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Advanced shot placement: when it comes to hunting whitetails with archery equipment, an understanding of shot placement is crucial to ensuring clean, quick kills.

SOME OF THE most advanced whitetail hunters today are bowhunters, and more are entering our numbers each year. Because of this, I think we should occasionally look at the issue of shot placement. Shot placement and hunting ethics go hand in hand. No one wants to place an arrow in a buck unless it will quickly prove lethal. Neither does anyone want to spend hours and sometimes years patterning a trophy buck, only to miss him when the shot opportunity finally presents itself.

Over the years, I have missed my fair share of monster bucks. I would gladly trade the bucks I have had within 20 yards and not harvested for the bucks I have taken. Those missed shots have caused me to take a hard look at why I miss. It has been my observation that, by far, the majority of close "chip" shots are missed high. A close examination of high misses has helped me to realize there are several reasons many close shots are missed high each year. I believe the primary reason we miss is because of where we aim on a deer. Many hunters simply place the sight pin somewhere behind the buck's shoulder and release. This point of aim is not exact enough. This study will help you to fine-tune your point of aim.

Trying to arrow a mature buck presents another problem, and that is the dreaded brain cancer called "buck fever." A mature buck can have a bewildering effect on a hunter. By the time he has recovered from "brain-lock," the buck of a lifetime might be gone.

This "buck fever" effect is caused, to a large degree, by a lack of confidence that sterns from not having prepared for the situation at hand. Uncertainty will many times lead to panic--and then to mistakes. On the other hand, being mentally prepared for any shot situation can make all the difference in the world.


First, let's look at where we should aim on a deer's body to be most effective. First of all, there is only one shot that should be taken at a deer with an arrow. That, of course, is when the deer is in a position where the broadhead can penetrate the side of the deer's rib cage and enter the chest cavity at an angle that can slice through both lungs. The lungs are the largest vital organs in a whitetail's body. For the most humane kill and the greatest chance of recovery, we should aim an arrow where it will pass through both lungs. A whitetail has a lot of stamina, and a one-lung shot can result in a lost trophy. It may not even be fatal, especially on a mature whitetail.

A few years ago, while I was bowhunting public land in central Illinois, I made the terrible mistake of shooting a mature 10-pointer down though the top of his back. I knew better, but with the buck only 4 yards from the base of my tree, walking straight toward me, I believed I could break his spine or hit the heart. Somehow, my arrow missed both. As the buck ran away, I could see more than a foot of my arrow sticking out just about dead center between his shoulder blades.

After giving the buck more than an hour, I began trailing him. Not long after I began to track the buck, I found the fletched end of my arrow. The shaft had been broken off as he passed under a limb. It became apparent from the distance he traveled before blood showed up that my broadhead did not penetrate the bottom of his chest. The 10-pointer had about 14 inches of my arrow shaft and a three-bladed broadhead still imbedded in his chest. With no exit wound, he could not get rid of the shaft and broadhead.

Once he began to bleed out of the entry wound on top of his back, I found foamy bubbles of blood on vegetation he had passed through. It was obvious: I had shot down through one lung, more than likely cutting it from top to bottom. I had no doubt the buck would not last long, and I was just as certain I would find him.

To make a long story short, I searched five straight days for the trophy, to no avail. Six days after I hit the buck, I again climbed into the same stand from where I shot the buck.

After about an hour of hunting, I was amazed to see the same big 10-pointer coming down the same ridge looking for does. When the big buck was about 60 yards from my stand, he dropped off the side of the ridge and circled around me. I knew one lung was shot through and I was just as certain that my broad-head and the front end of my shaft were still in his chest. Nevertheless, there he was, looking as fit as ever. I was relieved to see he had recovered from my attempt to shoulder mount him on a shiny oak board.

Surely this points out the toughness of these amazing animals. I will never again shoot at a deer that does not offer a broadside shot. Neither should you. Therefore, when I am discussing aiming point, it should be assumed that the deer is standing broadside, quartering away, or very slightly quartering toward the hunter.

I use only two aiming point variations when shooting at a whitetail deer while hunting from a treestand. This keeps things simple and, in my view, is all that is needed. As we have already discussed, close-in shots (a few yards from the tree out to around 20 yards) give the bowhunter the most trouble as far as missing high is concerned.

I think one reason for high hits is because of where we aim at deer, especially at close ranges on rushed shots.

As you know, during the rut things can take place quickly. When bucks start looking for and chasing does, there may be no deer in sight one minute and the buck of a lifetime may be moving by your stand the next.

Whether he stops on his own or you stop him, you know he is not going to stand still for long. You draw the bow and as you lower your sight on the buck, what is going through your mind? It should be, "pick a spot." However, more times than not you will be thinking, "I have got to shoot before he takes off."

As soon as your sight gets down into the hair a few inches behind the buck's shoulder, you shoot. Because you rushed the shot, your pin may only have been three or four inches down on the buck. This, combined with the deer's reaction to the sound of the shot, can easily cause the arrow to sail over the buck. This happened to me on a buck that will haunt me as long as I live. Do not let this happen to you. Have a clearly defined aiming point and practice it before you go hunting.


Whitetail deer are very tough, and an old buck is 10 times tougher than that. You simply cannot put an arrow anywhere in his chest and be assured you will get the buck. Your aiming point must be precise. There are only two aiming points I use on deer.

The first one we will look at is for close-yardage shots. To give yourself added insurance on the critical close shots, aim low. This will help you to avoid a high hit if the deer "string jumps" (drops down and loads its legs to bolt at the sound of the shot). When aiming at deer 30 yards or closer, I recommend you pick a spot to aim at two inches above the foreleg elbow. If you aim at this spot and the deer does not react to the sound of the release, you will hit around the center of the heart. If the deer drops a slight amount, the broadhead will hit somewhere around the top of the heart or in the lower lungs. And if the deer drops as much as seven inches, the hit will still be well within the lungs.

When aiming low behind the shoulder, be certain to place your pin close to the leg. If your shot placement is back three or four inches and low, you will likely hit the paunch. The lungs extend well behind the shoulder up high, but they do not extend as far lower, behind the heart. A hit six inches behind the shoulder midway up on the body will be well within the lung area. However, take that same shot placement six inches back and lower it five inches, and you will hit the paunch.

I have talked to many frustrated bowhunters who said they hit a deer directly behind the shoulder and did not recover it. When I hear these stories I always question further. It has always been my experience that they shot the deer low and back a few inches. This resulted in a paunch hit. If the hunters had not assumed they made a perfect hit and had waited six to eight hours before tracking, they would probably have recovered the deer.

You might question the possibility of striking the leg bone if you try to place the arrow this far forward. However, because of the way the whitetail's skeletal system is made, there is not much chance of this happening if you aim two inches above the olecranon, which is commonly called the leg knuckle. The humerus turns forward after it leaves the olecranon and sits at a 45-degree angle. This forms a place in the shoulder void of bone. A broadhead can easily slice through the leg/shoulder muscles since there is no bone present.

I have bow-killed well over 100 whitetails and I have hit heavy bone only twice. Once I hit an old doe lower than I intended and my broad-head contacted the olecranon (leg knuckle). The other time, I shot a tremendous Tennessee buck higher than I intended and my arrow hit the shoulder blade. On both occasions my penetration was stopped cold. Both deer were recovered. Considering the number of whitetails I have killed, I do not think this is a bad percentage. If I had shot this many whitetails while aiming back three or four inches behind the leg, I am certain I would have hit the paunch on a much greater number of deer.

I should mention a point here about high hits on deer. Contrary to what many hunters think, if you shoot under the spine you will hit the lungs. The lungs fill the chest cavity all the way up to the spine. Most high hits on deer that are not recovered pass through the tenderloin over the spine. The spine drops down quite a bit behind a deer's front shoulder.

I believe if you use the aiming point described above for shots at deer 30 yards and closer, you will have great results. If the buck is extremely close beneath you, you will need to move your point of aim up the chest somewhat so the arrow's angle will take it down through the main part of the chest cavity.

This close shot should be practiced on a deer target (preferably a 3-D buck target) over and over until it becomes second nature to you. Then hopefully, when you are faced with that rushed shot at a monster buck, you will automatically drop your aiming point down to just above the foreleg elbow before you shoot.


The only other aiming variation I use is for shots beyond 30 yards. I have found it is not necessary to aim low at longer distances because most of the reasons for high shots do not exist.

Most of the time, the sound of your bow will not be loud enough out past 30 yards to cause the deer to drop. Likewise, the horizontal distance issue will not be a cause for concern at this distance.

Another reason I do not aim low and as close to the shoulder at longer shots is because of the margin of error. As you know, when the shot distance increases, the exact placement of the arrow decreases.

Therefore, to give yourself more room for error on longer shots, aim for the center of the deer's chest. To do this, pick an aiming spot midway between the top line of the deer's back and the bottom line of his chest back three or four inches behind the shoulder.


We have been told for years that a quartering away shot is the best possible angle for a big game animal. I believe this theory might have been initiated by firearm hunters, and it might be great advice for them. But in recent years, I have begun to question this logic for bowhunters. I now prefer straight broadside shots because of the higher probability that only one lung will be hit on quartering shots.

Mature bucks are very tough animals to kill. To be consistently successful, you must shoot them through both lungs. A one-lung hit could be non-fatal or worse, it could result in a buck that dies two or three miles away without being recovered.

If you must take a quartering away shot, be very careful about the shot placement. We are often told on a quartering away shot to aim for the opposite shoulder. However, shot placement in this location can pass through the lung on the near side, over the heart and in front of the lung on the far side of the deer's body. I know many hunters think that if a broadhead travels through the chest cavity over the heart it will cut one or more major arteries and quickly kill the buck. If it is an immature deer that is arrowed, a hit such as this will usually be quickly fatal. However, there are many differences between killing a 3-year-old and a 5-or 6-year-old buck, especially if his veins are flowing full of testosterone. In some instances, this type of shot placement could be non-lethal or it may result in such a slow kill that the deer is not recovered.

I personally know of three different situations where huge bucks traveled well over two miles after being shot through the near lung and in front of the opposite lung., One of the bucks was found two miles away from the shot location purely by accident. The second traveled nearly three miles before being located, and the third was never recovered.

On quartering away shots, the hunter should be cautious not to aim too far forward. Instead of placing the shot where the arrow will exit on or in front of the far shoulder, aim further back on the near ribcage so the arrow will exit behind the deer's opposite shoulder. This should help ensure that the arrow will pass through both lungs. I have killed a number of bucks with quartering away shots, and I am always careful to place my broadhead so it will exit behind the far shoulder.

If the shot is placed close to the middle of the body, the broadhead will hit the back of the lung on the near side and through the center of the lung on the opposite side; this will result in a quick and humane kill. Another benefit for aiming further back on quartering away shots is that you will most often pierce the diaphragm (the membrane which separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity). When the diaphragm is punched through, the vacuum inside the chest is violated and this pressure release will, most often, cause both lungs to collapse. Usually, a broadhead that punches the diaphragm will also pierce the liver, which is always fatal. However, if you aim too far forward on quartering away shots, you could shoot in front of the diaphragm, liver and the far side lung.

If the deer is angled so far that an arrow exiting behind the opposite shoulder will need to enter further back than midways on the near side, the shot should be passed.

If the deer is slightly quartering toward you, be certain to aim higher than normal so your broadhead will punch both lungs. As I pointed out, the lungs extend back much further high up on the deer. A low hit on a deer that is quartering toward you will nearly always hit the paunch.


In review, if the target deer is at a distance of 30 yards or closer, aim about two inches above the foreleg elbow. If you are aiming at a deer farther away than this, aim midway down the deer's chest three to four inches behind the shoulder. I believe if you give this a try, you will be pleased with the result you achieve. You should practice these two aiming variations until they become automatic in the field.

(Editor's note: To purchase a copy of Bobby Worthington's latest book, Passionate Quest For Phantoms of the Forest, visit his Web site at
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Author:Worthington, Bobby
Publication:North American Whitetail
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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