer, visually divide the deer’s chest cavity into three equal, horizontal quadrants. You will want to use the top of the imaginary line that separates the bottom and middle thirds of the deer’s body.

Now draw a line from the spot where the deer’s front leg meets the body. Where these two imaginary lines intersect is the sweet spot or the “pocket”. A hit in or near the “pocket” with an effective projectile is almost guaranteed to result in a quick, clean kill.

A good hunting dog is a must-have for all hunting seasons.

Should You Use A Treestand?

The simple answer is yes. Whitetails live in a broken, wooded terrain where stand hunters won’t have much room to blend in. Hunting from a stationary position above the animal’s eye line is by far the most effective way to hunt whitetails. If you want to be invisible in the woods, practically unsmellable by even the wariest buck, and be in the best position to see, hear, and shoot a whitetail deer, you need to get a treestand and learn how to use it. 

There are so many different kinds of treestands, so it will be easy to find the best one for you. There’s the ladder stand, the stealth climber, the comfy climber, the stealth hang-on, and the comfy hang-on. Which one you want really depends on the kind of hunter you are. If you hunt deer for leisure, you should consider one of the comfy treestands. If you hunt to feed your family, you should consider one of the stealth treestands. 

Final Verdict:

The best kill is from the broadside angle with a crossbow. It has the best results and is very humane. The bolts that crossbows use are very good at puncturing lungs, and the broadside angle gives a good position to hit the lungs. However, do not forget to sharpen the broadheads of the bolts so that they will actually puncture the lungs and do maximum damage. 

Accuracy is key with all of these shots, and honestly, with everything that comes with deer hunting. Knowing where to hit a deer and being able to execute it well are two completely different things. Make sure that you get lots of practice with your weapon of choice, going through lots of rounds or arrows to gain proficiency and confidence. 

Your first shot is very crucial, so make sure that you place it very carefully. You might not get the chance to shoot a second one. Hunting is often like a complicated, constantly changing math problem. There are many external factors that can ruin an otherwise perfectly good shot when you’re in the woods.

Branches and other foliage can deflect your projectile, the animal can move, the wind can pick up, and bone and muscle definition can deflect bullet and broadhead trajectory. You need to be ready to quickly adapt and assess your chances of success.

If you question any aspect of your shot, there is no harm in waiting for a better opportunity. Spotting a trophy buck doesn’t happen every day, which is a good reason to wait, even if it costs you a shot. A deer that walks away uninjured lives to be hunted another day, and it’s okay if it’s not hunted by you again. An injured deer wanders off to die alone, which benefits no one.


Bonus tip: Be sure to check out this video for tips about common deer hunting mistakes!


Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.

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